The news that Ryan Rhodes is to get a shot at Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for his WBC light-middleweight title on June 18th, was another tick in the ‘good news’ column for UK fight fans and a great chance, for Sheffield’s Peter Pan of British boxing to hit his peak and finally claim a genuine world crown, 16 years after making his debut.
The fight is to take place in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico in front of Alvarez’s increasing number of fans in what will be a cauldron atmosphere at altitude nearly 6000 feet above sea level.

It will be Alvarez’s home coming party, the first defence of the world title he won against another Brit. Matthew Hatton last month. But Rhodes 34, now a veteran of the sport has earned this chance and promises to upset ‘Canelos’ party plans.

It only seems like yesterday that Ryan Rhodes and childhood friend, gym mate and boxing side kick Prince Naseem Hamed set out to conquer the boxing world, with their brand of Errol Graham Es boxing, switch hitting and lucid skills bred into their souls and psyche by trainer Brendan Ingle at his inner city Winkobank Gym in Sheffield.

By the time Rhodes turned pro, The Prince, who referred to Rhodes as ‘family’ after meeting when they were 6 years-old, had already built up a 16 fight unbeaten record and had claimed the European bantamweight title and the WBC International super bantamweight belt.

Prince Naseem Hamed was a phenomenon in boxing and blew his way through the featherweight division. As we know went on to win the WBO, WBC and IBF world featherweight titles. The one blot on Hamed’s record was a points defeat to the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera, and was the last meaning full fight the Prince had before finishing his career (36-1, 31 KO’s) in May 2002 as one of British boxing’s best and favorite fighters.

Rhodes’ professional debut didn’t quite go according to plan, when he was dropped twice in the 1st round against Lee Crocker in The Cardiff Ice Rink in Wales. The self styled ‘Spice Boy’ at the time got up and after a rollicking in the corner from Brendan Ingle, came out to stop Crocker in the 2nd.

The knockdown made Rhodes realise that the professional game wasn’t all fun and games and even though the flashy ring walks, back flips and dazzling moves were still on show, his ring intent and desire to succeed were big.

Rhodes, in just his 11th fight claimed the British light-middleweight title, becoming the youngest to do so since the war, in a local Sheffield Derby against Paul ‘Silky’ Jones. ‘Silky’ as the name suggests was a real good slick boxer and seasoned campaigner, once gym mate of Rhodes and cut from the same cloth – with the hit and not get hit style.

Jones infact- had won the WBO light-middleweight world title by outpointing Verno Phillips in his previous fight a year before. But Rhodes had too much on the night for Jones and won on points, be it a close majority decision.

“A lot of people were surprised when I was matched with him, but I never questioned Brendan’s judgement, even to myself. said Rhodes at the time.

“I had absolute confidence that I could beat Paul, and so did Brendan and Frank Warren (promoter at the time) – The only worry was the similarity in our styles.

“fighting Paul was like fighting my shadow. It wasn’t that I’d modelled myself on him or on Herol or anyone else. All Brendan’s boys have basically the same style, hit and not get hit. It’s the way he’s been training fighters since he first came to Sheffield, and he was doing it before he had Herol Graham.”

Rhodes went on to keep the Lonsdale belt outright and in record breaking time, before going on to capture the IBF Inter-Continental light middleweight title against Ed Griffin.

He was then offered a shot at the vacant WBO middleweight title against Jamaican born Canadian Otis Grant in December 1997. The step up in weight and class had come too soon for the Spice Boy and he was to suffer his first loss has a professional. Grant took a close but unanimous points decision.

After a year out following the Grant fight, Rhodes was back and over the next five years had 11 fights around the UK circuit, picking up a couple of International straps, but two stoppage defeats against Jason Matthews and Lee Blundell seemed to have put paid to the Yorkshire man’s plans of becoming a world champion.

But Rhodes (45-4, 31KO’s) is made of a commodity familiar to his Sheffield roots, with a steel determination and utter love for boxing, saw Rhodes dust himself down to return with 10 straight wins before being offered a fight with Welsh WBU middleweight champion Gary Lockett. In front of his home crowd at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff Lockett retained his title on points, leaving Rhodes to pick up the pieces again.

In June 2007 after another years break from the sport, Rhodes’ began another chapter in his boxing biography, the final chapter maybe, that has yet but had an ending.

Since the second coming of Rhodes, he had put the losses and title disappointments behind him with a new found lust for his trade and ditched the old ‘Spice Boy’ image, he embarked on a winning streak that saw him once again claim the British light-middleweight title, twelve years after he held the same Lonsdale belt, stopping Gary Woolcombe in round 9.

Ryan Rhodes vs Jamie Moore, plus build up

Rhodes went onto defeat South Africa’s Vincent Vuma to win the WBC International light-middleweight title and in doing so obtained a world top 10 ranking and a shot at the European belt against friend and terrific fighter in Manchester’s Jamie Moore. The fight also doubled as an eliminator for the WBC light-middleweight title.

It was to be Rhodes’ finest boxing hour to date and in what most described as the fight of 2009, Yorkshire triumphed Lancashire in a contest that was worthy of the tag ‘War of the Roses’ – Rhodes stopped Moore in seven pulsating rounds of action at the Bolton arena (full fight above). 

Since winning the title, Rhodes defended it against Italian Luca Messi KO6 and had a tick over fight against Rocky Junior KO2, while awaiting his shot at the world title.

Ryan Rhodes vs Luca Messi fight

In the meantime Manchester’s Matthew Hatton had got an unlikely chance at the world title against champion Saul Alvarez in March ahead of Rhodes, who was and still is the number 1 contender.

At the time there was an out cry, that Rhodes should have been the one in Hattons’ shoes. But looking back now in hindsight and from a Rhodes perspective, things could have worked out just fine having had the chance to see Hattons performance against Alvarez, where he put in a good if not brave shift against the new Mexican boxing hero.

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez career highlights video

Alvarez, the 20-year-old youngest ever light-middleweight world champion, was 4 years-old when Rhodes made his professional debut and has amassed an outstanding record of 36 fights unbeaten, with 31 KO’s – and is still in the process of learning his trade really, which gives Rhodes, who as been there and done it a very good chance of an upset.

But Rhodes will be up against, not only one of boxing’s new super star attractions, but a Hugh partisan crowd, who will be welcoming back their newest world champion and as far as they are concerned the script will already be written in Mexico’s second-largest city.

But Rhodes isn’t the naive fighter from 16 years ago, gone is the flash in the pan antics and the ‘Spice Boy’ image, they went along time ago with the blond hair and ring somersaults.

The new Ryan Rhodes is a shaven headed, toughened more acute and tactically aware reincarnation of a former self, who once had the boxing world at his mercy and didn’t then, quite know what to do with it.

The 2011 Ryan Rhodes is now a seasoned veteran, who has fought in front of big crowds, he has been under big pressures at times, that he has both failed at and won at. He has been to the well when it was dry. But as returned to taste the sweet water of domestic success – He has been on his arse and got up!

But Rhodes is being given a big chance by this writer and if he can box Alvarez with the speed and movement he did against Luca Messi and then fight Alvarez with the intensity and guts he shown in stopping Jamie Moore, then a win is not out of the question for the ever young Sheffield lad.

The fact that Rhodes will also be fighting at his preferred weight of Light-middle, will also be of benefit to him, having had to fight at middleweight for his past world title chance.

After the ups and downs of a career that as promised and disappointed, Rhodes speaking on The Main Event boxing show this week believes that finally getting a world title shot at his natural weight for the first time, will help him finally achieve his dreams at the 4th time of asking.

“Ive never fought for a world title at light-middleweight, Ive been craving this fight and we finally got it and I’m going to grab it with both hands.” Rhodes told host Barkery Jammeh.

“When I was fighting middleweights, the kids were always that bit bigger than me. But I’ve never lost at light-middleweight were I feel so much more comfortable. My knowledge now of myself and in training, I’m obviously more experienced now so overall I feel I’m a better fighter.” added Rhodes.

Rhodes says he has been looking at Alvarez’ positive attributes and rates the young Mexican, and likens ‘Canelo’ to himself when the boxing bright lights were once thrust upon him in the early days and feels that fighting in-front of his home fans, the pressures will be on Alvarez and this is where he can capitalise.

“We’ve looked at his positives, he puts his punches together really well, he is very accurate with his shots, he doesn’t waste many. He reminds me a little bit of myself when I was 20 – he is a little bit erratic, throws bombs, tries to take you out with every punch.

“But Ive got to take that away from him and I just think with my experience and knowledge, I’m going to be that bit much for him. I do see him making many mistakes.

So after 16 years of ups and downs, numerous belts, record breaking exploits and past world title bids, Rhodes now in the twilight of his boxing career will go to the pinnacle of the sport once again, but don’t expect that this fight is the end of the road for the evergreen boxer, who sees this as another beginning!

“I still feel I’ve got a lot left to give in this sport and when they do raise my hand as the winner of this fight its just onwards and upwards from there.”

By Chris Maylett

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