A Fine Messi Ryan Rhodes Put Himself Into…

boxingby Ezio Prapotnich: By definition, parallel lines do not cross each other at any point. Of course, there is always an exception to the rule. If you put them back to back, there are parallels between Luca Messi’s record (36-7-1) and Ryan Rhodes’(43-4-0). For example, Rhodes won twice the British title at light-middle, Messi won twice the Italian one, at Welter and Light-Middle. Also, both had a handful of fights for Intercontinental/International/Interim titles of some of the main sanctioning bodies, Ryan being successful more often then Luca. But most importantly, both failed in their respective world title challenges, Messi in 2005 for the WBA Light-Middleweight Championship with Andrea Garcia, and Rhodes in 1997 for the WBO Middleweight one with Otis Grant, not to mention the WBU and WBF. Now, this is where the lines cross: the European Light-Middleweight title. But, there is more at stake than that. By beating Vuma and Jamie Moore, Ryan Rhodes not only lifted the EBU belt but also put himself back in line for a world title shot, and is now ranked no.4 by both the WBC and the IBF. The common perception is that this should be an easy defense for him before challenging for one of the major belts..

Luca Messi surely feels this is his chance to get back into contention too and he’s not coming to Sheffield to follow the script. It’s do or die: he is the challenger, fighting on the opponent soil, and he has everything to gain. Let’s hear what his feelings are before what could turn out to be a pivotal fight in his career.

EASTSIDEBOXING: How did this mach come along? Did you go after Rhodes or did he pick you?

LUCA MESSI: After he brilliantly conquered the European title, Rhodes had the right to a voluntary defense, as long as the opponent is ranked by the EBU. I am number 9. I think he looked at my record and thought I am going to be an easy opponent. Exactly what I hoped he would do.

ESB: So, do you think he is underestimating you and already looking past this fight?

LM: I heard recent talks of a world title shot for Rhodes. I wish him well but it won’t be easy to get it after he loses the European one. Yes, I think he is underestimating me but I’m ok with it. Andrea Garcia made the same mistake in 2005, having won all his fights by ko. He got away with a home decision but he was on the verge of being stopped more than once during the fight. I was supposed to be the sacrificial victim that night in Chicago, but I shut a 25.000 people crowd up at the United Center.

ESB: What possibilities could open for you if you win this fight?

LM: Well, Rhodes is highly ranked by the main sanctioning bodies. Don King would probably get me a world title shot if I win. But, to be honest, I consider the European title in itself more important that certain “alphabet” belts. It would a crowning achievement to a long career like mine.

ESB: And what possibilities in case of a loss?

LM: Sorry, I don’t understand this question. What is loss?

ESB: Which one will be the crucial factor in this fight? Physical, psychological, or tactical?

LM: I think all of the three. Rhodes is strong and has good technique. I will have to rely on my stamina and my resistance in the opening. As the rounds go by, it will become more of a tactical and psychological affair. I think he expects a quick victory but I am ready to go the distance.

ESB: Did you design a tailor-made approach to this opponent or will your usual style be enough?

LM: I won’t give away too much. All I have to say is that I usually train in the gym I own in Italy. It’s a 10.000 square meters structure with 20 employees. I train well there but there is also the business side of it to look after and that might be a distraction. There is only Rhodes on my mind right now. I have been now training in France for over a month with master trainer Nicolas Riffard, who provided me some excellent sparring partners. My long time trainer, who is to me an inspiration almost like Bundini Brown was to Ali, will join us tomorrow and it will all come together.

ESB: Does it worry you to have to fight Rhodes on his soil, away from home?

LM: I am not one of those pampered fighters, who never get their ass out of their country because they are afraid to lose their privileges. Win or lose, I have been traveling alone for years, training in the worst places, sparring true animals. I have been in many wars. The English fans are fantastic and very lively. I know they want my head but this will only motivate me. Anyway, I got my own fans coming along for this one. I hope they will share drinks with Rhodes’ and that after the fight we will all have a pint together. I am buying…

ESB: Does it worry you the fact that you are fighting a southpaw?

LM: Why? Do southpaws have three arms, or something? I got God in my corner. Literally. My brother is a priest: Don Alessandro Messi. He is the only priest-corner man in the world. Together with Don King, we gave boxing gloves as a gift to the Pope. The day of the fight I will go to church in Sheffield and pray for both me and my opponent.

ESB: Is there anything you would like to say directly to Ryan Rhodes, if he reads these lines?

LM: I don’t like trash talking, but, Ryan, as much as I love the U.K. where I have been many times, I am not coming as a tourist. I am too hungry to lose and this time is going to be my turn. If I may paraphrase my ancestor Caesar: “I will come, I will see, I will conquer”.

When the lines finally cross on Friday 21 May at the Ponds Forge Arena in Sheffield, may the best man win.

Article posted on 08.05.2010

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