Ray Edwards of the Minnesota Vikings is big, strong, and fast. These are attributes that have bolstered many a professional athlete’s resumé, and generally speaking, they’re as useful in one game as another.
As a starting defensive end in the NFL, Edwards ranks in the top 1% of professional athletes in the United States in terms of both income and accomplishments. Yet in past seasons Edwards has been tagged with a reputation a cruiser; a guy with a ton of talent but not enough drive. Edwards has been known as a man with insufficient “motor.”
In an effort to unearth his missing motor, Edwards spent part of the past offseason digging deep in Detroit’s legendary Kronk Gym under the supervision of elite boxing trainer Emmanuel Steward. For both Edwards and Steward it was an eye-opening experience. For Edwards the merciless boxing regimen administered by Steward was the key to reducing his body fat from 15 percent to 6 percent and improving his energy level and stamina. For Steward it was a whetting of the appetite. “I have never saw a big guy that has never boxed, a guy that moves so naturally like a boxer, ” Steward told SI.com’s Lee Feiner in August. “…for big guys, I always teach them on footwork, and [Edwards] catches on extremely well.”
That Edwards is coachable and capable of adding to his repertoire of dance steps may be less surprising to Brad Childress and the rest of the Vikings brain trust than it is to Steward. Granted, a defensive end relies less on footwork and technique than his counterpart on the offensive line, and by extension of that reasoning it may seem that an offensive lineman is an even better candidate for a boxing career than a defensive end. But at the same time there’s no question that along with size, strength, and speed, the ability to learn and repeat a successful maneuver is definitely a useful tool for a pass rusher, or for any professional athlete.
There’s no way to know for sure whether the boxing talk is serious or just a ploy from a savvy football player who recognizes that he may be out of work next summer. Edwards tells Jeremy Fowler of the St Paul Pioneer Press that he expects to be the odd man out when the Vikings hand out long-term contracts before the 2011 season. On top of that, the whole league is alive with rumors of a lockout. Some will say that financially speaking, Edwards should already be set for life, but he hasn’t made that many millions of dollars in the NFL, and whatever he has earned, he’s surely paid half of it to the various governments who claim jurisdiction over his income. Whatever remains is most likely being spent as freely by Edwards as by any wealthy young man. It must seem expedient to have a fallback in place, and to Edwards a boxing career might look an awful lot like a good plan.
So now, even in-season, Edwards continues to work on his moves with trainer Jeff Warner at Ambition Training Academy, an MMA gym in Eagan. According to the Pioneer Press article,
The Vikings’ starting defensive end isn’t swinging his fists as part of a glorified hobby. His vision for boxing glory expands beyond the confines of Ambition Training Academy in Eagan, where Edwards trains twice a week.
By February, Edwards could be preparing for small-circuit amateur fights in Minnesota. Every few months, a new challenger could take him to Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
In 18 to 24 months, he’ll be a certified heavyweight prizefighter.
That’s the plan, at least, a sense of insurance if Edwards doesn’t get a long-term NFL contract after this season or if the league locks out in 2011.
“I’m really invested in this,” Edwards, 25, says during a recent workout. “I’m looking forward to the future, whether that’s in boxing or football. I don’t know where I’ll be. When the season ends, I’ll start training for boxing heavily.”
The Fistic Mystic says: I suspect that Ray Edwards’ enthusiasm for boxing is sincere, but a successful career in boxing seems less likely for Edwards than a new signature move on the gridiron: A sneaky short right hook to the body.