By Daniel Cann
Sheffield’s Southpaw star Ryan Rhodes gets perhaps his final chance at world glory at the age of 34 when he challenges red haired Mexican sensation the 20 year old Saul Alvarez for the latter’s WBC light middleweight title which was won on points against another British boxer, Matthew Hatton in March. Some would say this could be another re-run of Alvarez versus Hatton, once again the young Mexican is fighting a British boxer in his thirties and arguably in the veteran stages of his career. Yet there are plenty of big differences this time.
For a start Rhodes does not lack in punch power as his 31 knockouts or stoppages in 45 wins will attest. Also he is quick of foot and hand. To those in the know he is a typical product of the Brendan Ingle stable of boxers: he fights with his hands low, often dangling by his sides, relying on footwork and counter punching to frustrate and punish his opponent.
These days Rhodes is with a new stable and is trained by respected Dave Coldwell. When the two first hooked up Rhodes was tipping the scales at around fifteen stone and unmotivated. What both have achieved together is incredible as Rhodes has turned his career and life around since, slimming down from middleweight to light middleweight and winning the British and European (EBU) titles and boxing into world contention. Rhodes is ranked 4th by venerated Ring Magazine. Not bad for someone who has been written off in the past and whose first tilt at a world title was way back in December 1997 for the WBO middleweight crown (Rhodes lost on points to Otis Grant).
Rhodes has four defeats on his record: the one against Grant, a shocking two round knockout at the hands of Jason Matthews in 1999 for the interim WBO middleweight title, an upset stoppage loss In three to Lee Blundell in 2002 and a points loss to Welsh boxer Gary Lockett in 2006 for the WBU middleweight title. To be perfectly blunt these defeats can be forgotten about now, as Rhodes is a different person entirely, they also all came in a different weight division. Since hooking up with Coldwell and dropping down in weight he has appeared revitalised and refreshed.
Old foe Lockett has been complimenting his former opponent and believes he has a good chance of scoring an upset in the champion’s backyard (the contest takes place this Saturday 18 June at the Arena VFG, Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Jalisco, Mexico). Earlier this week talking with the BBC Lockett said that he had seen Alvarez box a couple of times and tellingly remarked ‘it’s not an impossible task for Ryan.’ The former champion went on to say ‘In fact I’ll be placing bet on him, Ryan can definitely pull it off.’ These are not just idle words of a former opponent trying to be pleasant, Lockett knows his stuff and now works as a commentator as well as a trainer and was in the corner recently for Bradley Pryce’s challenge for the WBA Inter- Continental light middleweight title.
Rhodes has won ten fights in a row since his loss to Lockett and has never looked sharper and better. His fight with Jamie Moore to lift the European title by virtue of a seventh round stoppage in October 2009 was a classic and showed not only Rhodes boxing ability but his tremendous heart and will to win against a tough and dangerous foe. Since then he has defended the title successfully against Luca Messi on a sixth round stoppage and last time out disposed of Rocky Junior in the second round, flooring his opponent twice in that round.
This is where I give Rhodes a big edge over Matthew Hatton’s challenge to Alvarez. With no disrespect intended, Rhodes has greater experience, greater speed of hand and foot and most tellingly of all much greater power. If Team Alvarez think they will get another re-run of Hatton then they are in for a nasty shock. That said, reports from Alvarez’s training camp at Big Bear, California (at altitude of course) have shown nothing less than him taking Rhodes challenge very seriously. There is so much at stake for the young champion.
He turned pro in October 2005 with limited amateur experience and on paper his record of 36 wins in 37 fights (one draw) with 26 of those wins coming inside the distance may look impressive but even Alvarez will concede that most of the names on his record were not world beaters. We all have to start somewhere and he has built up an impressive record and decent experience in such a short space of time, but apart from impressive wins over the likes of Carlos Manuel Baldomir and a shopworn Lovemore N’dou there are not many quality fighters on that record.
It certainly won’t intimidate challenger Rhodes who has been there, seen it, and done it all before. Worryingly for Alvarez he is not fighting an old worn out 34 year old at the last chance saloon but rather a revitalized almost reborn boxer with energy and ambition again. The only factor that could prove to be decisive is Rhodes late arrival in Mexico (he has only been in Mexico two weeks prior to the contest after a six week training camp). For any athlete performing at altitude is punishing and the lungs certainly know the difference!
In an interview with ‘The Telegraph’ Rhodes has dispelled those fears by saying that because of his conditioning the altitude won’t be a factor and that experts explained to him that if it was going to have a detrimental effect he would have known within the first two days. Also that the average person needs about a month to acclimatize yet as Rhodes pointed out he is not the average person but a super-fit athlete. He certainly does not sound like a man lacking in confidence and is thriving on the challenge and the mission of taking a hot prospects title from him in his own back yard.
Alvarez is a phenomenally strong, methodical, precise pressure fighter. He imposes his will on opponents and wears them down. We talked about Rhodes impressive power earlier but it would be a terrible oversight not to respect Alvarez’s power. He can bang! The fact that so much is at stake for him and so much is invested in his continued success will mean that he won’t want to let anyone down. Apparently the world’s richest man, telecommunications tycoon, Carlos Slim wishes to pit Alvarez against Filipino sensation and arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world today: Manny Pacquiao in Mexico next year. Of course everyone wants a piece of Pacquiao these days but it is an indication of how much faith Golden Boy Promotions and Slim have in the prodigious young Mexican.
It is tough to decide whether Alvarez is the real thing or another over-hyped media creation. I am sure that the experienced and fired-up Rhodes will provide many answers to that come Saturday. I can see Rhodes slipping Alvarez’s punches early on in the fight and making him pay with hurtful counters. I would not be surprised if Alvarez gets stunned several times and may even have to rally back from behind. I do however see Alvarez taking control of the contest by the midway point and gradually grinding Rhodes down and winning on points or late stoppage after another valiant effort by a Briton abroad. I must add that although that scenario seems the most likely, do not be surprised to hear that Rhodes has managed to pull it off either. It’s an outside chance but this is not Mission Impossible!