Updated: Mar 27, 2020
This is a missive from boxing’s shadow side. In a fair – and what Thomas Nagel would term a just society – it would be impossible to currently write. John Ryder’s march to world honours would have already been completed. He would now be resting in satisfied repose.
Yet anyone who has followed the sport with even a dilettante interest will know that boxing is far from rectitudinous, far from anything resembling fairness or probity. Marcus Aurelius once wrote: ‘When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.’ And this is a germane and protective viewpoint to adopt when engaging with the upper echelons of professional boxing.
It does conciliate me, somewhat, to believe in the existence of infinite parallel universes, and the possibility, therefore, that in one of them, John is currently enjoying life as the newly crowned WBA super middleweight champion. But sadly, this is not the universe that we languish in, and so this written declamation is both necessary and valid.
John Ryder is a professional London-based boxer with a record of 28-5. He has campaigned across the middle and super middleweight divisions; and he has held a diverse array of Intercontinental, International and Interim titles. Three of his losses occurred at middleweight: the first, back in 2013 against the current WBO super middleweight world champion, Billy Joe Saunders (29-0), when they were contesting the Commonwealth and British titles; the second, in 2015 against Nick Blackwell (19-4-1), again for, in this instance, the vacant British middleweight title; and thirdly, a unanimous decision loss to Jack Arnfield (25-3) in 2016 when challenging for the WBA International middleweight title.
He stepped up to super middleweight in 2017, winning on debut against Adam Etches (20-2) for the vacant IBF International title, before losing a chastening split decision against local fighter Rocky Fielding (28-2), in Liverpool, for the vacant British title. It was at this juncture that industry opinion appeared to categorise John as a gutsy pro who had enjoyed a commendable career, but one who would ultimately fall short in the realisation of achieving full world championship honours.
However, this viewpoint came in for necessary reappraisal as he then spent October 2017-May 2019 achieving an impressive four-fight-KO winning streak, against Patrick Nielsen (30-3 (K0 5)), Jamie Cox (25-2 (KO 2)), Andrey Sirotkin (17-1 (TKO 7)) and Bilal Akkawy (20-1-1 (TKO 3)), the latter victory being for the WBA Interim super middleweight title, and, thus, the opportunity for a shot at the ‘full’ champion, Callum Smith.
This fight took place on Saturday 23rd November in Smith’s home city of Liverpool. It was an absorbing contest, which saw Smith receive a unanimous decision verdict. The three scorecards read 116-112, 116-112 and 117-111; scores which would be laughable if they weren’t so inaccurate, ruinous and impedimental to one man’s (John’s) fulfilment of a professional ambition.
I personally scored the fight 115-113 in favour of Ryder and I was far from alone in doing so, given the smattering of local boos which immediately greeted the decision, as well as the subsequent social media outcry, which, amongst others, saw Dave Allen brand the decision as ‘up there’ as the worst he’d ever seen, and saw Darren Barker question Eddie Hearn in the Ryder changing room with the leading statement ‘everyone knew he [Smith] lost’.
This article, therefore, posits John Ryder’s march to world honours in 2020 as being via victory in a subsequent rematch with Callum Smith.
There has long been clamour in the Smith camp to face current P4P supremo, multi-weight world champion and contemporary money fight, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (53-1-2). Indeed, the consecutive possibility of this matchup following the initial Ryder defence was one of the suggested conspiracy theories behind the apparent predetermined scorecards.
Smith desperately needs a defining fight, as despite winning the super middleweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series, he did so by defeating an ageing, injury-addled and post-fight-retiring George Groves (28-4). Other notable victories include a world title defence against the receding abilities of 36-year-old Frenchman, Hassan N’Dam, and a 2015 TKO victory over local rival Rocky Fielding (28-2). Yet with Alvarez rumoured to be favouring the challenge of either Billy Joe Saunders (29-0) - for Saunders’ WBO super middleweight title - or Gennady Golovkin, in a trilogy fight, Smith’s desired opponent remains just that: desired. And a fanciful desire at that. No, what I and many others would really like to see is him redefine the popular perception that he lost to John Ryder.
Should this rematch happen, the keys to a Ryder victory remain in keeping with the tactics that won him the first fight, as well as ensuring that Terry O’Connor isn’t allowed to judge in any official ringside capacity. Previously, Ryder enjoyed success during each inside exchange: when he was able to close the distance, plant his head on Smith’s chest and mix ambidextrous body shots with short hooks and uppercuts. Due to his comparatively compact levers, he beat Smith for speed in each of these encounters, and it was a credit to the referee, Michael Alexander, that he allowed such inside work to occur, and indeed to recur.