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Who is John Ryder, the man looking to spoil Canelo Alvarez's homecoming

John Ryder has taken an undulating route to Saturday’s world title fight against Canelo Alvarez, overcoming a series of setbacks to arrive at the biggest night of his career.

Ryder (32-5, 14 KOs) will earn a career-best payday when he faces Alvarez (58-2-2, 39 KOs) in Guadalajara, Mexico. But those putting down money would be brave to bet in his favor. After all, the odds are stacked against him: Not only will it be Canelo’s first fight in Mexico in nearly 12 years — a homecoming he’s waited years to make — but Canelo is also one of the best fighters on the planet.

Ryder has been defying the odds all of his career. He has recorded four wins since he lost a controversial decision to English rival Callum Smith in 2019 and seemed to improve each time out. Ryder was impressive against Smith, but his momentum stalled because of inactivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“2019 was a great year for me; I got to box in Vegas then I had the Smith fight,” he said. “People see it as a bad thing [losing by a disputed decision to Smith], but I got a lot of credit from it. I still think I should have won. I had a lot of momentum, and momentum is what I thrive on. I was all set for a big 2020, looking to get off to a flier, and then COVID hit. There were big fights planned for 2021. It was a nightmare two years.”

Ryder got his career going again with a split decision win over former champion Daniel Jacobs in a WBA world title eliminator in February 2022. He fought his way into the fight from Round 7 to win by scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 113-115 after Jacobs controlled most of the fight up until the midway point.

“It feels like a coming-out party after 12 years in the game,” Ryder said after the fight.

Ryder then claimed the WBO interim super middleweight title after Zach Parker was forced to pull out at the end of the fourth round with a suspected broken right hand in November. Even with the win, Ryder once came close to quitting the sport.

He has never enjoyed the superstardom or riches Canelo has for most of his career, and times were so tough for the London-based boxer that he once had to supplement his boxing career earnings by working as a bouncer at a nightclub in east London.

“There were some dark times when I thought that this might be it,” Ryder, known as “The Gorilla,” said. “I think I had that dogged determination in me to carry on, and I believe I can do good things in this sport. I think the proof is in the pudding, I have done, and I was right to continue.

“My sponsor sorted me out a doorman’s license and I was doing quite a bit of that on the doors with a few friends,” he continued. “That was nice, and it was more the social aspect of it. Boxing is so closed off; you work so hard in the gym, so to work on the door every now and again was quite a nice break. It was long hours, not ideal for boxing, but the odd Friday night here and there was good fun.”

Ryder said he was working with people who had boxed themselves or had trained.

“There were no hotheads — they were all cool, calm and collected,” he said. “You had your talkers on the door who could calm down situations. I was never at the forefront getting stuck in. I just kept the peace.”

Ryder is a surprise opponent in this fight after suffering defeats to three fellow English boxers who have all been beaten by Alvarez. Smith went on to lose a unanimous decision to Alvarez in December 2020 after a year previously beating Ryder, who also lost unanimous decisions to Rocky Fielding (2017) and Billy Joe Saunders (2013). Alvarez annihilated Fielding in three rounds in 2018 and stopped Saunders in eight rounds 2021.

It has not been a straightforward upward trajectory for Ryder; whereas other challengers Alvarez has faced climbed through the ropes with unbeaten records and as current or former champions, Ryder has never been a world champion and defeats have punctuated his career. He has been beaten five times and for a time seemed destined to stay in domestic boxing after three defeats in British title fights. The Smith performance, despite losing, was the turning point for Ryder.

Ryder has had a taste of the Alvarez show before. Four years ago, Ryder was part of the undercard when Alvarez earned a unanimous decision over Jacobs for three middleweight title belts at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Ryder floored Bilal Akkawy twice in Round 3 to force the stoppage and earn the WBA interim super middleweight title in an impressive performance against a previously unbeaten opponent. In 2020, Ryder also beat Mike Guy by unanimous decision on the same bill as Gennadiy Golovkin’s win over Kamil Szeremeta in Hollywood, Florida.

If Ryder is going to make the splash he’s hoped for his entire career, it’s going to take all he has. Beating Canelo at home is far from likely, but after all that he’s overcome, there’s no counting Ryder out.

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