All eyes are on undisputed super middleweight champion of the world Saul Alvarez going into this weekend. ‘Canelo’ fights in his home country of Mexico for the first time since 2011. As if that wasn’t enough, the bout will take place during Cinco de Mayo weekend. There are so many talking points going into this fight and they all centre on ‘Canelo’.
Comparatively little has been said about the title challenger, John Ryder. What little column inches have been dedicated to the Islington southpaw have centred around the idea that he is a weak challenger. It is an allegation without merit. Granted, Ryder is not the sort of elite name Alvarez has been fighting with regularity, he is far from a Dmitry Bivol or Gennady Golovkin. But what he is is a deserving challenger. Ryder has earned his title shot the old-fashioned way, by fighting and beating the contenders in front of him.
On the face of it, Ryder is not your typical undisputed title challenger. A record of 32-5 that includes three failed tilts at the British title tells its own story. But in an era where fighters fiercely protect their “0” and often shun struggle, Ryder has picked himself up and dusted himself off each time. The Londoner has never shied away from a big fight, putting legacy ahead of protecting his record. It’s the sort of approach that can see a fighter lost in the shuffle, but a good run of form has put Ryder right where he needs to be.
Ryder’s last defeat came in 2019. Many observers felt he had done enough to win in that WBA and The Ring super middleweight title fight with Callum Smith. Ryder was on the wrong end of a unanimous decision defeat in Smith’s hometown of Liverpool. It was a fate that had befallen him before in 2017, when Scouser Rocky Fielding secured a split decision over him at the same arena.
Since the Smith reverse, Ryder is 4-0. His exertions have taken on an international flavour, with the victories coming in England, Austria and the United States. First, Mike Guy and Jozef Jurko were beaten in a pair of ten-rounders. Then Ryder welcomed former world champion and ‘Canelo’ foe Daniel Jacobs to the iconic Alexandra Palace in London.
On paper this fight looked like a rare chance to see an elite level American on these shores. Ryder was expected to play the durable patsy to the two-time middleweight world champion. Instead, ‘The Gorilla’ had ‘The Miracle Man’ reeling, gritting his teeth and pounding out a razor-thin split decision victory. For once it was Ryder who had been given the rub of the green in a tight affair. But considering his composed performance against a decorated former title holder, he just about deserved the nod.
Far from resting on his laurels, Ryder went straight back in to solidify his place at world level. Unbeaten Zach Parker was his opponent in his next fight. Again, the previously-unlucky Ryder was afforded a little fortune. Parker pulled out at the close of the fourth round with a suspected broken hand. But for the second fight in a row, Ryder’s bravery in taking the toughest bouts had been rewarded. He was the victor and the newly-minted WBO interim champion. Next stop: ‘Canelo’.
In all likelihood, the luck will run out when Ryder steps through the ropes in Mexico. But in an era of overprotected prospects and carefully stage-managed starlets, it is rewarding to see a fighter earn a title shot the old-fashioned way. Ryder has taken on all comers, remaining brave and unbowed even in the face of defeat. He might not get the undisputed super middleweight championship for his troubles, but he does get a well-deserved evening in the spotlight.
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