May 4, 2023 5:40 pm
The Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) festival commemorates Mexico’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla, during the Franco-Mexican war. Particularly popular with the Mexican community living in the USA, especially California, celebrations feature traditional Mexican food and dress, enjoyed with an effervescent pride in all aspects of Mexican identity.
In more recent years, festivities have featured an additional attraction. On Saturday night during Cinco de Mayo weekend, pay-per-view superstar, Saul ‘canelo’ Alvarez brutalises a hapless fall guy to the delight of his compatriots. Past victims have included Billy Joe Saunders (TKO 8), Amir Khan (KO 6), James Kirkland (KO 3), alongside points wins over the likes of Shane Mosley and Daniel Jacobs.
Clearly, anybody taking on Canelo on his home promotion, usually in Vegas, in front of a hall of fanatical Mexicans, during a Mexican annual celebration, has an unbelievably tough task on their hands. Not only is Alvarez a sensational fighter in his own right, but every element of the boxing business is levelled against his opponent in those circumstances. The old saying, ‘you need to knock him out to get a draw,’ feels more than apt.
That held up until last year.
On Saturday July 7th 2022, Alvarez attempted to pick up his second world title at light-heavyweight, by taking on Russian champion Dmitry Bivol. Light-heavy is clearly not a natural division for Canelo and Bivol was in no mood to co-operate. With a four-inch height advantage and two inches in reach, the Russian was simply too composed and too good. Canelo was well beaten and the celebrations were ruined.
In setting up this year’s event, there was doubtless a strong desire to avoid the same outcome. Two Cinco de Mayo defeats on the bounce for the Mexican darling would be akin to the Easter bunny getting mauled by a fox on Good Friday.
So what’s in store for 2023? A fight at his more natural weight of super-middleweight makes sense. After all, he holds all four major titles at 168lbs. And those judges in Vegas had the temerity to give the nod to the other guy last year, so what can be done about that? How about a stadium in Mexico, this time?
In terms of opponent, someone credible is obviously needed, but someone who should ultimately follow the script. Enter John ‘the gorilla’ Ryder. The Islington southpaw has been a high-level performer for years and is enjoying something of an Indian summer to his career, following a slightly controversial victory over former champ, Daniel Jacobs last February. But he has been defeated by Billy Joe Saunders, Callum Smith (unluckily) and Rocky Fielding, all three of whom have been absolutely blitzed by Alvarez. The form lines, as they say, are not good.
On Saturday night, May 6th, Ryder, a likeable, humble and hard-working fighter, will walk out at the Estadio Akron in Zappopan, Mexico and face an atmosphere and a challenge like none he has encountered before. Is there any way he can pull off an upset?
World In Sport Prediction
No, is the straightforward answer to the question at the end of the previous section.
Not an absolute no, because that doesn’t exist in boxing. But a ‘no’ in the sense that for Ryder to pull this off would be an upset on a par with the biggest shocks in boxing history. Unless Alvarez is carrying an injury no-one knows about, or is unwell, it is very difficult to envisage a climax to Saturday’s fight involving John’s hand being raised.
For starters, the occasion will be a daunting. Ryder has boxed abroad before, but not in front of 50,000 strong hostile crowd.
Nonetheless, the Gorilla is a seasoned and intelligent fighter who has the ability to keep Canelo guessing for a few rounds, to fend him off. If he turns in an exceptional defensive performance he could even get to the end, but to try to win, he will have to open up. And if he does that, he will leave a target for Canelo’s sensational counter-punching. It is difficult to see a man who was stopped by Nick Blackwell standing up to that.
As far as the promotion is concerned, Ryder is there to fall over, that much is clear. But what about in his own mind? Fighters will always say the right things when asked, but the suspicion remains that for the gorilla, simply getting this fight was an end in itself. A huge pay day on a massive event. Not bad for a 34-year-old with five defeats on his record. It’s been a long road.
Alvarez to win by stoppage in or before round 8.