John Ryder is preparing to fight again later this year after thoroughly analysing the performance against Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez that led to the Mexican declaring him his finest British challenger.
In recovering from an early knockdown and the broken nose from which he heavily bled, Ryder demonstrated such resilience that in the final rounds the tiring Alvarez resisted attempting to stop him and accepted his opponent would last all 12.
That the 34-year-old Ryder succeeded in surviving has contributed to suggestions the undisputed super middleweight champion is in decline. The reputation of his eighth British opponent – after Matthew Hatton, Ryan Rhodes, Amir Khan, Rocky Fielding, Billy Joe Saunders and Liam and Callum Smith – has regardless been enhanced, but having watched their fight back Ryder has revealed the extent of the difficulties he had to overcome.
When he spoke at his post-fight press conference in Guadalajara, Ryder repeatedly had to tend to the blood that was continuing to drip from his nose. As much as being physically tested he struggled with his injury psychologically, and yet he also watched back a performance he believed to be better than it had felt on the night.
“I’d done work in the build-up for the first time ever with a mindset coach,” he told talkSPORT. “I’d been in the ring at the Akron Stadium 100 times before the fight actually happened, in my head. Every night I took myself there in my thoughts; I visualised the ring walk.
“I was totally switched off and didn’t hear the boos [on the night of May 6] – I was just walking down that ramp to the ring and only saw the ring. It was tunnel vision. [During the broadcast] they panned in from the top of the stadium and I thought, ‘Blimey – it was a packed out stadium’. At the time it didn’t dawn on me because I was so focused.
“After my nose went, for a few rounds I was feeling sorry for meself. ‘The biggest opportunity I’ve had – I’m not going to get this opportunity again, and my nose is gone and I can’t breathe or sustain an attack because I keep having to catch my breath again and go again. It’s really not working.’
“My mindset coach – we’d been working a massive amount on nasal breathing for calming the nerves. Breathing techniques to bring yourself back down to your resting heart rate. In the corner that’s what I wanted to get on – nasal-only breathing – but I was having me nose punched and broken at the end of the second round so it made it hard.”
Ryder’s struggles to breathe as a consequence of that injury – his stamina has long been recognised as one of his greatest strengths – contributed to him having to stand instead of take his stool in between rounds, and therefore also the admiration his performance drew.
On fight night he was aware that his nose was bleeding because he could see some of his blood on the ring canvas, on his decorated opponent, and on the towel that was used to clean his face. It was only when sitting down to watch the fight back, however, that he learned of the extent to which he was covered in blood.
“I knew that blood was streaming,” he explained. “I could see it on him as well that he was covered on his chest and whatnot. I could see it down myself. [But] I didn’t realise how bad it looked on my face.
“All that blood doesn’t give a good account of how the injury was – next day I had a tiny black eye and not that much damage. It didn’t seem to stop bleeding out of my nose and down the back of my throat. That was my first broken nose in boxing – what a time to come.
“I started standing at one point because I couldn’t breathe. I thought I’d done that earlier in the fight but I didn’t do that until round five or six – that was a surprise to me.
“I felt I didn’t have much of a work-rate in there. But watching it back, the work-rate was pretty good – it was an all-action kind of fight.”
Ryder also had to endure the difficult ninth round, in which he appeared at risk of being stopped but after which, with him having survived, the 32-year-old Alvarez no longer seemed determined to record his 40th knockout.
“I’m fighting on instinct and tripping over his lead foot and making things look worse than they really are,” he said, having also insisted that Nick Blackwell punched him harder in 2015 on the one night he was stopped. “At that point I’m thinking, ‘I’m not going anywhere – you’re going to have to knock me out. I’m going to be here until the very end’.
“I’ve gone to depths I didn’t know I had. We all like to think we’ve got it in the tank, but you don’t know.
“I was keeping my foot on the inside of his to take that uppercut away from him and avoid any further damage. [But] when I was thinking I was having success he’s looking for the next move in the round ahead.
“The referee [Michael Griffin] done a good job to let it go – many would have stepped in and ruined a good end to the fight. He was brilliant that night and gave me every chance.
“The love I got from the Mexican fans was humbling – it was really nice. It cushioned the blow of defeat. It still hurts being beat, but on social media, at the airports after – I was in Cancun for days after, and in the hotels and airports people were unbelievable. When I was in Cancun it was nice, and then on the way back to London [the airport] was crazy. Locals congratulating me on my performance.
“[Alvarez is] an unbelievable fighter. His best days might be behind him but he’s been an impeccable force for years.
“[My trainer Tony Sims] kept me in that fight as best as possible. I take my hat off to him. Many coaches would have said, ‘No – enough is enough’.”
Ryder has since been spoken of as a potential opponent for Gennady Golovkin, who is nearing a year out of the ring after defeat by none other than Alvarez.
“I hope to be out October, November, December time,” Ryder said. “Get back with a good fighter – I don’t want to be dropping down levels – my time in this game is limited. I’m 35 next month and want the biggest and the best.”