By Terence Dooley
Sheffield's evergreen Ryan Rhodes gets his fourth bite at the world title cherry when travelling to Mexico's VFG Arena to challenge WBC light-middleweight titlist Saul Alvarez on July 18th. The 'Spice Boy' earned the right by relieving Jamie Moore of his EBU title in October 2009. Rhodes then watched Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao plus Alvarez and Matthew Hatton contest the WBC strap. Ryan, though, knew his time would come; he is delighted to have netted the chance to scalp 'Canelo' on a Golden Boy show.
“Absolutely chuffed, I am very confident. I'm stepping into the lion's den for my chance. He is going to have tens of thousands of screaming Mexicans cheering him on so I honestly think there is more pressure on him,” insisted Rhodes during a recent telephone conversation.
“Yeah, I'm a little bit annoyed at the wait”, he admitted, “because I beat Jamie in a world title eliminator and a few people who were not ranked above me have jumped the queue. Margarito and Manny got to fight for the WBC title, fair enough, but then they made Matthew against Alvarez so I just had to bide my time. Things happen for a reason.”
The former British, European and WBC International title holder is viewed as a live underdog against Mexico's 36-0-1 (26) fighter. Ryan baulked when reminded of this status, insisting that Alvarez's home advantage is his only real leverage going into the clash.
Stating, “Matthew showed plenty of chinks in the Alvarez armour. Matt did really well to step up a weight, go over there and overcome a size difference. I'll have the size advantage in this one because I'm naturally bigger. I'm the biggest man he's fought.
“My greater power is also going to be a big factor, let's put it that way. I'm training like a demon for twelve hard rounds. But I know one hundred percent that if I catch Alvarez right he's getting knocked out. I'm 34-years-old and keep myself trim and active. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got my shot because I'm ranked number three with the WBC. So it was just a matter of waiting. I kept busy and the last year passed pretty quickly.”
He added: “Don't get me wrong, it's been difficult at times but I hung in there and believed that one day I'd get the shot again. My family, friends and trainer [David Coldwell] gave me great support so I knew it would happen.”
Indeed, Rhodes believes an away win will barely register on the list of British upsets due to Saul's lack of real 154lb experience. “I think is going to be up there as an upset in some people's eyes but in England people know what I'm capable of doing,” stressed Rhodes.
“I'm the biggest hitting light-middleweight he's fought so it won't be a massive upset apart from in Golden Boy's eyes because they're building him up as the next big star in boxing. Most other people won't see it as a big upset at all.
“I think my skills will trouble him. My awkwardness and punches from unusual angles will be too much for him. He won't be able to cope with that all night. If I land one of my shots and catch him right then you'll see him go.”
Alvarez has pale skin, red hair and is reminiscent of Ryan's promoter Ricky Hatton, who believes that Rhodes has every chance of becoming his first world champion. Rhodes is taking advice from Ricky and heart from Matthew Hatton's performance.
“I think that his style is good for me because we know how to deal with come forward fighters. I've been sparring people who can emulate his style. Alvarez is a come forward, pressing fighter who throws shots non-stop and fights in front of you but Matthew showed that you can stand there with him, ride his shots and hit him back. Matthew proved that Alvarez is there to be hit.
“I've spoken to Ricky earlier today about training, he is there at the end of the phone if I need anything and he's there if I need any advice. Ricky's experience and contacts means he can make fights like this happen for you. [Hatton's matchmaker] Richard Poxon has worked really hard in sorting this fight out as well so he deserves credit for the negotiations.”
Rhodes went the distance with Otis Grant (for the WBO belt in 1997) and Gary Lockett (WBU in 2006) during 160lb “world” title fights, citing this experience at the higher poundage as a vital part of his confident outlook. “I've been up at middleweight and more than held my own,” recalled Rhodes – he has not lost since Lockett's decision win.
“Alvarez is just a big welterweight so fighting at 160 put me in good stead for this fight. He's not fought anyone like me. His heaviest opponent was Carlos Baldomir and his personal heaviest weight is 151½lb, which was against Matthew. Jose Miguel Cotto was a welterweight moving up in weight and look what he did to Alvarez, he caught him and had him all over the place in the first round. I think Baldomir shook him a few times with shots to the back of the head and frustrated him – you saw a reaction when Baldomir hit him back. I've four stoppages in my last four so the power's on my side.
“I know he's an exciting fighter. I know I'm going into the lion's den against the hottest prospect in world boxing but I wouldn't have it any other way. People say this is my last chance, whether it is or isn't I'm confident going into this fight. It is also fantastic that HBO are showing it. They obviously think Alvarez is the next Mexican superstar. It is exciting to know that I'll be shown all around America.”
Former opponent Moore was one of the first people on the phone to Rhodes when news broke of the Alvarez tilt. Ryan's battle with Jamie forged a strong friendship. With 'Mooresy' banging the drum for Ryan's chances.
“I knew Jamie before we fought and classed him as a friend but he became an even better friend after we fought. I'm seeing him on Friday, we're commentating on the Sam Webb-Prince Arron show, so we'll have a good chat. As soon as I got this fight I got a call from Jamie telling me that I can win it and passing on bits of advice. I appreciate that,” revealed the 45-4 (31) southpaw.
Alvarez has recently been linked with Julio Cesar Chavez Junior and, tentatively, Juan Manuel Marquez. Although both bouts look unlikely the fact that Saul is musing over his future options is, in Ryan's view, a sign that the 20-year-old has taken his eye off the ball.
“When I beat Alvarez then I can go onto new things. I'm not looking past him, obviously, but I'm reading that he's already lining up his next fight for November against someone like Chavez Junior so you can tell that they're well looking past me,” mused Rhodes.
“The only fight that will be on his mind on Sunday the 19th of June is a rematch with me so let them talk about other names – I am just looking at him. If big fights come after I win then I'll take them but I’m concentrating fully on the 18th. It just shows a bit of immaturity on their side and obviously shows that they haven't done their homework on me. They're on about other things, let them do that.”
A win for Rhodes would see him join fellow British world titlists Carl Froch, David Haye, Amir Khan and Ricky Burns, with Nathan Cleverly also a possible world title holder should he overcome WBO light-heavyweight title holder Juergen Braehmer on May 21 and Matthew Macklin up against Felix Sturm on June 25. Rhodes feels that we could be in for a boxing boom during the summer months.
“I am confident that David Haye can knock out Klitschko, Carl Froch can knock out Johnson and go onto win the Super Six, Amir Khan is doing really well at the minute and Ricky Burns is doing well – they're some good world champions. I am more than confident that I'll bring another world title back to England and then bring it home to my fans in Sheffield,” pledged Ryan.
The proud owner of a year round tan, Rhodes is not your typical pasty Brit – I advised him to make sure that he keeps topping up that glow so that the Mexican heat does not KO his title dream. “Ha, ha, will do!” promised the 5' 8½'' puncher.
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