A man might be named Ray. But when he boxes, he becomes Sugar Ray. It’s a rule. Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard are two of the smoothest, sweetest and most effective boxers the sport has known.
Alas, Ray Edwards is 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds. A former defensive end for Purdue and for the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons, he is too big to be Sugar Ray Edwards. You can’t be sweet if you weigh more than 250 pounds. This, too, is a rule.
Edwards, who will co-headline a fight card Saturday night at Charlotte’s Carole Hoefener Center, has a nickname he prefers: Champion.
As we talk Friday in front of his Charlotte hotel, a fountain gently bubbling behind us, Edwards, 29, says casually that he will be champ.
You really think you can be heavyweight champion of the world?
Edwards, who smiles throughout the interview, suddenly skews his face.
“Absolutely,” he says. “Absolutely. Without a doubt. I don’t think anybody can touch my work ethic, can touch my drive. Nobody’s life is bigger than mine. Eric Thomas is a great motivational speaker. I love him and I can’t wait to meet him and he’s definitely helping me focus on the bigger picture.”
Edwards, who has a trainer as well as a motivational speaker who inspires him from a distance, is 7-0 with four knockouts. He made his professional debut (he never boxed as an amateur) in 2010. His last six fights were in 2013 and ’14.
In 2011, the Falcons signed Edwards to a $27.5 million contract. They cut him in 2012. In December 2012, he tried out with San Francisco. He didn’t get a contract, but he did get red 49ers shorts. He wears them Friday.
Edwards was all-state in football and basketball in Cincinnati, where he still lives. He boxed as a kid, but it was backyard boxing. In the NFL, he boxed in the offseason.
When his football career ended, boxing began.
“I’m not broke by any means, and I’m not struggling for money,” says Edwards. “I do this because I love it, and I know that once I make it and get that championship belt I can start programs around the country for kids to get them off the street.”
Edwards says NFL players are alpha males, so they think they can box. He says they don’t realize what boxing entails.
“I can go grab any football player right now and they would not be able to keep up with me,” says Edwards. “To do the four-mile runs I have to do to do, to do the three-mile sprints I have to do. And no stopping. Just keep going.
“It’s all about focus. Do you really want to get hit? In football you have a lot of equipment on. Football you’ve got to play 10 seconds. Boxing is three minutes straight, no timeouts, no substitutes, ain’t nobody helping you. Can you go into the reservoir 3 minutes straight?”
I ask if he sees NFL players who would make good fighters.
“They’d all have to be heavyweights because they all weigh 200 pounds except for” – Edwards pauses.
Punters, I tell him.
“Punters,” he says. “But a lot of players would be too small.”
Some football players would be big enough.
As the Panthers walk off the field after practice Friday, I ask:
If you had to pick one player to represent your team in the boxing ring, and he had to win, who would you pick?
“Either Byron Bell or Greg Hardy,” says center Ryan Kalil.
“Thomas Davis,” says coach Ron Rivera.
Safety Thomas DeCoud played with Edwards in Atlanta, and says Edwards is a tough guy. The boxer he’d choose to represent the Panthers?
“Greg Hardy,” says DeCoud. “No question.”
Edwards has heard Hardy’s name before.
He’s read it, too.
“Greg Hardy and me had a couple words on the Internet a few years back,” says Edwards. “He was like, ‘I’ll knock you out.’ For some reason he said something on Twitter. A fan said something and then he did.
“I said just worry about football. At the end of the day, if you ever came into boxing and you wanted some, you could get some.”
If they tangled, Hardy would have to go to Edwards’ world.
Even if Edwards had the opportunity, he says he would not return to Hardy’s.
“I still watch football,” Edwards says. “But football is more like the Army. You have to do what they tell you to do, when they want you to do it. I’m more at peace now because I have more flexibility to do what I want to do.”