John Ryder is not in the habit of looking passed opponents but he knows the stakes are incredibly high when he meets Zach Parker in a hotly-anticipated all-British clash at London’s O2 Arena next week.
The two super-middleweights collide with the winner thought to be a frontrunner in the most lucrative sweepstakes in boxing, the chance to face Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in their next fight.
It’s a contest Ryder, 31-5, has long coveted, and he might just be one top performance away from boxing’s golden ticket.
Speaking after the final spar of camp, ready to relax over the weekend, he said, “Let fight week commence.”
The likeable London southpaw, nicknamed ‘The Gorilla,’ is not taking victory over Parker for granted but knows if he dares to dream, he might see the Mexican superstar in his future.
“I think it makes perfect sense, really,” Ryder explained. “The winner will be in line for the WBO title, obviously it’s for the interim, and I know [David] Benavidez and [Caleb] Plant are fighting a final eliminator and he [Canelo]’s got options, but I’ve spent two years chasing him [Canelo] around the world, trying to be a backup fighter [if someone drops out], and if I beat Zach Parker next week, I deserve my shot at Canelo and I think I’ve paid my dues.
“Following him around the world to see if someone would pull out or fall ill obviously wasn’t the way to go about it, and I deserve a proper camp and proper notice and I’d love to get it on with Canelo, for sure.”
But Derby’s Parker comes first. Zach is 22-0 and had been due to fight Demetrius Andrade for the WBO title in a bout that was snakebit from the moment it was announced.
Ryder, who looked unlucky on the cards against Callum Smith for the majority of the marbles at 168 three years ago, refuses to accept his time at the top is nearly over and feels his best days are ahead of him, aged 34 and coming off a razor close win over New Yorker Danny Jacobs.
“I suppose he [Parker]’s looking at this as his breakout fight and seeing if he can do a number on me and it propels him on and opens doors for him, but I don’t feel like I’m an opponent just yet,” Ryder continued. “I feel I have a lot to give in this sport and at 168 I feel like I’m a different animal to my days at 160, they are well behind me. I can really perform at this weight and this is where I’m going to do the things I set out to do in this sport.”
Ryder does understand, however, that things are not supposed to go his way next week. He’s promoted by Matchroom and often on DAZN shows, but this is a Frank Warren bill on BT Sport.
“Obviously a lot has been made of it being on a Warren show and bridging the gap between Warren and Matchroom, but I think when the fight is right and the terms can be agreed, why shouldn’t they be?” Ryder asked. “You’ve got to be an away fighter sometime, and I’ve been an away fighter before. I’ve been an away fighter on Matchroom shows, so it’s not the be all and end all of being a home fighter. But it’s a great opportunity and I think it’s the right fight and the right time for me. There’s other fights I could have taken, but you can’t really pass up these opportunities.”
And it could be worse. Ryder is the local lad, Parker is the visitor, even if only geographically.
“That’s exactly it,” Ryder added. “I’m an away fighter on a show in London against a man from Derby, so it’s not that bad, is it?”
Does he think there’s a chance his fanbase matches Parker’s on the night?
“I hope so. It’s not been ideal with Matchroom having a show on the same night at Wembley [featuring Dillian Whyte], but I think I’ll still have a good crowd to support me, as will Zach, but there’s a good couple of ticket sellers on the show as well, so I’m sure it will be a nice vibe in the arena.”
There is no animosity between the fighters, even if they are from separate camps. The only time they have met was at the press conference when the fight was announced.
“He doesn’t lack confidence, he’s obviously a bit taller than I am, but so are most people I box,” Ryder continued. “He will see it as an advantage, I see it as a disadvantage [for Parker]. I tend to struggle when they’re a bit shorter, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Ryder is trained by Tony Sims and the stable was flying high earlier this year, but the momentum has been stalled by out of the ring issues rather than anything that’s happened inside it. First, Joe Cordina’s IBF title was taken from him, then there was the Conor Benn positive tests and the subsequent fallout.
Ryder admits it’s all cast a shadow.
“It was like suffering a death in the family,” John continued, saying he’d been in touch with Benn who is “keeping in shape, ticking over and keeping fit.”
“Joe Cordina got stripped of his world title after his emphatic win in Cardiff in April and we were all buzzing for that, and we were all buzzing in the build-up to [Chris] Eubank and Benn and the generational thing that came around again because we’d been lucky enough to see their dads fight, and we were all excited. Then that came about and it’s been a down-time for the gym, and not just the gym but boxing fans in general and Matchroom especially. We all know that we’re a team at heart but we are all on our own journeys so it was straight back to it [for Ryder and Sims] and you have to compartmentalize it and crack on with the task at hand. Hopefully in time he [Benn] can prove his innocence, get the apologies he deserves and have his name cleared.”