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Rhodes: It's not an impossible task

Rugged Rhodes targets Mexican upset

Matt Ogborn @mattogborn

Second chances at securing a worldwide legacy do not come around too often in a professional sportsperson’s career, let alone after a wait of just over 13 years.

When Ryan Rhodes got the rough end of a decision against slick Quebecer Otis Grant for the WBO middleweight title on 13th December 1997, the braggadocio of youth and a place in the slipstream of Prince Naseem suggested it would not be too long before he climbed through the ropes for another shot at a legitimate world title.

Bearing in mind the proliferation of respected belts – four at the last count with the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO straps – and dizzying carousel of champions, the odds on Rhodes getting that shot were short but it wasn’t to be until now.

The fact that the 34-year-old is still trading punches at the highest level, let alone challenging rising Mexican superstar Saul Alvarez on Saturday June 18th for the WBC light-middleweight title, is testament to the Sheffield steel girding his body.

Neutrals will point out that the southpaw could not have chosen a tougher opponent to prove his doubters wrong; however you will not find Rhodes quaking in his boots ahead of the Guadalajara showdown.

This despite running the rule over the trouncing ginger-haired tyro Alvarez handed out to Matthew Hatton last time out when Ricky’s younger brother looked to emerge out of the sibling shadow cast by the former world champion.

With his training reaching a crescendo of focused fury, Rhodes revealed: “I have trained my socks off. I’ve been beating all my scores on my circuit training and weights from previous fights. I am going to be in tip-top condition.”

It is no secret in pugilism circles that many boxers struggle to make weight or stretch themselves too far to bulk up in an effort to escape a weight class packed full of rivals or ride an ego wave borne from lesser domination.

Rhodes acknowledges that the middleweight division where he looked to build on his early light-middle exploits on undercards for the flash Prince was not the ideal platform to showcase his undoubted talents.

“Alvarez has never fought anybody who is big, strong and can punch like me in this division,” he said. “I am the biggest opponent he has ever faced, after the welterweights or even light welterweights blown up to fight him. It will be a massive shock for him.

“I watched his last fight with great interest. Matthew did really well, even though he is a welterweight moved up to light middle and wasn’t a big puncher at welterweight himself.

“He did well, his movement was really good. Alvarez couldn’t pin him down and stop him, even though he were trying his hardest.”

Having worked his way back up from the canvas doldrums with an admirable mix of patience and hard graft, Rhodes understands that this could be his last shot at holding his head and a coveted alphabet belt high.

“I’ve got the experience this time,” he said. “When I was 21 years old fighting Grant he was the wiser one and he had the boxing brain. This is completely like that fight, but the roles have switched.”

Ten straight victories accrued in just less than five years since Gary Lockett seemingly brought his career to a standstill in a WBU middleweight challenge highlights the mental fortitude Rhodes possesses with the clock seemingly ticking down on his physical faculties.

Gutsy victories over Jamie Moore, a 2009 Fight of the Year contender, Luca Messi and Rocky Junior means he goes into the ring confident that age isn’t anything but a number.

Emboldened by the recent ring prowess of ageless Bernard Hopkins against another hungry younger warrior in Jean Pascal, Rhodes believes he can take Oscar De La Hoya’s very own Golden Boy Alvarez down a peg or two.

“He seems to be a very cocksure fighter,” Rhodes said. “He tries to take you out with every punch. He is a fit kid and obviously fighting in his own town and arena, I think he will be even more confident.

“Oscar De La Hoya is tipping him to be the next superstar in world boxing. He is 20 years old and I am getting him at the right time.”

What can a 46-year-old ex-con teach a Brendan Ingle-trained graduate about his next moment in the spotlight then?

“Hopkins is an inspiration overall, inside and outside the ring,” Rhodes said. “It just shows to everybody there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“He is up there in the top three or five pound-for-pound fighters in the world and to be somewhere like that at 46 years old is amazing.”

Other fighters Rhodes uses for inspiration go to show that his mature grit and showbiz style gleaned from his youth could finally have given him a ring mixture potent enough to secure his legacy.

“When I was growing up I used to watch Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson in his early days,” he said.

“Coming through in my gym I used to look up to Herol Graham and Johnny Nelson. I wanted to fight in big shows like they were doing. Growing up, being best of mates and travelling around the world with Naz I learnt a lot too.

“But obviously the last six years with Dave Caldwell and Mark Willey, my conditioner, it just brought everything back from those early days plus I’ve got the experience now.”

Anti-boxing campaigners always bring up the dangers of fighting past your prime, quite rightly on occasion, another topic Rhodes is well aware of every time he makes the long walk from the changing room to the ring especially with the Guadalajara altitude advantage the much younger Alvarez is likely to possess on Saturday.

“I watched Roy Jones the other night and I was absolutely gutted for the kid,” he said. “I heard it were a decent fight and he was holding his own, but when I saw the knockout I was so gutted because growing up he was an absolute hero of mine.

“His style was fantastic and what he used to do in the ring was absolutely unbelievable. Get out quick before something sad happens.”

When quizzed on how hard boxers find it to quit the adrenaline of the fight game, he added: “Roy Jones is ruining what he achieved, because people seem to forget the earlier part and remember the last couple of years of your career.

“I think he is putting a bit of a dampener on his success. People around him need to step up and, instead of patting him on the back and saying he is a superstar, they need to tell him the truth and get him out of there.”

Rhodes is bullish on the prospects of the other Brits currently holding, contending or aiming for a world title to call their own, something which he thinks should get more exposure in the national press.

“We have got Amir Khan, David Haye, Carl Froch, Ricky Burns and Nathan Cleverly, then you’ve got those on the borderline like Kevin Mitchell, John Murray and Kell Brook who is definitely going to be world champion,” he said.

James DeGale and George Groves, they are going to be future world champions too so there are a few coming through. I am on the fringe of being world champion and it is a fantastic era for British boxing on the world stage.”

If pre-fight talk could win you fights, then the Sheffield native would stand a good chance of following in the footsteps of John H. Stracey and Lloyd Honeyghan in coming back across the Atlantic with a world title.

“I have had a watch of some of the old fights on YouTube and fighters fighting away from home. It’s a massive inspiration and proves it can be done,” he claimed.

“It’s not an impossible task, so I am taking them fights with me obviously knowing I can fight abroad, I can win abroad and bring the title back to England.

“The WBC is the main belt out of them all. It is the most recognised to Joe Public, so to win that and get that green belt round my waist on June 18th is going to be a complete dream come true.”

Ryan Rhodes trains and fights using Lonsdale boxing apparel and equipment www.lonsdale.com

One Response to “Renaissance Man”

  1. Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire!!!! If Ryan reproduces the show he put on vs Jamie Moore I think he can stop the Mexican. Alvarez couldn’t even knockout baby Hatton. Ryan in 6 rounds. Watch the clip of the Moore finish. Clinical.


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