John Ryder is familiar with handling pressure in a high stakes fight.
It goes without saying that the former title challenger will rely upon such experience to test the heart of his younger, unbeaten foe.
“I feel like I’m a different animal. I’m ‘The Gorilla,’” Ryder said during the final press conference ahead of his all-British super middleweight showdown with Zach Parker this weekend. “He’s been perfect in his career so far but I’m The Gorilla. You’ll see on Saturday night.”
The vacant interim WBO super middleweight title is at stake when Derbyshire’s Parker and London’s Ryder collide this Saturday on BT Sport and ESPN+ from The O2 In London. The winner will lay claim as the next mandatory challenger for undisputed super middleweight champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (58-2-2, 39KOs).
Parker (22-0, 16KOs) enters as a -200 favorite according to bet365 Sportsbook, who lists Ryder as a +165 underdog. Youth, size and other intangibles align with the 28-year-old Parker, while the 34-year-old Londoner boasts the edge in big fight experience.
Ryder (31-5, 17KOs) enters this weekend riding a three-fight win streak following a disputed points loss to then-WBA super middleweight champion Callum Smith in November 2019 on the road in Liverpool. The veteran southpaw forced a grueling pace in drawing the bigger Smith within punching range and was considered unlucky by many once the final verdict was announced.
The fight marked the lone setback among the past seven outings for Ryder who also came up just short in points losses to countrymen Rocky Fielding and then-unbeaten Billy Joe Saunders. In his most recent start, Ryder claimed a twelve-round decision win over former middleweight titlist Daniel Jacobs on February 12 at the famed Alexandra Palace in the London suburb of Muswell Hill.
Parker is the naturally bigger and arguably stronger fighter but has not fought since last November 6. The career-long 55-week inactive stretch is accompanied by the uncertainty of how Parker will handle life in the trenches should the fight reach that point, whereas Ryder already knows what his own heart is made of in such instances.
“I’m sure there’s a strong possibility that I’ll have to (go to the well),” noted Ryder. “I’ve done it before and I will do it again, where [Parker] hasn’t yet needed to in his career so far. The question should be to him. We’ll see Saturday night.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox