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Keys To Victory: John Ryder

John A. MacDonald weighs up how John Ryder can have success in his intriguing super-middleweight clash with Daniel Jacobs at the Alexandra Palace in London this weekend…

Be A Small Target.

If you were to channel your inner Dr Frankenstein to create a super-middleweight monster, it is unlikely that the end result would stand at 5’9” and have the same reach as, 130lbs champion, Emanuel Navarrete. Yet, that is the hand John Ryder has been dealt.

Now, before we here at Boxing Social get accused of body-shaming, it is worth noting that Ryder himself has bemoaned his genetics, once stating: “I’ve got a dad who’s short, fat and Irish and I’ve picked up half of that.” 

His lack of stature and comparatively short wingspan should be prohibitive to success, yet ‘The Gorilla’ has managed to turn these perceived physical shortcomings to his advantage since moving up from middleweight five years ago.

At 160lbs, Ryder felt physically drained having denied his body of food and water for many weeks ahead of fights. The extra eight pounds afforded to him one division north, does not make the process of making weight easy, but it is easier (those Irish genes are strong). The super-middleweight version of the Islington fighter has often been the stronger man in the ring, as was evident in his clash with Callum Smith, where he was routinely able to force his larger opponent back.

Strength is not the only reward Ryder has reaped at super-middleweight; his energy levels are considerably higher. ‘The Gorilla’ is now able to maintain his excellent lateral movement for 12-rounds. That is the key to his brand of intelligent pressure-fighting.

His short stature, compact stance and refusal to allow his head to become a stationary target makes Ryder hard to hit cleanly. Ryder must, once again, make himself as small as possible. Daniel Jacobs’ punches can look eye-catching, it is up to Ryder to ensure that the American does not get the opportunity to land many of them.

Change The Perception.

A fighter’s reputation should not impact officiating, yet it often appears to. Cast your mind back to the first encounter between Carl Froch and George Groves; in the opening round, Froch sustained a heavy knockdown. It took ‘The Cobra’ several rounds to get his equilibrium back, during which time Groves was landing on him at will. At no point during that tumultuous period for the Nottingham fighter did it appear that, referee, Howard Foster was on the verge of stopping the bout. We have seen fights waved off when boxers were in less distress, why was Froch allowed to continue? Carl Froch is “a warrior”. We were told that “fact” regularly by commentators, pundits, his promoter and the man himself. 

The same courtesy was not afforded to Groves in the ninth round. The Londoner was exhausted, Froch had weathered the storm of the first half of the fight and was coming on strong. Foster had seen enough and halted the contest. Groves was incredulous. Whether you believe the stoppage was too early or just right, it is hard to believe that Foster would have acted the same had it been the champion in that position. 

Such instances are not a result of corruption, per se, but subconscious conformation bias. Referees and judges sometimes see what they expect to happen, rather than what is taking place. Everyone is guilty of it to one extent or another.

When you think of Josh Warrington, which of his attributes springs to mind? I’d take a guess that work-rate would be close to the top.  Now, repeat the task for Kid Galahad, I bet you came up with a very different answer. Now, what if I told you that, according to Compubox (I know, men pressing buttons etc, but bear with me), Warrington throws on average, 57 punches a round, while Galahad throws 66.7? Perception matters.

What is John Ryder seen as by judges? Judging by the scorecards when he faced Billy Joe Saunders, Rocky Fielding and Callum Smith, a good fighter, who is not supposed to win.

Ryder must alter that perception. Being the “home” fighter will help, but he is facing the ‘Miracle Man’ a fighter who overcame cancer, won a world title and pushed Gennady Golovkin close. John Ryder is not supposed to beat that calibre of fighter.

Of course, Ryder can’t change opinions of him overnight, however there are little things he can do to help shake this perception of being the nearly-man. Taking a leaf out of Josh Warrington’s book, would be a good place to start. The Leeds fighter has perfected the art of timing his bursts of offense. Warrington, more often than not, finishes a round strongly. In frames where little has happened, those rallies are telling.

Ryder should embrace the experience. He is topping the bill, in his home city and the crowd will be behind him. If Ryder acts like it is his night, it may well be.

Don’t Stop Believing.

If it was not for bad luck, John Ryder would have no luck at all. In four out of his five defeats, a case can be made for Ryder winning. 

The most painful of those losses was against Callum Smith. The Liverpudlian was the 20-1 on favourite, yet Ryder produced the performance of his life. Many observers felt Ryder had done enough to win, the judges did not. Smith retained his WBA ‘Super’ super-middleweight title and fought Saul ‘Canelo’ Alavrez in his next bout. John Ryder went on to face Mike Guy.

Fortune hasn’t been kinder to Ryder outside the ring. Twice since the Smith clash, world title opportunities have been mooted, but on both occasions, they failed to come to fruition. 

First, ‘The Gorilla’ flew out to Texas, ready to step in on less than one week’s notice to face Canelo, when Billy Joe Saunders was threatening to withdraw from the bout due to a dispute regarding the size of the ring. The Mexican eventually conceded to Saunders’ demands and Ryder was left looking on from ringside.

Then, Ryder was in talks to step up to light-heavyweight to take on Dmitry Bivol, but for whatever reason, the fight was not finalised.

Such disappointments in and out of the ring can be crushing. The rigours of training become all the more arduous when you believe your effort will be futile. Ryder must cast just those memories from his mind. Like a degenerate gambler on a losing streak, Ryder must maintain that resolute belief that his luck is about to change.