A couple of weeks ago, the seven-year anniversary of Edner Cherry's first and to date only shot at a world title came and went. Probably nobody thought about it other than Cherry himself.
That night in a Showtime main event from Biloxi, Mississippi, Cherry was beaten soundly and thoroughly over 12 rounds by Timothy Bradley Jr, who was making the first defense of the WBC junior welterweight title that he'd gone to England to take from Junior Witter four months prior.
Cherry, then 24-5-2 going into the fight, wasn't really a top contender. He'd suffered losses in key fights three years running: against Ricky Quiles in 2005, Jose Armando Santa Cruz in 2006, and Paulie Malignaggi in 2007. Cherry's career, which began on April 7, 2001, didn't exactly start with a bang. Cherry went 3-2-2 in his first seven pro fights. He was never a prospect of note. He was never really a serious contender. But he got a world title shot. Sometimes it happens that way in boxing. The fight was more or less a TV homecoming victory lap for Bradley, and the fight played out that way.
That was then. This is now. Tomorrow night on Showtime, Cherry, now 33, returns to major television to face IBF super featherweight titleholder Jose "Sniper" Pedraza, an unbeaten Puerto Rican who may still be more prospect than champion, but in today's world you often get to mix both of those things.
Pedraza (20-0, 12 KO) won the vacant 130-pound title against Andrey Klimov on June 13, and looked good doing so, pitching a shutout on the Wilder-Molina undercard in Birmingham, Alabama.
The 26-year-old will be expected to win. Cherry (34-6-2, 19 KO) has won 10 fights in a row since the loss to Bradley in 2008, seven of them by stoppage. But it's not exactly been a daunting schedule, either. For one thing, it's 10 fights over seven years. More importantly, the level of opposition has been lacking.
Cherry's best win in that time may have come over Vicente Escobedo in February 2013, a mild upset where Cherry put Escobedo away in the sixth round. Escobedo, a former prospect, was coming off of a one-sided beatdown loss to a heavy Adrien Broner seven months prior, and followed his loss to Cherry with a second round TKO defeat against Fernando Carcamo, a solid club fighter but a club fighter nonetheless. Escobedo hasn't fought since.
Other than that, you have some familiar club names on the list: Hevinson Herrera, Luis Cruz, Juan Carlos Martinez, Robert Osiobe. Nothing that screams "contender." These are the sort of fighters Cherry was beating a decade ago when he was scrapping his way to his first novelty world title shot. In that regard, it's hard to see this opportunity being any different. On paper, he's being sent in as a good story -- veteran fighter on a winning streak -- to lose to a more talented, younger titleholder.
But it may not be that simple. Cherry is now operating two weight classes below where he was when he lost to the likes of Bradley and Malignaggi. He'd flirted with dropping to super featherweight before, but mostly campaigned at lightweight in the first part of his career. Since 2010, he's been fighting either as a super featherweight or between that division and lightweight, and he says he feels he's found a home in this weight class, that he was simply fighting too heavy in the past.
"I tell people that I am so glad that I didn't win that title against Bradley because, in my mind, I would've been fighting at 140, but that wasn't my weight class," Cherry said this week. "I would've been risking my life fighting at 140. I’m glad I didn't win it, but I'm also glad I hung in there and got myself back into a big fight. I've been preparing for this fight for 15 years, and it's going to show on Saturday."
It would make a hell of a story if Edner Cherry is able to win tomorrow night, clawing his way back up the ladder slowly but surely over seven years, maturing as a fighter and taking advantage of what could be the one and only opportunity he's going to get at this point of his career.
On paper, he's not going to do it. On paper, he's a plugged-in veteran, a third or fourth tier fighter meant to serve as a showcase opponent for a rising prospect and potential star. Paper doesn't always matter in boxing, but the case for a Cherry upset probably rests more on Pedraza failing to meet expectations than anything that Edner himself can do.