By Elliot Worsell

ONE of the golden rules of boxing is this: if you can’t manage to beat Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, at least lose in a manner that has people wanting to see you in action again. This was something John Ryder, nobody’s fool, not only understood when facing Alvarez back in May but was a mission he happened to complete, despite of course failing the primary mission – that is, to beat Alvarez – on the night.

Indeed, so impressive was Ryder in losing against Alvarez, two things then happened: one, the fight turned out to be more interesting and, at times, competitive than many people had predicted beforehand; and two, Ryder was immediately linked with other big fights in the aftermath. To this end, there was even talk of him fighting Gennadiy Golovkin, Alvarez’s great rival, only for that to eventually go dead when it appeared Golovkin was shuffling closer and closer to retirement. Instead, Ryder will now fight another Mexican, Jaime Munguia, on Saturday (January 27) in Phoenix, Arizona, and he will know once again that he is being given a showcase opportunity to enhance both his reputation and his career.

It won’t feel as big as the one against Canelo, no, but, even so, a fight against Munguia, 42-0 (33), is arguably the next best thing for Ryder. After all, it wasn’t that long ago he was competing and losing against domestic operators like Jack Arnfield and Rocky Fielding, at which point it would have been inconceivable to think that in the future, and in the space of just eight months, he would be fighting both Canelo Alvarez and Jaime Munguia.

That this has all happened for Ryder when it has, with the Londoner now 35, is a testament to his dedication and determination. Not only that, it speaks to the huge strides he has made as a fighter, because clearly the Ryder we see today, in 2024, is a world away from the one who was stopped by Nick Blackwell in 2015. That Ryder was unsure of himself and easy to deter. That Ryder was someone many felt was liable to fold under pressure.

This latest version, though, is quite the opposite. In fact, as shown against Alvarez in May, this latest version of John Ryder, 32-6 (18), is about as resilient a super-middleweight as you can possibly find. He has also been building to this, with the performance against Alvarez not the only decent one he has produced of late. There have been others, too, including an unrewarded one against Callum Smith in 2019 and an unexpected one against Daniel Jacobs three years later. With these performances you have seen Ryder’s belief grow and you have seen him, in real time, transition from someone who could have easily resigned himself to being a high-level opponent to someone who now backs himself to win fights he isn’t supposed to win.

That was the case against Alvarez last year and although it’s true he was nowhere near winning the fight, what is also true is that Ryder, by virtue of thinking he could win, gave Alvarez a much better fight than many big-name opponents have done over the years, a lot of them just happy to get paid. Of something like that Ryder could never be accused, that’s for sure, and now, as a reward, he gets another chance to be an underdog in a fight at the elite level.

His opponent this time around, Jaime Munguia, is someone presumably closer to his skill level than Alvarez, yet that’s not to say the chances of Ryder pulling off the upset are any greater. In reality, there is a reason why Munguia has managed to avoid defeat in 42 pro fights and only a small part of that is due to the safety-first nature of the matchmaking. The other part has a lot to do with Munguia’s talent, physical strength, and punch power, which has helped him secure 33 of those 42 wins inside the distance. He is also now coming into his prime years at 27, having for so long been a fighter held back by immaturity and the all-round rawness of youth. At 27, Munguia appears to be at last ready to step out of the shadow of men like Canelo Alvarez, to whom he has been compared for years, and finally come into his own.

There was evidence of this in Munguia’s last win, in June, against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. That proved not only the hardest fight of Munguia’s career to date, but also one of the very best of that calendar year. More than just that, Munguia, in successfully coming through it, had taken the scalp of an excellent fighter in Derevyanchenko, someone who, although a little long in the tooth, had previously given a few of the best middleweights in the world their toughest fights. For a fighter like Munguia, whose career is packed full of victories but very few recognisable names, it was an important moment for him, one that suggested he would now, as a super-middleweight, look to kick on in 2024.

As for whether he is actually doing that against Ryder, that’s a matter of opinion. Certainly, though, if you look at Ryder’s performance against Alvarez, there is no shame in Munguia fighting him and trying to better Canelo’s result eight months later. However, it is also fair to say Munguia, given all the hype he has received over the years, and given his lengthy unbeaten run, will be expected and indeed aiming to dominate Ryder in a way that shows the gulf in class between the pair. This he is likely to do as well, even if confirmation of the win, owing to Ryder’s toughness, may have to come from the judges rather than a knockout.