Stephen ‘Breadman’ Edwards is training pro boxers his way
Edwards’ innovative approach and hunger have earned the trust of contenders such as super middleweight Caleb Plant
A bit of doubt swept over Julian Williams as he approached the infamous Surekill Hill.
Surekill, located in the Belmont Plateau cross-country course in West Philadelphia, is more than 300 yards long and rises to 100 feet tall. Williams was there because of his decision to hire first-time boxing trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards.
“I started taking him to this hill and he was like, ‘[expletive] man, this hill is brutal,’ ” Edwards said. “I’d make him run the hill backwards, sideways and forward. If you’re not in shape, you can’t even walk up that hill because it will feel like your lungs are pulling.”
Thanks to Edwards, not only did Williams conquer the hill but he also scored an upset victory over unified junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd in 2019. Williams was knocked out in his next bout, but the championship victory helped propel Edwards in boxing circles.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Edwards never fought in the ring, but his experience in the gym and innovative approach to training have not gone unnoticed. And Edwards’ success could move him into elite company.
If super middleweight Caleb Plant can pull off the upset in Saturday’s pay-per-view bout against David Benavidez (9 p.m. ET, SHOWTIME), Edwards would become an early favorite to become only the fourth Black trainer in 25 years to win the Boxing Writers Association of America’s trainer of the year award.
“Honestly, we all want some sort of attribution or appreciation for our craft, but it’s only March,” Edwards said. “A year is 12 months, not three. My guy is the underdog for a reason. We haven’t won anything yet, and [trainer of the year] is not something I’m comfortable talking about at this moment.”
Edwards, 46, developed a strong appetite for boxing while growing up in Philadelphia watching fights with his grandfather throughout the 1980s. During his brief stint as a student at Temple University, Edwards worked out at the James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym to stay in shape.
After college, Edwards worked in health care and with the Transportation Security Administration. He also remains involved in real estate. But his time in the gym motivated Edwards enough to want to stay close to the sport.
“I just knew that I always wanted to get into boxing in some capacity,” said Edwards, who writes a daily mailbag for BoxingScene.com. “It was the love of the game. I was really confident that I’d be able to make a difference and be good at it, whatever capacity I was in.”
Edwards received some clarity on his future when Williams approached him about training him. He became a pro boxing trainer in 2010, taking on Williams and a few local amateurs as clients. Despite the lack of experience, Edwards developed his know-how by observing trainers and fighters in the gym.
“The best trainer in our gym was Naazim Richardson,” Edwards said. “I watched how he would talk to his guys, and how he would talk with them through the rounds. I picked that up from him. Everything else, I just work on my own program. As you do anything, you build your knowledge and you build your acumen, and then you get better at it.”
Not only did Edwards help Williams improve his endurance training, he encouraged him to change his diet to include organic foods, herbs and plenty of water, which also aided the boxer’s success.
“I don’t like to say I knew a lot about boxing, but I did know a good deal about how to get a guy in shape, and what to do and what to eat,” Edwards said. “It worked out. He turned out to make a lot of money and won a world title.”
It was a no-brainer for Plant to use Edwards for Saturday’s bout. Following his first loss, a defeat to Canelo Alvarez in 2021, Plant was impressed enough to hire Edwards. With Edwards at his side in his return bout, Plant beat Anthony Dirrell in the knockout of the year.
“Breadman’s one of the few people who I’d trust to lead me the right way,” Plant said. “He hasn’t tried to change my style. He likes to throw in a few tips, tricks and ideas for me to build off of. I initially called him because he’s on the younger side [of trainers] and I knew he’d be hungry.”
As a fellow trainer without boxing experience, Bob Santos is all too familiar with Edwards’ path. Santos, who never fought professionally, was voted 2022 Trainer of the Year by Ring Magazine.
“There’s no prerequisite to becoming a good trainer,” Santos said. “I’ve been around Breadman, and what makes him a good trainer is that he’s a good communicator and he’s very cerebral.”
Edwards’ running and diet methods are just a few things incorporated into his training. Like in basketball, Edwards has fighters participate in a walk-through of sorts the morning of a fight. And with the help of an analytics whiz, Edwards used metrics to outline patterns employed repeatedly by Williams’ opponent.
“The analytics is not something I’ve used often, but it’s very informative and helpful,” Edwards said. “It gives you different scenarios you can look for in a fight, but it won’t change my game plan.”
Edwards, whose nickname is derived from the 1975 movie Cornbread, Earl and Me, is also observant enough to make changes on the fly. For example, he noticed something different about a Williams opponent a few years ago.
“[Edwards] observed my opponent had a dead eye,” Williams said. “He said jab toward that eye so he won’t see your right hand coming. I knocked him out in the seventh round.”
Williams may have detested Surekill Hill, but he knows it was a method to Edwards’ plan to instill discipline and endurance.
Williams remains thankful.
“He’s very strict and very particular in his approach,” Williams said. “What makes him so good is that he’s always learning and trying to get better.
“A lot of coaches just have one way of skinning a cat, and after a while they stop trying to get better. For whatever reason, Breadman just seems to stay hungry, like he’s got something to prove.”