On June 17, one of the most accomplished strikers on the planet will make his MMA debut. A three-time world kickboxing champion with ISKA, an Australian national heavyweight boxing champion, and a super heavyweight stand out for both K-1 and GLORY, Ben ‘The Guvnor’ Edwards’ long-awaited transition to mixed martial arts is a big deal. You can be assured MMA brass the world over will be watching and waiting on this one.
The MMA Vanguard had the privilege of a Q&A with the Canberra-based KO specialist, and started with what we felt was the most obvious question: After all these years, all those major, international fights and tournaments, all those title wins and raised hands, what memories stand out most for Ben?
“Winning the K-1 Oceania Grand Prix in 2010 in world record time with 3 KO’s in one night was the best night in my career so far,” Ben tells us, referring to a record previously held by the great Jerome Le Banner, who won the Osaka Grand Prix in 2001 in a total time of 4 minutes and 4 seconds. Edwards not only beat that record, he managed to shave over 30 seconds off the record, blasting through Sudan’s Faisal Zakaria, New Zealand’s Tafa Misapati, and Poland’s Paul Slowinski in an incredible 3 minutes, 28 seconds.
A phenomenal athletic accomplishment like that can surely only be rivalled by a victory in the kind of highly emotionally-charged environment that took place in Canberra on April 4, 2009. Ben would compete for an ISKA world title in an event organised in memory of his coach: “[It was] the tribute night for my trainer who passed away,” he explains. “He died six weeks before my first world title win, and I was living with him at the time. I’d been with him since the start [of my career], and he was very much a father figure to me.” Ben recalls, and adds: “I wasn’t going to lose that night. I had never been more nervous or put more pressure on myself to win [as I did that night]. I was very happy to get another first round KO on home soil against my American opponent.”
That fight, against Rick Cheek, saw a crushing right hand bring the main event to a close after just over a minute and a half of action. That right hand quickly became an emotional tribute; and no more popular winner could be found anywhere in the world that night.
But Edwards would feel somewhat less popular in a fight in Serbia back in 2007. Leaving the comfort of familiar surroundings to meet Dusko Basrak in the middle of the ring, Ben scored one of the most devastating finishes of his career. Ben recalls: “ That was probably my biggest KO ever. I thought I killed the guy. You can watch it on Youtube, it was actually 2007 [as opposed to the stated ‘2008’], but I proved a lot to myself as a young man going to the other side of the world, fighting the home town guy, and performing well.”
Since then, Ben Edwards has continued to earn titles, and hasn’t limited his conquests to kickboxing, either. After failing to wrest the vacant Australian heavyweight boxing title in his first attempt against Michael Kirby, a fight that was declared a majority decision draw, Edwards would get another crack almost four years later, in February 2015. This time, Hunter Sam was his opponent, and while the fight once again went the distance, this time there would be a decisive victor. Edwards earned a unanimous decision win, and became a multi-sport champion. While Edwards would drop the title to Australian legend Peter Graham in a split decision later that year, he had further underlined his standing as one of the most feared strikers on the planet.
So Ben currently in a period of transition in his sporting life, does boxing maintain any sort of long-term interest? Maybe – but perhaps not: “Never say never but I think I’m done with boxing,” Edwards told The MMA Vanguard. “It’s just a boys club filled with nepotism and record padding mismatches.”
Edwards’ reservations don’t stop there, either. Speaking of the differences between kickboxing and boxing, Ben adds: “The footwork and distance is different, but the biggest thing is the training. If I get concussed in a fight I can deal with that, that’s what I signed up for, but I think hard sparring all the time in training is stupid,” he says, referring to a culture in boxing. “I received more head trauma in training for my last two boxing fights than in my last thirty kickboxing fights combined. I didn’t get rocked or dropped once, but I was still heavily concussed from eating a ton of medium-power shots. All pro boxers spar hard all the time American-style, but in kickboxing it’s mostly just hard pads and play sparring, which I agree with. That’s Thai-style. With sparring, heavyweights are different. We have so much power we can still hurt each other badly with headgear on, and not every coach gets that. Personally, I will only spar ‘hard’ with a partner I trust.”
What, then, about some of Edwards’ toughest challenges as a fighter? A bout in late 2010 against PRIDE and UFC legend Alistair Overeem will certainly catch the eye of even the most casual MMA fan, and that’s something Edwards has had to deal with since: “He gets mentioned to me every single week without fail,” Edwards admits. “I have no problem with him, everyone always asks how I feel about fighting a ‘cheat’ – but the facts are he wasn’t cheating when he fought me, K-1 said in our contract ‘YOU WILL NOT GET DRUG TESTED, YOU JUST HAVE TO LOOK GOOD IN A PHOTO’.” Edwards admits, frankly, before concluding: “The guy’s a warrior who I respect, and he has made an awful lot of money. Good for him.”
The fact is, for Ben, Overeem is one of many genuinely world class opponents he’s faced in his career. In GLORY, Edwards would face the likes of Errol Zimmerman and Jahfarr Wilnis, and elsewhere he holds wins over veterans Mighty Mo Saliga and Carter Williams. He’s also tangled with the current GLORY World Heavyweight champion, a man Ben speaks very highly of – much as he does the company itself: “I had three fights for GLORY, one awesome KO win at Madison Square Garden, and two disappointing losses in Denver. GLORY were good to deal with, I enjoyed fighting for them. I have one more fight on my contract with them, but they told me they weren’t interested. I don’t blame them, my last two fights [for them] I had so many personal problems at the time and didn’t have the best team and people around me. I have fixed all of that now, and if they wanted to give me my last fight I would take it in a heartbeat. I’m very happy for their champion Rico Verhoeven who I fought in 2012. Great bloke, great champion.”
It’s this kind of pedigree that will no doubt prove so appealing to MMA matchmakers around the world – but first, Ben has to navigate his debut challenge on June 16, which comes in the form of 10-fight veteran, New South Wales’ own Brandon ‘Zilla’ Sosoli. A huge 260-plus pound heavy hitter, Sosoli has five first round TKO’s to his name, and recently saw a three-fight winning streak snapped by one of the UFC’s most recent signatures, Tai Tuivasa. No shame there.
It’s fair to say, then, that Edwards knows the size of the task awaiting him – and he’s very much relishing the opportunity to show what he can do in front of fans of combat sports’ most varied discipline. “Sosoli is very experienced, including his amateur MMA fights he has had 18 in total, while I’ve had none. I’m expecting him to close the distance and try and wear me down and grind me out – [however] I have world class training partners and am very confident in this fight.”
So what will Edwards’ game plan look like? “Obviously I’ll be looking to keep the fight standing but I’m training for the worst case scenario. I will be comfortable wherever the fight goes.” Edwards adds: “I see myself making a huge statement and putting myself on the MMA map.”
What’s more, Edwards feels this fight won’t be a one-off. Taking his training extremely seriously, Edwards feels he’s ready to make a serious run in mixed martial arts – though he won’t be ruling anything out long-term: “Barring a good offer from boxing or kickboxing, I’m one hundred percent committed to MMA.”
A scary prospect for those peddling their trade above the 205 pound weight limit – and what’s more, Edwards anticipates he will get the chance to face the very best in the world – should he achieve what he expects to: “I feel like with most big athletes coming from other sports, the road to the UFC isn’t that long, but I don’t want to get there before I’m ready. I only need to get four or five impressive wins and that will open the door for me. A big white heavyweight with no tattoos who is eloquent, articulate and knocks people out is quite a marketable commodity!”
Ben Edwards, The MMA Vanguard cannot wait to see your MMA story unfold!