BN: How do you reflect on Joe Cordina’s performance against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov?
It was a tough fight. We always knew it was going to be a tough fight – Rakhimov puts everything on the line. He throws a lot of punches; is tough. Like Joe was saying, you’ve got to be a little bit more than just tough and come-forward to beat Joe Cordina. He’s tough himself; has got a great chin; can punch where he had Rakhimov on the floor, and he’s a smart boxer defensively. He showed everything he’s got, and I had him winning by at least two or three rounds. Anytime you step up to fight a top-10 fighter you’re always in for a chance of having a gut-check fight.
His hand’s fine. A top surgeon, Mike Hayton, operated on him and put pins in the bone where he’d broke it. What the doctor was saying was he’ll never damage that ever again. It’s near enough impossible to damage it, because it’s held together.
I’m always busy in my gym, because we’ve got so many fighters. I done the press conference, left the arena at 1am, drove back to London and got on a flight straight to here [Los Angeles] with John and the team. I’d had about two hours’ sleep but I slept well on the plane over. It’s a busy time. Sometimes fights overlap each other; in a trainer’s mind, it’s working out the structure of the training camp and if they overlap, how to work that out. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to do that.
BN: If that victory showed him to be in his prime, is now the time to have the biggest fights?
One hundred per cent. He wants to unify – that’s always in his mind – and that’ll hopefully be his next step. His manager, Charlie Sims, and promoter Eddie Hearn will try and sit down and get that together, but that’s what he wants to do next.
BN: The richest fights, regardless, are in the lightweight division. Is that where he’s headed?
He won the British and Commonwealth titles at lightweight, then he dropped down to super-featherweight. He’s already boxed up at that weight. If he unifies; if the Shakur Stevenson fight’s on the table he’d definitely go for that. Joe can compete with any elite fighter in the world. He’s got everything; he’s just getting better.
BN: John Ryder, on Saturday, fights Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in Guadalajara in the biggest fight of his career. How’s he looking?
John’s in great condition. He’s the ultimate professional; he always gets himself in great condition. He’s had a really good camp – we brought good sparring into the UK – we’ve been here a week and had good sparring here so he’s ready to go.
BN: As someone with the utmost respect for boxing’s history, how much does this occasion remind you of when John H Stracey fought, and beat, the great Jose Napoles in 1975?
I was a kid when John H Stracey won that title. It was funny, ‘cause he only lived in the next turning to me in Bethnal Green, ‘cause I was an amateur boxer then. I was a kid; I used to run past his apartment. When he won the world title against Jose Napoles no one give him a chance, because Napoles was an all-time great. He’s reigned for a long, long time, and he was a great fighter, and when he pulled that off… I remember on the bridge in Bethnal Green, someone put a big banner up. “John H Stracey, World Champion”. I’ll never forget that. It does take you back to those days because he done that in Mexico City, against an all-time great, and we’ve got John going into the same sort of lion’s den in Mexico. No one’s really giving John a chance – the same thing – and he’s in great condition and up for the fight.
BN: Would Ryder beating Alvarez be as impressive a victory?
Definitely. When you’re fighting an all-time great it don’t really matter where the fight is – if you beat an all-time great then you go down in history. But if you do it in their home town is something extra special. We’ve had Lloyd Honeyghan do that against Donald Curry [in 1986], John H Stracey do that against Jose Napoles, so it can be done. There’s a lot of generations of fighters in between but it can be done, and John’s confident that he can do this.
BN: After being spoken about as the world’s finest fighter for as long as he was, having lost to the brilliant Bivol, Alvarez has been described as in decline. Do you agree that he is?
It’s hard to say. Looking at last year, Canelo probably had his worst year last year than he’s probably had his whole professional career. He got beat by Bivol and he got beat convincingly as well. He didn’t look great against [Gennady] Golovkin either, whereas John probably had his best year of his career, so that’s two different years they’ve both had and John’s in his prime. He beat Danny Jacobs; he hurt Danny Jacobs as well; I didn’t see Canelo or Golovkin hurting Danny Jacobs but John had Jacobs in real trouble. Then the [Zach] Parker fight – he won that pretty easy. So he’s had a great year going into this fight; he’s got good momentum. We’ll be going in there with confidence.
BN: Is Ryder the more natural super-middleweight?
John spent a lot of his career at middleweight and then moved up to super-middle. When you look at Canelo next to John you can sorta tell that he’s not a natural super-middleweight. But that don’t take anything away from what he’s done in his career and who he is because, as well all know, he jumped up to light-heavyweight and beat [in 2019, Sergey] Kovalev. You’ve got to look at him as one of the greatest of all time, really,
BN: Ryder typically finishes fights well but how important is it on this occasion to start fast?
It is important to get off to a good start, but in the same breath, John likes to look at the opponent and see what they’ve got and work his way into the fight. I don’t want him waiting too long, but that’s what he’s all about. He’s smart; he likes to look at the fighter; he likes to feel what they’ve got, and then he’ll start working his way into the fight and that’s just the way he works.
BN: Can you rely on the judges to be honest?
It’s hard to say. I don’t know any of the judges so I’m not going to condemn any of them, but going into Mexico, Canelo’s going to have the crowd behind him. It’s going to be very, very difficult to get a decision there – overwhelmingly so. That’s what John’s got to do – he’s got to win it big so there’s no disputing the decision. But I’m thinking about that; you’re thinking about that; everybody’s probably thinking about it. You’ve just got to hope and pray that the judges are still fair today. They don’t just sway with the crowd.
To go and knock Canelo out is a difficult task. He’s great defensively. But we’ve got to go there to win the fight in any which way. [John’s] in great condition and looking forward to the fight.
BN: Alvarez has fought numerous British opponents under the supervision of British trainers. Have you spoken to any of those trainers?
John’s boxed three of the fighters that Canelo’s boxed. The Rocky Fielding fight [in 2017], I believe John won that fight. The Callum Smith fight [in 2019], I believe John won that fight. They’re his only two losses up at super middleweight. I don’t believe he’s ever been beat at super-middle. He lost to Billy Joe [Saunders, in 2013] early in his career when they was both middleweights, and that could have easily been a draw. Them defeats he’s had against opponents Canelo’s fought, they’re very controversial, and I know them fighters very well, so watching them against Canelo you can take a lot from that.
I speak to Ben [Davison] all the time, because he comes down to my gym a lot and I go his gym with sparring, so I spoke to Ben. But a trainer’s got to have his own mindset; his own tactics and the way he’s gonna go around things. You can’t just listen to other trainers about what they think and how they felt.
BN: How did you take Alvarez talking about a potential rematch with Bivol later this year?
I’ve seen that a lot. That’s good that he’s doing that because what he’s doing is taking his mind away from John. For us, that’s a good thing.
John’s so experienced now – he’s been a pro such a long time. He’s boxed on big cards; he’s topped big cards in the UK; he’s boxed in the States. He’s done pretty much everything in boxing in his career so I don’t think he’ll be fazed at all by the crowd.
John boxed an Eddy Reynoso fighter in Bilal Akkawy [in 2019] and knocked him out, so we’ve already been up against Eddy Reynoso with John. I’m 1-0 up against him – he needs to pull it back [smiles]. I’ve been there and done that.
BN: Those close to Conor Benn have spoken about how difficult the past few months have been for him. How is he now?
He’s good now. He’s been through a difficult time, but I think we’re coming to the conclusion of it pretty soon. I think he’s come through the worst stage of it, and he’s back training and back in a good place. Hopefully the conclusion will come and he’ll be fighting again pretty soon.
BN: There have also been suggestions that if he fights overseas, others who help him risk punishment from the British Boxing Board of Control. Is that a risk you’re prepared to take?
We’re coming to a conclusion on everything so hopefully it won’t come to that. So we’ll just have to see what happens.
BN: How difficult has this been for you to endure?
It ain’t easy for me. It’s not easy for anybody linked to it. It’s not been easy for the gym, because my fighters have been scorned with that brush as well. It ain’t been easy, but as I’ve always said, we’ll get through it. It’s just a thing that you’ve gotta get through; a hurdle you’ve got to get over. You come through the other end and then you just carry on.
It’s been difficult for everybody involved in it. Family. Conor’s family. My family. Everyone involved in it. To me, it’s a hurdle we’ve had to overcome and I feel like we will overcome it and it’s going to be overcome pretty soon. Once he’s back in the ring fighting again – a little bit like Canelo and Tyson Fury; they’ve been through that themselves – when you’re boxing people start watching you fight again instead of just talking about what’s gone on.
BN: As one of Britain’s leading trainers, how do you reflect on what appears to be a trend in so many British fighters seeking to work with American trainers?
There’s a lot of world-level trainers in Great Britain but sometimes fighters just fancy a change. They might feel a little bit stale in the UK and want a change of scenery. I don’t believe any trainers in the USA are any better than the ones in the UK. Sometimes the fighter might want to train in a different country and different environment, and I believe that’s what it’s all about. I don’t believe that it’s to go to a better trainer.
It’s always gone on, hasn’t it? Fighters have gone backwards and forwards. Even Conor Benn’s dad, Nigel, worked in America, so it’s always gone on. It’s just what you fancy and what you wanna do at the time, but I don’t think there’s any distinct difference between trainers in the US and trainers in the UK.