Editor’s Letter: Though he missed out on gold, John Ryder showed he has balls of steel

NOT only was John Ryder’s busted nose causing blood to dribble down his throat and into his stomach, it graffitied his chest like paint from a spray can. He was struggling to breathe freely, which is far from ideal at high altitude and even less so when faced with Canelo Alvarez in a small boxing ring, cordoned off by thick ropes in a 12-round firefight.

The judges who were sat at the claret-splattered ring apron didn’t seem to notice Ryder, with one having the gall to score every round to the Mexican. Three lopsided scorecards, mere numbers on a page, should not be allowed to tell the story of the fight. Alvarez, for whatever reason, has for too long been treated like royalty by those who decide the outcome of his fights.

Many years from now, one may only look at certain scores from certain encounters and conclude that, in 2013, Canelo gave Floyd Mayweather his toughest outing. They may also be led to believe that, in 2016, Canelo won 10 of 12 rounds against Gennadiy Golvkin and, in 2023, he outclassed Ryder for 36 one-sided minutes. None are representative of what really transpired, of course.

Alvarez deserved his victory, no question. But it was Ryder – far more competitive against Canelo last weekend than the redhead had been against Money Mayweather 10 years before – who made it such a memorable fight. Should he not have risen from a heavy fifth round knockdown, for example, it would have been the ending that many predicted. But Ryder showed the kind of pluck that should forever draw admiration from the likes of you and me.

His decision to stand between rounds after his fall was presumed at the time to be a show of machismo, one designed to say to Canelo that he was still, and would remain, standing. In truth it was an act of self-preservation, for if he placed his aching body on a stool, and folded it in the process, oxygen was even harder to find. It’s impossible to fathom how he found the energy to stand upright, and it cut a curious sight; during certain intervals, to take the weight off, he lifted one leg, bent it at the knee, and placed the sole of his boot on the stool. Facing the crowd, he looked like a schoolteacher lecturing the merits of taking a beating like a man. Before the 12th, in fact, the unlucky leg that had the job of keeping his body vertical, seemed to briefly buckle under the strain.

Credit to Ryder’s corner, too. Led by Tony Sims, there was calm advice and surgical skill to keep Ryder’s will intact and his nose, broken as early as the second session, in one piece. Sims, who had bullishly told Steve Bunce in fight week that he guaranteed his charge would still be standing in the 12th, has been an impeccable leader for Ryder throughout his career.

There were moments when Canelo seemed to be one shot from ending matters. The fifth was a particularly difficult session, when Ryder cinematically bounced off the ropes after taking a straight right at full pelt, yet the ninth was perhaps the most difficult of them all as he somehow resisted a fall. But this was far from a horrible one-sided pummeling, ala Larry Holmes versus Tex Cobb. By the 10th, Ryder was inviting a tiring Canelo to do his worst and finished the bout as the sprightlier and more effective of the two.

That hearing the final bell was not victory enough perhaps says even more about Ryder than the ordeal that came before. He was not there, after a career of ups and downs at domestic level, to just reach the finish line. He was in Mexico taking on the most famous fighter on the planet with only winning in mind.

“Just gutted,” was a teary Ryder’s post-fight assessment. “I’ve put so much into this sport over the last few years and not always got the rub of the green. [I] come here with a dream, like I said, and fell short. But that’s boxing. [I’m] not the first and won’t be the last.”

Ryder fights back (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Ryder, a proud family man, suddenly has plenty of options. That he fought so valiantly will only endear him to an international audience, but, after this stirring effort, one wonders what’s left for him to prove at the age of 34, particularly if the cash he earned in Mexico was hefty enough to live the rest of his life without taking another blow to the head.

Canelo will of course be back. The years of combat are taking their toll but he remains determined to head back to light-heavyweight – at least two divisions north of what was his peak fighting weight – and attempt to gain revenge over Dmitry Bivol, a boxer who outpointed him fairly easily last year, irrespective of what the close cards may have suggested. Chasing Bivol could lead to contrasting opinions; one, he wants the toughest fight out there or, two, losing to Bivol again at 175 would be significantly less harmful to his legacy than relinquishing his super-middleweight title to someone like David Benavidez. Bivol will unquestionably be a more lucrative affair, too.

But if we’re to give Ryder credit for lasting the course, we must also heap praise on the shoulders of the man who was responsible for the hurt. Alvarez is modern-day phenomenon and though the blotches on his reputation – in particular, the failed drug test in 2017 and the apparent favouritism from officials – make it difficult for some of us to label him a ‘great’ in the same way we do those who came before, there should be no doubt we’ve witnessed the work of a special fighter, one who first entered the pro ranks weighing 139lbs in 2005.

The story of Saturday, May 6, however, should be about the man so few felt had a chance. The bravery on display in Mexico from the Briton was as awe-inspiring as anything seen that day, including an occasion taking place thousands of miles away and one that depicted a scene from hundreds of years ago. Ryder’s efforts came on the same day his country coronated a new king in a London festival of pomp and grandeur, one designed to show the world how historic and honorable Britain remains.

King Charles III, however, has likely never heard of the man who tried so valiantly to take the crown from Alvarez in a claustrophobic cauldron in Guadalajara, nor would he even dream of being forced to prove his status in such a torturous manner. If only he knew, he’d no doubt be proud of John Ryder.

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