John Ryder is used to being overlooked, quite literally. The Londoner is “5 foot 10 inches… on a good day”, meaning that since he has moved up to super-middleweight, he generally has to crane his neck at any face-to-face.
On Saturday night he will be staring up at Zach Parker in their all-British clash for the interim WBO super-middleweight title at the O2 Arena, London. Yet Ryder does not mind giving away the height, neither does he mind people under-estimating him
“There is no fun in being a gatekeeper,” Ryder said. “You want to be the man not only knocking on the door but breaking through the door. I want to break through to some big fights next year.”
Remarkably for a 34-year-old who still has ambitions of winning a world title, Ryder came up short three times at British title level, losing to Billy Joe Saunders and Nick Blackwell at middleweight and then being edged out by Rocky Fielding at super-middleweight.
But overall, moving up to super-middleweight was the making of him after a soul-destroying defeat to Jack Arnfield in 2016.
“The resurgence came when I realized my days at middleweight were well and truly done, I needed to move up,” Ryder said. “It was a gamble, because I haven’t got height on my side. But the gamble has paid off and I have got some good wins.
“I’m not blessed with genes that make me 6ft 2. But I have got the build for it, good solid foundations, strong legs. I believe I have the energy, the tenacity, and the courage to get past these bigger fighters.”
Making weight at middleweight had become a terrible struggle.
“There was a constant dread of knowing you have to get down to 11 stone 6 and knowing it was always the same battle over and over again,” he said. “The weight wasn’t there to lose. I would get down to 11-10 and be fine but then it was so difficult. I would go to bed before the weigh-in 8 ounces over and wake up 8 ounces over, then I’d go for a run on the treadmill and it wouldn’t come off.
“Some fighters would go in the sauna but it is for the best that the Board do not allow it. So, it was just hard work sweating it off and the upshot of that was that 24 hours was not enough time to refuel, and I paid the price for that and it showed in the ring.
“My legs just were not there for the 12 rounds. If it was six or seven rounds I would be fine, but beyond that it was difficult.
“It is a different story now at super-middleweight, I feel good, I feel strong, I am in a good place mentally and physically. The camp now is not about losing weight, it is about being strong, fit and ready to win.”
Ryder’s last fight was in February when he got the nod in a close fight with Daniel Jacobs, although the elation of that victory was overtaken by the reaction on social media. Having been on the wrong end of some controversial decisions, notably when he lost to Callum Smith for the WBA title, it was a different reaction this time.
“It was weird,” he said. “It was a great win at the time but then you get people on Twitter saying ‘you robbed him’. I have been on the end of a few robberies and it is not a nice feeling, so that hurt more than anything, the feeling that I had robbed someone.
“But I watched the fight back and I feel I won it clearly. It did take away from the win, but I’m past it now and I have that name on the record.”
Parker is the favorite to beat Ryder with the bookmakers, but he has been in that position many times before.
“He’s a good fighter, he’s not put a foot wrong so far, he’s 22-0,” Ryder said. “He’s not been in with the level of fighters I have been in with, but I’m sure he is looking at this as his break-out fight and he will be looking to do a number on me to prove he is capable of challenging for a world title.
“Obviously, Canelo is the main man, but if I win this there are lots of good fighters I could face in defence of the interim title. I’m sure David Benavidez will be looking at the result of this. And while everyone is jockeying for the chance to face Canelo, there are plenty of other fights to be made.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.