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Ryan Rhodes: From Spice Boy To Well-Seasoned Veteran

By Jake Donovan

Once upon a time, Ryan Rhodes was supposed to follow his good friend Prince Naseem Hamed on the fast track to superstardom. He was even responsible for introducing the flip routine that the brash featherweight ultimately popularized by incorporating into his ring entrance.

Greatness was already bestowed upon him before he ever had a chance to prove it in the ring.

He was known as “Spice Boy” at a time when the UK-based Spice Girls were among the hottest pop bands in the world. The nickname came about when Dominic Ingle – son of Rhodes’ former trainer Brendan Ingle (who also trained Hamed at the time) – commented that the scene inside of Rhodes’ locker room was so crazy that it resembled a Spice Girls convention.

The nickname stuck around for years. What never followed was the greatness so often promised.

Instead, Rhodes would spend much of his career living in the shadow of others like Hamed and considered to as an afterthought, yet another overhyped prospect who never came close to measuring up to the lofty expectations.

Eventually, even the nickname would become outdated and inappropriate – can’t remain a boy forever, nor would following generations even understand the reference.

Fittingly enough, after discovering redemption through maturity, awaiting the Sheffield-bred boxer in perhaps the biggest fight of his 16-year career is perhaps the most famous spice in the sport today as he challenges undefeated Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in a junior middleweight crossroads bout.

The bout marks his first trip outside of the United Kingdom, and also his first ever shot at a major junior middleweight belt. For this challenge, Rhodes travels to Alvarez’ native Mexico for their 12-round title fight, which will be carried live on HBO’s Boxing After Dark (Saturday, 10:30PM ET/PT).

It’s a far cry from his first crack at alphabet glory, way back in 1997 when Rhodes was on the brink of stardom but would instead launch the beginning of a prime spent in disappointment.

Six days before Hamed would take New York by storm in his stateside debut, Rhodes was strategically positioned to scoop up a vacant middleweight belt. What he planned to do with it was anyone’s guess; his optimal best came one division below, with his time spent at middleweight only coming in a stay-busy capacity.

Still, it was a risk he and his handlers felt was necessary to take. Lonnie Bradley vacated his alphabet middleweight belt a detached retina sent him into a forced hiatus from the sport.

All Rhodes had to do was get past the tough but relatively ordinary Otis Grant, who was held to a controversial draw against Bradley earlier in the year.

It would’ve been by far the biggest win of Rhodes’ career, even bigger than his resume enhancing stoppage win over former junior middleweight titlist and former mentor Paul Jones a year prior.

However, the win never came about as Grant – Jamaica-born, Canada-bred – marched into Rhodes’ hometown to take a well-earned decision and the vacant crown.

Hardly a major setback, most people thought, taking into consideration that Rhodes had just turned 21 and was still a couple of months shy of three years as a pro.

Yet for the next decade it was the closest he’d come to a major belt or a true career-defining moment.

Three more losses would follow over the span, including setbacks in the lone two times he stepped up in class – suffering a humiliating second-round knockout loss to Jason Matthews in 1999 and an ’06 decision loss to Gary Lockett that was thought to spell the end of Rhodes’ career.

Somewhere in the middle came a shocking stoppage loss against unheralded Lee Blundell, one that perhaps forever knocked whatever remaining luster surrounded his career.

By the time his October ’09 scrap with Jamie Moore rolled around, Rhodes had all but fell off the radar. He changed trainers and promoters, and came with the promise of rejuvenation. Yet where his handlers tried to push onto the public a made over product, others merely saw leftovers, cannon fodder for a former prospect hot on the comeback trail.

Few noticed going into the bout that Rhodes had launched his own comeback. It wasn’t quite as pronounced as Moore’s five-year, 12-fight win streak against a mixed bag of competition. But Rhodes’ own seven-fight win streak was enough to suggest that he’d show up for more than a paycheck.

What fans got instead was a matured version of a fighter who never realized his full career potential. That very maturity allowed Rhodes to weather an early storm against Moore to pick up the pace at the right time and punch his fellow former prospect into oblivion in one of 2009’s best fights.

The win positioned the seasoned Brit for a long awaited return crack at a major title, though one he nearly had to hire legal counsel in order to secure.

More than a year after registering the biggest win of his career, Rhodes and his handlers were forced to read through the media that Matthew Hatton would be afforded the opportunity to jump the line and challenge Alvarez for a vacant junior middleweight title, further frustrating considering the fact that both were closer to welterweights while several other challengers deserved first stab at the belt.

The problem wasn’t anything that money and promised opportunity couldn’t resolve. Shortly after Alvarez decisioned Hatton in a fight that marked the HBO Boxing After Dark debut for both fighters, Rhodes was guaranteed next in line for a title crack at a weight which best suits his career.

All four of his career losses have come six pounds north, including two fights (Grant and Matthews) in which he had no business moving up yet grabbed solely for opportunistic purposes. He remains unbeaten in any sanctioned junior middleweight fight and certainly hopes to extend that streak this weekend.

Regardless of how things pan out against Alvarez, it can’t be denied that Rhodes has come a long way over the past 14 years. For far too long, he was viewed as wasted talent, and a waste of the ink dedicated to him for so many years.

So much that moments like the come-from-behind knockout thriller against Moore should’ve jarred memories of his pro debut, when he was twice put on his bum before coming back to stop Lee Crocker in the second round.

From his pro debut, Rhodes has shown an ability to overcome adversity. It took him more than a decade to rediscover his roots in that regard, but through maturity has resurfaced the fighter who once was, in efforts to help erase memories of the pompous flash-in-the-pan that could’ve been.

Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]

User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by Clint650 on 06-15-2011

Rhodes should be a good test for the kid. nice article, im looking forward to it.

Comment by Hiei on 06-15-2011

stupid ass brits of course Canelo has not beat anyone he is FUCCEN 20 YEARS OLD who has spice *** beat? :rofl: stupid hooligans

Comment by lluisone on 06-15-2011

you can beat this guy alvarez .... just have to prepare to pull many punches and not let it take you to the ropes :boxing:

Comment by JrRod on 06-15-2011

This is going to be Alvarez is biggest challenge to date. I don't know if that speaks poorly of Alvarez resume, or highly of Rhodes, you can take your pick. I do know that this fight should be a good…

Comment by Stanly Ketchel on 06-15-2011

[QUOTE=`STEELHEAD;10697104]the level of compitition rhodes has fought is quite pedestrian. even alvarez has fought better. GBP hand picked rhodes for a reason. will this fight be a stinker like the khan/mcclosky ? for those interested i have a betting prop…

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