History beckons for plucky Ryan

The underdog: Ryan Rhodes
The underdog: Ryan Rhodes
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In a fortnight’s time in Guadalajara, Mexico, Ryan Rhodes will attempt to join an illustrious cast of British boxers who have won world titles abroad...and fulfil an odyssey which was earmarked for him more than 15 years ago.

Rhodes fights the heavy home favourite Saul Alvarez for the WBC light-middleweight title, his first world title fight since his shocking early stoppage by Londoner Jason Matthews for the interim WBO crown in Doncaster in 1999.

That night, it seemed Rhodes had had his chance and blown it. Having grown up in the diverted spotlight of his then best friend Naseem Hamed at the Ingle gym in Wincobank, Sheffield, his big shot at glory came a little too soon.

There was no disgrace in Rhodes’ first title defeat on points to the accomplished Canadian Otis Grant in Sheffield in 1997, but his juddering second round knockout loss to Matthews suggested his top-level career may be over.

As much as anything, Rhodes’ fight with Alvarez is a reward for extraordinary persistence. For seven years after losing to Matthews, Rhodes was cast out into the domestic hinterland and was even stopped again, by awkward Wigan southpaw Lee Blundell.

When Rhodes was narrowly and controversially beaten by Gary Lockett in Cardiff in 2006, the favourable reaction paved the way for a return to the top via the traditional British and European route.

A stunning stoppage win over all-action Jamie Moore in Bolton in 2009 finally put him back in the world title frame - and top of the list of opponents for Alvarez, who won the WBC title with a March win over Rhodes’ stablemate Matthew Hatton.

The size of the challenge facing Rhodes in Guadalajara will ensure his place in the pantheon of British boxing greats if he pulls it off, alongside stars like John H Stracey, Lloyd Honeyghan and Ken Buchanan.

Stracey, a Bethnal Green welterweight, also went to Mexico, to the altitude of the capital city in 1975 for the seemingly thankless task of trying to dethrone the excellent, three-year champion Jose Napoles.

Despite being floored in the opening round, Stracey got up and pulled off one of the sport’s greatest upsets with a sixth-round stoppage win.

“I knew it was my one and only chance and absolutely nothing was going to deter me,” said Stracey.

“I was still not detered when Napoles put me down in the first round, and I knew I just had to keep on focusing.”

Honeyghan went to Atlantic City in 1986 to stun the lavishly gifted welterweight champion Donald Curry, also winning over six rounds.

“I was just some bum they brought over to lose,” said Honeyghan. “But I battered him like I said I would.”

Other famous British wins abroad include Ken Buchanan’s sensational split decision win over Ismael Laguna in the 100 degree heat of San Juan in 1970, and Danny Williams’ non-title clubbing of Mike Tyson in Louisville.

Make no mistake, the Ecclesfield style-merchant will richly deserve a place amongst them if he returns from Mexico with the belt.

But Rhodes will be buoyed by the knowledge that Alvarez is no Napoles or Laguna; he possesses neither the skills of Curry nor the power of Tyson.

There are some who will point to Alvarez’s unblemished 36-fight record and tell you different.

But the fact is Alvarez looked rather less than impressive in chiselling out victory over Hatton, a game but limited fighter who is not in Rhodes’ class.

The best victim on Alvarez’s record is Jose Miguel Cotto, whom he stopped in nine rounds in Las Vegas earlier last year. But prior to beating Hatton, Alvarez had also failed to put away the ancient Lovemore N’Dou.

It would somehow seem fitting if Rhodes’ remarkable path to redemption reached its peak thousands of miles away from home in Guadalajara. The history is there to tell us Rhodes’ challenge is an eminently winnable one.