This article, originally printed in International Kickboxer Magazine, is republished here as an introduction to ‘Bangin’ Ben. He was recently interviewed for this blog on the subject of striking and the way it differs for MMA, boxing and kickboxing. Ben is a unique authority, having fought at an international level as both a boxer and a kickboxer. He also stands poised in the brink of international competition as an MMA fighter.
The greatest careers are marked by severe vicissitudes of fate. Fight fans talk about the great clashes; Aerts and Hoost, Hunt and Sefo, Hari and Karaev. What they don’t talk about are the ups and downs a professional fighter goes through from fight to fight, like a ship that sails on a stormy sea.
It’s hard to take a retrospective stance on a fighter still on the ascent, but the current phase of Ben Edwards’ career really began when he met Paul Slowinski at Evolution Melbourne, back in 2009.
“At that time, Paul was the best fighter in the country,” says Ben. “Really, I was fighting ‘B’ class fighters,” he says, referring to the professional ranking system used by the Dutch. “I was on a bit of a roll. I’d had a winning streak, but Paul was fighting the best in the world; Hari, Bonjasky, Schilt, those guys. I was completely outclassed.”
Ben took the loss to heart.
“There was a big build up to that fight. [Afterwards], I was fucking depressed. I put my head in the sand. It was a big build-up for a disappointing outcome.”
If he wanted to continue as a fighter, he had to go back to the drawing board.
“I didn’t really know what to work on. The week after, it was like, ‘What the fuck happened?’ We were completely outclassed. I’d had a complete lack of heavyweight sparring. Had I better sparring, it would have been a different fight, at least.”
Around this time, Ben started training with Jamie McCuaig. Jamie does all the heavy lifting during the arc of Ben’s preparation, including holding pads, a job that very few would envy.
“I started training with Ben just before he fought Paul,” Jamie remembers. “He wasn’t the most technical, but he was hard-hitter. I focused on improving his kicking ability and making him more of an all-rounder.”
Jamie seems satisfied with the result.
“He’s improved in leaps and bounds. Now, he’s fighting some of the best in the world and he’s trading, not just swinging. He can actually out-kickbox them. He’s come a long way.”
The first step for Jamie was to sit down with Ben after the loss at Evolution and deconstruct it. That process has become the cornerstone of his fight preparation.
“After [a fight], we sit down and go through the loss and decide how, next time, we can do it better. Then, we organise a game-plan and tailor the training around it. We use padwork to develop techniques for who he’s fighting and then carry those things into sparring.”
According to Jamie, Ben has the fundamental qualities required to make those plans a reality.
“He’s dedicated. He trains full time and always gives 100%. Some heavyweights can be lazy. I expect him to get to the top tier in less than a couple of years. It’s just a matter of whether he wants it enough. [Ben just] needs to learn to keep his emotions in control.”
The need for sparring motivated Ben to reach out to the most famous of the Bulldog affiliates at Castle Hill; brothers Steve and Stuart McKinnon.
“I didn’t have any sparring over 75kg. If you make a mistake and they punch you in the head, who cares? It’s not like you rush to keep your hands up. They don’t keep you honest. I started going up to spar with [The McKinnons] at the start of 2010.
“I’ve been going up there for a month before [a fight] ever since. Steve’s an awesome sparring partner, and Stu knows how to train me for me. He sticks to basic, simple instructions that work.”
Stuart has become an integral part of Ben’s team, even running his corner when he fights for Glory. Stuart has a wealth of experience and probably the most experience of any Australian dealing with Glory International, given his brother’s place on the roster.
“I’ve been doing Ben’s corner off and on for a while,” says Stuart. “Recently, I’ve become more involved with his training behind the scenes to tailor [it] a little more. He’s got to where he is just by being ‘Bangin’ Ben Edwards,” says Stuart with a wry laugh.
“He’s got all the tools and attributes to take it to the next level; he’s a good kicker and a good mover, he just needs to get that integrated.”
This is not an ambition; on May 3rd at Glory 16, Errol Zimmerman made it a proven necessity.
“Ben’s current opponents are a lot more sophisticated,” Stuart says. “He can’t flip a coin and take a 50/50 chance on knockout or be knocked out.
“[Errol] was too experienced; he’s had twice the wins that I’ve had fights,” says Ben. Zimmerman has won over one-hundred of his contests, while Ben’s entire experience comes to a total of fifty-five. While that is the case, the early part of the fight saw Ben looking good for a quick finish.
“When I stuck to the game plan, it was working perfectly. When I threw my straight punches and was kickboxing, I was doing really well. I touched him a few times; I could see the fear in his eyes. It was good for my confidence.” Seeming groggy, Zimmerman retreated to the ropes.
“That’s when I opened up and got sloppy,” Ben continues. “I started throwing wild, single shots and that’s when he caught me. I should have kept doing what I was doing, instead of going for the one-punch knockout. You live and learn; I won’t do that again, that’s for sure.”
Stuart agrees with Ben’s evaluation.
“He didn’t stick to the game plan. Ben had it all over him; Errol didn’t know what to do. Then, Ben started swinging. It came down to who got in first and that was Errol. Errol was more experienced and took advantage.”
According to Stuart, Ben was the first one aware of his mistake.
“He knew it straight away. He apologised to us when he came down out of the ring.”
Rigorous honesty is one of Edwards’ strongest assets.
“Sometimes,” he says, “You have to look at the guy in the mirror. I have to be honest with myself. It makes my team feel like they can be honest with me, too. And that gives me the opportunity to improve.
For Ben, post-fight Zimmerman appears to be a similar territory to post-fight Slowinski.
“I’m in a post-fight void. I start training for my next fight next week. For now, I’ve got nothing to do. I do some weights for a bit of fun; see all the people I haven’t been able to see. I’m also the designated dog-sitter.
“There’s the whole build up, then [it’s] flat. [The outcome of the Zimmerman fight] is a disappointment for everyone; anti-climactic. It would have been different if I was completely outclassed and bashed by a better fighter, but to have it, and then lose it – that’s a disappointment.”
In an ironic twist of fate, old foe Paul Slowinski has become a part of Ben’s preparation for Glory.
“We’ve got the same manager now,” Ben explains. “Paul came to Nick [Boutzos] because Nick was doing such a good job with me. We’ve done some sparring, and he showed me some drills that he learned in Holland.
He trained in Thailand for six years and Holland for four, so he’s got a wealth of experience. Training in Australia is generally Thai-based, and I don’t think it’s best for heavyweight fighters,” Ben explains. “The Dutch are more about partner work and drills. That’s the best way to go, I reckon.”
You can’t help but wonder if any of that old animosity ever finds its way into sparring.
“Paul and I are cool,” he says. “What happens in the ring is business; we’re there to try and take each other out. Outside of it, we always got along well. There’s a mutual respect.” Strange, fortuitous events like his old foe becoming his ally give a sense of destiny to the whole adventure.
Ben’s first fight for Glory was against Belgian juggernaut, Jamal Ben Saddik.
“We got everything right for that fight. I tend to fight well against much taller guys.”
Saddik stands six-foot-eight inches tall, a full five-inches over Edwards.
“As it turns out, I’d had three sparring partners taller than six-foot-six. I’m used to dealing with taller guys. Also, it was one fight where I did stick to game plan. Jamal was trying to move around the ring, keep his distance and keep me on the end of his jab. That’s a very hard thing to do for such a big guy; you can only run so long before you run out of gas.”
Ben’s experience of Glory International as a promotional organisation is the best he’s had.
“They’re very professional. Beyond expectations. They gave a presentation for fighters about how to present yourself on social media; they got in former WWE guys and so on to show you. They also go to pains to do all the little things right. The hotel room was nice; always someone driving you around. Anything you need, there’s someone there to help.”
“Before you fight and you’re sitting out the back in the dressing room, there’s a morbid feeling,” Ben explains. “It’s the fight-or-flight response kicking in. The butterflies in your stomach are caused by the blood leaving all your non-essential organs so you can defend yourself or run away to survive.
“When the nerves kick in, it can be overwhelming. All great fighters in history felt that way before they fought. The more nervous, the sharper I am and I find that helps me. Sooner or later everyone asks the question, ‘Why do I do this to myself?’
“Why do I fight? I had a great childhood; I’m not an angry person. But I love fighting. Maybe it’s genetic. As a kid, I had big self-esteem problems, connected to my weight. Sure, that’s part of it. But there’s more to it than that.”
‘That’ is the deep undertow which compels a fighter along his or her long and often lonely journey. It can’t be stated simply, but it is present like the outline drawn from star to star which describes a constellation. And that outline, from win to loss to win, is the true arc of a career.