After a solid three year apprenticeship, Islington middleweight John ‘The Gorilla’ Ryder is ready to be unleashed from his cage.
The ridiculously strong southpaw has mauled all 15 pro foes thus far, but will brute force and unbridled aggression be suffice now that he enters major championship class?
We’ll find out this Saturday when the 25-year-old squares off against fellow unbeaten starlet Billy Joe Saunders at the Copper Box Arena. With both principal’s star in the ascent, experts are dubbing this the most keenly anticipated British middleweight clash for 20 years.
Remaining tickets, priced at £40, £50, £70 and £120 are available from the Eventim Box Office on 0844 249 1000 or www.eventim.co.uk
Watch the whole ‘Rock the Box’ card – which also features Dereck Chisora’s challenge for the vacant European heavyweight crown plus civil wars between Billy Joe Saunders and John Ryder and Liam Walsh against Joe Murray – live and exclusive on BoxNation, the Channel of Champions, from 7pm on Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546. Join at www.boxnation.com
Last weekend boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with the amiable challenger to reflect on his career and contemplate the biggest night of his career as a prizefighter.
Were you a little scrapper yourself growing up on the streets of north London? At what age did you first become interested in boxing?
I had my share of little ‘tear ups’ growing up in Islington but no more than any other kid. I didn’t like bullies so always stuck up for the little guy which led to me getting into a few scrapes.
From the age of about 12, dad took me to work with him on the building sites on Saturday mornings, lugging bricks. I think that built the foundation of my strength at an early age.
I’ve been interested in boxing as far back as I can remember. As a young kid, maybe seven or eight, I loved watching the likes of Naz, Benn and Eubank in their big fights on ITV.
What do you recall of your amateur career?
I first began boxing training at the Finchley Amateur Boxing Club at the age of 12 but I didn’t actually have my first bout until after I’d moved to the Angel gym, aged 15. The coaches there were (ex pros) Colin Lake and Ivor ‘The Engine’ Jones.
All told, I won 30 of my 35 amateur fights and I won a London Youth title plus senior National Novice titles in Class A and Class B. I once boxed for London against The Army over in Hereford but I never got selected to box for England.
The biggest name I boxed in the amateurs was George Groves in the North -West London Divs. George was the defending ABA senior champion at the time. I gave him quite a good fight but was a bit young and overawed by the occasion and showed George too much respect. He beat me on points.
I’ve no regrets about not starting earlier or turning pro as soon as I did. Some stay amateur too long then find it hard to make the transition. My style was always going to suit the pros better.
What are the origins of your ‘The Gorilla’ nickname?
Around the age of 17, 18, I used to spar a lot of (Team GB coach) Robert McCracken’s boys when he was working with Mick Hennessy. Rob said I had the strength of a baby gorilla and it just stuck. Everybody used to call it me tongue in cheek and now I can’t get rid of it!
You’re trained by former British super-featherweight champion Colin Lake and managed by Tony Sims, who also coaches IBF middleweight champion Darren Barker; two well respected boxing men. How have they been instrumental in developing your career?
Colin is as fiery as I am so we drive each other mad but together we get the work done. We use the Angel gym a couple of nights and also Tony’s gym, The Gator, over in Hainault. Colin’s excellent both on the fitness and technical sides. He’s really strong on head movement and breathing correctly to remain relaxed and conserve energy.
Because Tony is also a trainer, many mistakenly assume he coaches me. He doesn’t. He’s just my manager. He’s in charge of making my matches. Obviously he’s been in the game a long time and is very well connected. He’s done a great job of stepping me up at the right time.
After a relatively gentle introduction to the pros you’ve really stepped up your level of competition over the past 18 months.
Last year, Huddersfield’s Alastair Warren (8-1) and Castleford’s Luke Robinson (8-2-1) were both outscored over eight rounds. Hungarian southpaw Sandor Micsko was iced in two and Belfast’s ex Commonwealth Games gold medallist Eamonn O’Kane was worn down over eight in a British eliminator.
Earlier this year, you schooled Zimbabwe’s former Commonwealth welter challenger Farai Musiyiwa over eight. In what areas do you feel you’ve developed?
I’ve definitely improved my boxing skills lately. Earlier in my career I was just intent on hurting the opponent as quickly as possible and getting them out of there. Now I’m far more relaxed and sit down on my shots better. Though my last fight only lasted two rounds (a clinical stoppage of French journeyman Yoann Bloyer in Hull in July) I showed that I’m now developing a really good jab.
Ex Prizefighter champion O’Kane had been calling you out on Twitter. It was only after you demolished him that the cognoscenti really started to consider you as future championship material.
That’s right. Eamonn had been calling me out for about 12 months and I was happy to oblige. He now says it was only cos he took it at short notice!
I was aware of the pedigree he had and I knew he’d be tough so, early doors, I tucked up and rolled. He could hurt you when he connected but I proved a bit quicker and sharper. I was surprised I stopped him. You can usually sense whether a stoppage is on in the first few rounds but he seemed solid. Then he just folded.
You’ve still to travel past round eight yet could be required to travel the full 12 round championship trip against Saunders. How have you catered for that in preparation?
Look, it’s not going to be a worry. I’ve been sparring 12 rounds straight off against good fighters since I was 17 years old. I’ve done lots of good long runs and I’ve had top quality sparring against the likes of James DeGale, Ryan Toms and some good amateur lads. They’ve all got different styles. The distance won’t be a problem, if it gets that far.
Prep has gone really well. After that fight in Hull in July, I took one week off so this is a continuation of the fitness that I achieved for that fight. I’ll have had a good ten to eleven weeks. No excuses.
Darren Barker’s recent world title win must have given the whole gym a boost.
Oh definitely. We all really look up to Darren because we see how hard he trains and we know what he’s been through both as a boxer and in his personal life. He had to really dig deep to get up when (Daniel) Geale dumped him with that body shot in round six. If that can’t motivate you, nothing can.
Darren and I have sparred together loads for a number of years now. Above all, he’s got a fantastic boxing brain. He’s always one step ahead. I swear he knows what I’m going to do before I do! And people really underestimate his power. Over the past 18 months, he’s developed a real nastiness. In sparring he really puts the shots in, wants to hurt you.
Your title challenge marks the debut boxing promotion at the futuristic Copper Box Arena that was used for handball at the 2012 London Olympics. Does that add something to the occasion for you?
Definitely. It was brilliant having the Olympics in my home town and it’s great to know that the fantastic facilities shan’t be going to waste.
There’s so many other great fighters on the card such as Dereck Chisora and Frankie Gavin yet it’s Billy Joe and me who are headlining. Fantastic!
Georgie Kean, another Islington boy who I often see about, is making his pro debut and he’s a big ticket seller. I’ll be bringing 3-400 (fans) of my own. It’s going to be a great occasion.
What’s your assessment of champion Saunders?
A very good all rounder fighter who’s got lightening quick hands. I don’t believe he’s shown his very best yet because of the quality of his opposition. Without giving our gameplan away, I’ve seen things that I think I can capitalise on.
Saunders brings a far superior amateur pedigree and much greater professional experience. Understandably, he has been installed as a clear betting favourite. What do you feel you bring to counter balance that?
Strength, fitness, underestimated skills and a clever brain. Above all, I never give up. I can be nine rounds down but I’ll still be trying to knock you out until that last bell sounds.
Like Billy Joe, you’re unbeaten, you’re southpaw and you’re a Gooner. You also both share an indifference to rival middleweight contender Chris Eubank Jnr. What is it about him that gets under your skin?
Some of the others have major Twitter wars with him but I don’t waste my time. We sparred once, a year or so ago, and as we’re in the same weight division, it’s inevitable that people pair our names.
He’s got talent but he needs to get out of his dad’s shadow and develop his own style. If he just tries to mimic his dad he’s going to come unstuck. Chris Snr was unique, a one off.
You and Saunders are both exciting talents who like to please the crowd. Can the fans expect a war?
I think this fight will bring everything mixed into one; skill, power, war! I think we’ll start at a high pace but that it will become more tactical in the mid rounds. I expect it to go the full 12 rounds. I’m sure he’s been training very hard as well.
Why do you feel it will be your hand that is raised at the end?
I’m really confident and really motivated. I honestly believe that I’m fitter and stronger. Becoming British champion is what I’ve always dreamed of. I feel I’ve been ready for a British title shot for a while and I’m happy that it’s come against a champion that’s as accomplished as Billy Joe Saunders.
For me, boxing isn’t about money. It’s about my name going down as champion and having belts on the mantle piece. No one remembers what your pay cheques were, after you’ve retired!