This Saturday, rejuvenated super middleweight contender John Ryder will headline a Matchroom card on home ground at the Copper Box Arena, London, against Russian Andrey Sirotkin in a WBA final eliminator, with the winner in line for a title shot against recently-crowned WBA ‘Super’ champion Callum Smith.

It represents the biggest opportunity to date for Ryder, whose career has been filled with ups and downs. Nicknamed ‘The Gorilla’ on account of his physical strength, Ryder is a compact and rugged super middleweight with decent skills, a good engine and deceptive power; solid in all departments without being outstanding in any.

The Islington man is not short on heart and determination and, though he is a capable boxer, won’t shy away from a tear-up. As a middleweight, he gave Billy Joe Saunders one of the toughest fights of his career in 2013, losing a unanimous decision for the British and Commonwealth titles by narrow margins on all cards.

Ryder later fought for the vacant British title against Nick Blackwell and was winning comfortably before being caught by a big right-left combination in the seventh round and stopped on his feet, some would argue prematurely, by referee Howard Foster.

Four fights later, Ryder was upset on points by Jack Arnfield, prompting him to move up to super middleweight, only to suffer another agonisingly close defeat by split decision to Rocky Fielding, the current WBA ‘Regular’ champion. Both fights could easily have gone Ryder’s way and one would have been forgiven for wondering if he would ever be able to catch a break or writing him off as yet another hard-luck-fighter and nearly-man of British boxing.

It seems to have ignited a fuse within Ryder who rebounded spectacularly with two consecutive highlight-reel-knockouts of the respected duo of Patrick Nielsen and Jamie Cox. Ryder, not previously known as a puncher, looked sharper, meaner and better than ever. It’s precisely the kind of form he will be looking to bring to the ring on Saturday night.

His opponent Sirotkin boasts an undefeated record – though the Russian is far less battle-tested and has not faced Ryder’s calibre of opposition. He picked up his biggest win to date last year against an aged and shot-to-bits former welterweight and super welterweight titleholder, Ricardo Mayorga, winning by ninth round stoppage when Mayorga retired in his corner complaining of a hand injury. As his KO percentage suggests, Sirotkin is a not a big puncher and he failed to seriously hurt or wobble Mayorga during the bout, while the Nicaraguan veteran was able to land a few wild shots that clearly won the Russian’s respect.

In his last fight, Sirotkin won a close decision against Canadian Ryan Ford at home in Russia where he has fought his last ten contests. Saturday night will mark the first time he has fought in the UK. He can expect a vocal and partisan home crowd united behind his opponent, a native Londoner.

This is Ryder’s fight to lose. Every single factor in play is lined up in his favour heading into the Copper Box Arena on Saturday. Sirotkin was the deserved winner in his last two fights, but still managed to look mediocre and painfully negative against sub-par opposition.

Against Ford, an MMA export who is crude but heavy-handed, he survived some shaky moments by being slippery and awkward. Ryder, however, represents a different calibre of fighter. Far more dangerous eliminators are out there, but it’s hard to begrudge Ryder the opportunity considering his record of bad luck in the ring. He knows this is the biggest opportunity of his career and expect him to put on a dominant performance in front of his home-crowd, whether by way of stoppage or landslide points decision.

The undercard features some attractive domestic bust-ups. Isaac Chamberlain and Luke Watkins face off in an intriguing cruiserweight bout, with both looking to rebound from first-career-reversals at the hands of Lawrence Okolie. Rising super welterweight Ted Cheeseman faces Asinia Byfield in a true grudge match marred by unsavoury back-and-forth mudslinging on social media during the fight build-up. Jordan Gill steps up against Ryan Doyle who is coming off an upset stoppage of Reece Bellotti, while Martin Ward and Felix Cash also have slots on the bill.

Article by: Paul Lam

Follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam