HINCKLEY, Minn. – Ray Edwards made his boxing debut Friday night and, as many expected, had his way with opponent T.J. Gibson, who was eight inches shorter and 50 points lighter. However, while the scores were lopsided, it was the contrast of styles that had those in attendance waiting for the big knockout punch – from either fighter – that never came.
While Edwards dominated the scoring of the fight – winning two cards by scores of 40-34 – giving Edwards all four rounds and giving Gibson eight points in the two round he was knocked down and a score of 39-35 by the other judge – he got caught with a couple of big punches from Gibson. With a huge height and reach disadvantage, Gibson had to resort to throwing wild haymakers over his head in hopes of connecting with Edwards’ head. He did a couple times, hitting Edwards once squarely in the face in the third round and on the top of the head in the second – both of which made Edwards’ knees momentarily buckle.
It got the defensive end’s attention, but he’s had longer battles where he has been the one with the disparate size disadvantage.
“He’s a little rougher than I expected,” Edwards said. “But, I wrestle 300-pound guys [in the NFL] all day, so I’m used to it – guys trying to be rough.”
He was able to frustrate Gibson, who it was clear used the casino poker adage “a chip and a chair” mindset in coming into the fight. His only chance to beat the bigger, stronger Edwards was to connect with a “money shot” that would knock him for a loop.
That opportunity never materialized. Edwards kept his distance, using his superior reach to pepper Gibson with stiff left jabs before dropping the big bombs – a right-left combination that sent him falling backwards into the ropes (and being propped back upright by them) that was ruled a knockdown by referee Joe Cortez and a thunderous left hook in the fourth and final round that sent Gibson in between the ropes like a lawn dart.
Gibson disputed the first knockdown, but said Edwards was trained well to take advantage of his height and reach. Every time Gibson tried to impose his will and get into a brawl on the inside, Edwards was quick to hook his arms and force a break. In the process, Edwards threw more than twice as many punches as Gibson and landed three times as many stinging punches.
For his part, Gibson said he stuck to his own game plan – not backing down and moving forward – but Edwards was able to neutralize Gibson’s bread and butter moves.
“Every time I tried to get underneath him, I got held down and couldn’t do what I wanted to do,” Gibson said. “He’s going to be a great fighter if he keeps it up.”
After Edwards scored a knockdown in the first round, Gibson went to the mat in the second round as well. However, in what could best be described as a swim move by Edwards to force Gibson into the corner, it turned into a hook-and-slam – something Edwards’ manager Jeff Warner said he wasn’t expecting.
“This ain’t football,” Warner said. “You can’t throw people like that.”
Cortez, the renowned referee assigned the main event, said that for a boxer making his pro debut, Edwards is considerably more advanced than many greenhorns he’s seen over the years.
“He’s definitely an athlete,” Cortez said. “He showed that tonight. He wasn’t tight. I guess he learned that as a football player. If you’re too tight, you’re going to get winded out early and he held his own pretty much.”
Was it an epic Ali-Frazier bout? No. It was the Thrilla in Vanilla. But it was something that Edwards set a goal of achieving and succeeded. It wasn’t an artistic success – the fighters on the pre-intermission undercard were more polished – but, for taking his formative steps as a boxer, Edwards more than accounted for himself. Had he lost in front of his Vikings teammates, it would have been much more devastating than losing to Gibson.
“I’m going to go back and see what I need to work on and [get back working] in the gym hard, probably come Monday.”
Is Edwards a one-hit wonder or does he have a legitimate future as a boxer? Of the 1,700 people in attendance Friday night, nobody had a more informed view than referee Joe Cortez. Don’t know who he is? You will tomorrow. Viking Update grabbed Cortez after the fight to get his honest assessment of Edwards and his ring potential and he gave us an insight from the one man in the room that is the unquestioned authority. Check back over the weekend and find out if Edwards is dabbling in the sweet science or if he has a legitimate chance of being a professional boxer.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.