The impromptu sit-downs weren’t meant to be hands-on tutorials. They just turned out that way. Stephen “Breadman” Edwards was raised on the “Four Kings”: Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the 1980s.
He would sit on the edge of the family sofa in the living room alongside his maternal grandfather, Stanley Edwards Sr., a Korean War veteran and boxing fanatic who witnessed, live, Sugar Ray Robinson take apart Kid Gavilan at Philadelphia’s old Municipal Stadium on a hot July night in 1949.
Edwards and his grandfather watched their version of the classics: Leonard‒Hagler, Leonard‒Duran, Hearns‒Duran, Hagler‒Hearns, and with each fight came more wisdom and insight. It came with, “Look at the way Leonard uses positioning, and how Duran and Hagler wedge their way in to attack, and how Hearns can transform from a puncher to a boxer.”
The words stuck in Edwards’s head.
It’s why Stephen Edwards is like a forty-three-year-old with the wisdom of an old man. He’s an anachronism, someone you easily see on black-and-white film leaning over next to Jack Blackburn working Joe Louis’s corner.
Edwards carries the old soul of a generation of fight fans, and the spirit of a man who taught the importance of discipline, which Edwards now gives one of boxing’s best, and most underrated fighters, super-welterweight world champion Julian “J-Rock” Williams.
Boxing was always in Edwards’s blood.
A 1994 graduate of George Washington High School, Edwards was a basketball player and had until a knee injury his senior year derailed his aspirations in that sport. But that setback led him to his true love—boxing.
Edwards bounced around a little. He briefly went to Temple University, though he began working out in a local boxing gym to stay in shape—and more importantly, because he liked it. He dabbled in the sport and sparred Philly contenders Yusaf Mack and Robert “Bam Bam” Hines, but he never thought about taking his boxing love to another level.
He made his living working for the TSA, working in health care, owning some real estate, and for a time, driving a bus. But everything changed one cold night on December 8, 2007. Edwards was hosting a fight party for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.‒Ricky Hatton pay-per-view. He had about twenty people crammed into his home, including a young, skinny amateur named Julian Williams.
Edwards and Julian talked and gradually formed a bond. Edwards liked the way Williams carried himself, and Williams liked Edwards’s old-school ideas about boxing and training.
“We just became cool, I would go see him fight in Golden Gloves, and started talking and exchanging thoughts,” Edwards said. “When we first met, I had no idea who he was. We just became cool. I remember him telling me how he was thinking about turning pro, because he wasn’t going to wait around for the 2012 Olympics.
“When I first met Julian, I thought he was a little too headstrong but, to be as good as he is, and to be a world champion, you have to be headstrong. Julian was a good kid, and he’s turned into a good man.
“But when I first met him, I thought he was doing and relying too much on natural ability. His diet wasn’t good, and he wasn’t conditioning the way I thought he should. I let him know, and he listened.”
Today, in boxing circles, you can’t really mention one without the other. “J-Rock” is more recognizable to fight fans, but, to those in the know, the two are synonymous with one another.
They even sound alike.
“Yeah, that’s been said sometimes,” said Williams, whose one fight in 2019 was a classic when he beat Jarrett Hurd in May at EagleBank Arena, in Fairfax, Virginia, Hurd’s backyard. “I trusted Steve because he was very eager to learn, and he put forth the most effort in helping me improve, how to eat right, train right, and instill certain things in me.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without Steve, and he’s been the other half of this success. We work so hard together, and Steve and [co-trainer] Aasim Beyah, they know how hard I’ve worked. We’re a team. Steve is extremely optimistic, and that’s one of his strengths. That’s rubbed off on me because, through the year, I’ve started to think that way.
“You can say he’s like a Papa hawk, protecting me. Steve is my guy, and he’ll go to the furthest extent. I keep my focus on boxing. Steve believed in me after the [Jermall] Charlo fight, because no one thought I could beat Hurd. I mean, no one!”
Williams has developed coping skills through time, and what kept their faith in each other was a pact that they would never point fingers at each other. What they did was step back from the Charlo loss, regroup, and figure out what to do differently.
“I had family—I mean family—that didn’t think we could beat Hurd,” Edwards said. “We shut everybody up. Julian fought the fight no one thought Julian could fight. We caught a train down there. We didn’t get a press conference after the fight.
“We had to catch a Lyft after that fight. That was our choice. We wanted to do that. No limos or special car service for us. We wanted to keep it old school and humble. It was just us, and we wanted to keep it just us. That’s me, Aasim, Mike Rodriguez, our cutman, and Julian. Our small team is the only ones who thought we would win.”
Afterward, Edwards had some private time to reflect. He got back to the hotel and didn’t go to sleep, just like he did when Williams lost to Charlo. This time, his grogginess wore a smiley face, and somewhere, Edwards was thinking, Stanley Edwards Sr. was somewhere smiling, too.