A YEAR ago today, Sheffield’s Ryan Rhodes was schooled by a genuine boxing superstar.
Rhodes had no answer to Mexican Saul Alvarez, yet bravely hung in there, until defeat in the 12th round.
It had been a comprehensive and humbling loss.
Then, fast forward to last Saturday, when Rhodes was stopped in the seventh round by Belarussian Sergey Rabchenko.
Rhodes had done well in the early rounds.
But, as much as it grieves me to write this, I always harboured the uneasy feeling that the Ecclesfield man was in for a similar dose of punishment to that he’d received in Jalisco in 2011.
The end, when it came at Manchester’s Velodrome, was a sickening body shot – yet, ironically for us observers, it was a shot which wasn’t easy to distinguish from the rest.
At first it looked like Rhodes, 35, had gone down after turning his temple into a left hook from this muscular man from Minsk.
That had been one of many that had permeated Rhodes’ defence in a painful seventh round which also saw him rock his head back and bash his skull into a ringside TV camera.
In fact, the decisive damage was done by what had looked like harmless punch flashing across his abdomen.
While the blow didn’t look strong, it landed square on the South Yorkshireman’s solar plexus, sending him down to one knee.
Rhodes had previously been well aware of Rabchenko’s body-shot expolosive capabilities, the visitor had seen off his last opponent in just 21 seconds.
But nothing had prepared Rhodes for that moment.
The grimace on his granite features told us all we needed to know.
Rabchenko, 26, who had made his pro debut in Minsk while Rhodes was disputing the WBU title in Wales in 2006, had extended his unbeaten record to 21 and was the new EBU European light middleweight champion.
For Rhodes, maybe it could have been worse.
In the first round, I thought he did well to survive a vicious upper cut which would have sent lesser men to the canvas.
Both men switched stance and Rhodes landed well in the second and, in the third, seemed on the verge of stopping Rabchenko, with a solid right hand.
But he was never able to capitalise on that single moment. The next two rounds saw the Brit forced to retreat with hardly any successful counter-punches as the Belarussian continued to stalk him and dictate the fight.
An ugly mark appeared under Rhodes’ left eye and his fans must have been hoping he could suddenly transform from veteran tehnician into a more aggressive warrior.
It was exhausting to watch, let alone compete in. And Rhodes started to look jaded before Rabchenko ended the fight with the swinging shot across his midriff.
Typically, Rhodes accepted the defeat in good grace, saying that no amount of fitness training can protect you from a blow to the solar plexus, that tiny hollow packed with nerve-endings which is so vulnerable if caught.
But he would not recognise that Father Time had beaten him as well as Rabchenko, and insisted he would re-group and come back for his 53rd paid fight.
That decision seemed to surprise TV commentator and former stable-mate Johnny Nelson who had said Rhodes faced a “big decision” over his future after his sixth career loss.
But Rhodes’ trainer Dave Coldwell supported the contention that age was not an issue.
He said his man had been “very sore” after the blow which had “totally winded him.”
“We’re all absolutely gutted. But the blow that did Ryan would have had that effect if he was 21, age was nothing to do with it.”
Also on the card, at Manchester, we were treated to a bizarre EBU-EU heavyweight win for Sheffield’s Richard Towers over Frenchman Gregory Tony.
Towers, looking ponderous at times, had Tony on the canvas in round two. But, three rounds later, seemed about to be KO’d as Tony almost battered him over the ropes. The bell saved Towers, who could barely walk straight.
At the end of round seven Tony, sat on his stool in the corner, chucked his towel into the ring. Nobody, apart from one cornerman noticed, and the fight continued for the rather unwilling Frenchman.
In the ninth, Tony suddenly refused to box on, inviting everyone, including a bemused Towers, to inspect, his apparently damaged right forearm.
Towers later admitted he’d been “wobbled” but would learn from the experience.
Birley bomber Adam Etches took just two rounds to despatch chubby Hungarian Ferenc Zold in what appeared a complete mismatch. Etches had barely broken sweat before the fight was over.
And Intake’s Scott Jenkins recorded a points win over 136-fight journeyman Kristian Laight.