IF someone had told you eight years ago that John Ryder, after being stopped inside seven rounds by Nick Blackwell in a British title fight, would one day travel to Mexico to fight Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, the sport’s biggest star, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was a case of mistaken identity.
Indeed, even in subsequent years, when Ryder was losing close decisions against the likes of Jack Arnfield (2016), Rocky Fielding (2017), and Callum Smith (2019), it was hard to see how he would progress beyond domestic level, much less arrive on the sport’s biggest stage.
Which is why, having now confirmed a May 6 fight against Álvarez in Guadalajara, Ryder deserves all the credit in the world. He deserves credit not only for going into the super-middleweight champion’s back yard but also, in simply landing this shot, deserves credit for showing what can be achieved with a little perseverance.
Because Ryder, although he may have lost five times at domestic level (the first of these was against Billy Joe Saunders in 2013), is better now, at 34, than he has ever been, with this Álvarez shot proof of that. He has, since losing a contentious decision against Smith three and a half years ago, won four fights on the spin, including a close one against former world champion Danny Jacobs.
In other words, he is about as ready for this chance as he will ever be.
“I feel like in my career I’ve had ups and downs, highs and lows, and I believe this fight could have happened a few years ago if I had been judged fairly in my fight with Callum Smith,” Ryder said this week. “But in this sport timing is everything. I have the utmost respect for Saúl and his team. He’s been a great champion and a great ambassador for the sport and really paved the way for others coming through.
“I don’t need to get into a spat with him, where we both keep talking. The respect remains. I believe he’s a great fighter. But on May 6 I’m here to do a job and come away victorious.
“It’s a great opportunity that has not been gifted. I’ve worked hard at this for years.”
For some, of course, the Ryder resurgence is not a strong enough story for this fight against Álvarez to become in any way compelling. Rather than look at his improvements, or the fact he is the WBO’s mandatory challenger, critics of the fight will instead argue that the Londoner’s only noteworthy win – against Jacobs – could have gone either way and that his last win, against fellow contender Zach Parker, ended unsatisfactorily after four rounds due to Parker breaking his right hand.
“He [Ryder] has everything to win and nothing to lose, right?” said Álvarez, reacting to the criticism of this fight. “He’s always there, fighting with the good fighters trying to get that opportunity, and now he has got it. It’s going to be a danger for me, but I feel good.”
Much of the danger with Ryder, one suspects, has to do with Álvarez maybe overlooking him or considering him a step down from previous opponents, which of course he is. On paper at least, it is hard to make a case for Ryder, 32-5 (18), being more proven or more threatening than Gennadiy Golovkin, Dmitry Bivol, Caleb Plant and Billy Joe Saunders, all of whom Álvarez has boxed in consecutive fights (losing only to Bivol). Most will agree Ryder is better than Avni Yildirim, whom Álvarez stopped in three rounds in 2021, but even the likes of Rocky Fielding and Callum Smith, two men who have beaten Ryder, were controlled by Álvarez with ease during their respective fights.
For Álvarez, then, the lure of this fight may simply be this: he’s coming home. That was clearly the message emphasised during a recent press conference in Guadalajara, which played before a backdrop stating “The King is Coming Home”, and it is no doubt exciting for Álvarez to be back fighting in his home country, which is not something he has done since beating Kermit Cintron in 2011.
Moreover, whereas that Cintron win was in Mexico City, this next fight against Ryder will take place at the Akron Stadium in Álvarez’s home city; the city in which he was born and raised. That, one would assume, is going to create a whole new level of excitement and perhaps a bit more pressure, too, which Ryder will try to use to his advantage and Álvarez, 58-2-2 (39), will use as his fuel to produce the kind of performance the natives expect.
“The press conference in Guadalajara was an unbelievable moment for me because I saw my grandma, my dad, my mom, my brothers, and my family there, as well as a lot of media guys I saw when I started boxing. For me, I feel very proud and happy to bring this fight to Guadalajara. I think it’s the perfect time. A long time ago I wanted to fight in Guadalajara, but I think this is the perfect moment; the perfect fight to bring to Guadalajara.”
Now 32, Álvarez seems settled at super-middleweight, having flirted in the past, with varying success, at light-heavyweight. He is also aware of the fact that many opponents are now keener to box him than at any other stage in his career, due to both the money this sort of opportunity delivers and the supposed vulnerabilities Álvarez, a pro since the age of 15, has shown in recent times.
“I’m so excited to show everybody they’re wrong,” he said. “I feel very good. I have a lot of years in my career; 17 years as a pro. I’ve had injuries too. I’m not at my best but I’m very motivated and I’m very happy to be in the gym, to train at 100 per cent, and they’re going to see what is coming. I’m very excited and motivated. Be careful with that.”
John Ryder has been warned. Then again, so too has Canelo.
“I’m not here for a holiday,” Ryder said, “and I wouldn’t bring the team with me, and have the team around me, if I didn’t believe I could win. I’m leaving no stone unturned, putting everything into this camp, and truly believe I can come away victorious on May 6.”