Touching the Void: John Ryder knew the time was right to call it a day

Touching the Void: John Ryder knew the time was right to call it a day

By Declan Taylor

WHEN John Ryder saunters into the busy cafe a short drive from his new home in leafy Essex, in a tracksuit and only a few pounds north of his fighting weight, he still looks every inch the boxer.

But the truth is, the Gorilla, a veteran of 74 organised fights in his life, is now officially a civilian and has been ever since his flight from Phoenix, Arizona touched down at Heathrow late last month.

The old adage in boxing is that the fighter is always the last one to know, but Ryder, as he was for the majority of his time inside the ring, was a few steps ahead of everyone else. As he walked back to the changing room after a bruising ninth-round stoppage defeat to Jaime Munguia, he knew he was done.

“I think I knew going into it, win, lose or draw that could be it,” Ryder tells Boxing News over a plate of avocado on toast with extra eggs. “But if you win there’s always that lure to come back isn’t there? I think the best thing is now that I didn’t win so there is not the feeling of ‘just one more, one last hurrah’. I might have been tempted if I won.

“Before the Canelo [Alvarez] fight last year I thought I’d retire after it, regardless of the result. But then walking back to the dressing room that night I just thought to myself ‘I can’t fucking wait to do this again’. What a feeling, it didn’t feel like the time to retire.

“But now it’s different. I don’t want to drop down and do a six or eight-rounder. I want to continue at the level I have operated at. Munguia was a fight I wholeheartedly thought I could win, I didn’t think Munguia was that good. I thought he was well suited to my style but he showed different.

“I’d like to think I would have beaten him a year ago, whether that is me just being a year older or what Canelo took out of me in Guadalajara. It’s tough to know. I spar now and I don’t like getting hit. It’s not pleasant is it? When I was in LA I just wanted to get through the spars and get to fight night.”

John Ryder(Picture By Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

Now 35 years old, with a professional record of 32-7, It is almost 20 years to the day between Ryder’s first and last fights. With a partner and two young children at home, he knows his entire mindset has changed over the course of those two decades, particularly since his kids arrived.

“I felt like I’m going through the motions a bit these days,” he adds. “Keep it safe, don’t hurt yourself, be sensible. And that’s not the way to be is it?

“You have to be fearless. I started thinking about life in general, the consequences. The most important thing for me was to get back on that flight on Sunday and get back to the kids. It wasn’t winning. But you have to be fearless in this sport – as soon as the fear seeps in you’re fucked. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out.

“I’ve seen Lee Purdy go blind in one eye and I don’t want that. He didn’t want that but he was fearless. Walking back to the changing rooms after Munguia I thought ‘I can’t come again’. That’s not fearless.”

With the January date set, the Londoner was sparring in the gym on Christmas Day, away from the excitement back home in the new house that, as Ryder describes, ‘Canelo bought’. “And thanks for the car, too, Saul,” he adds with a smile.

It had been a long, arduous road to the sort of money he received last May in Guadalajara as he challenged the great Mexican for all the super-middleweight belts. It was a purse which enabled him to move the family out of their two-bed flat in London to a house with a garden in the sticks. The adjustment has not been easy but he knows it’s for the best.

“This is the sort of thing I set out to do isn’t it?” He asks, not expecting a reply. “Set my family up. That’s why it’s worth the blood.

“But I’ve missed a lot. Just down to little things, it’s nice to do the school run, not every day because traffic is a bit of a nightmare. But I didn’t see their Christmas nativities this year because of training. They understand it and I’ve done this to hopefully motivate and inspire them at some point in their lives to achieve things. But at the time it’s still hard.

“It’s hard knowing your kids are there but you’re not there to see what they are doing.”

Having said that, it’s not pipe and slippers time for Ryder, who has no designs on retreating to life as a full-time house husband yet. Instead, he is already making moves to become a licensed trainer and working alongside Tony Sims, the man in his corner for the last decade or more.

“I think I can help Tony and learn from him,” Ryder says. “It would be good to work under him for a while, see the way he works and he’s obviously not going to go on forever. His age is the best kept secret in boxing.

“I don’t think he wants to go on forever, he wants to go and enjoy life. I don’t think he would ever fully step away but he might want some more time for himself and his wife. He was in on Christmas Day with us, how long do you want to do that for? It has always been in the pipeline for me to do that after boxing but it was just a matter of ‘when?’

“It also means I get to stay around everyone in the gym, have a bit of banter. It has to work for me though, I have a young family and I need to be present in their life because I’ve missed out on so much already. I need to be the partner and the dad but also the coach.

“I never thought I’d find it easy to walk away and the more we are talking now, the more I’m not sure I can. But I’ve made my decision, let’s see how it goes.”

So, 20 years a fighter, nearly 23 if you go back to his very first day in Finchley Amateur Boxing Club, where a notable heavyweight also trained for the first time.

“I was 12 when I first started,” he recalls. “I went to Finchley because my dad knew Jim Oliver. I’d go every Tuesday and Thursday. I remember me and Derek Chisora started on the same day – we were both there on the lines doing our step one-two, step back one-two.

“He was a bit older than me. I spoke to him in Monaco last year, asked him about that day and he remembers it too. It’s crazy really.

“I was 12 then and was 15 when I had my first bout and I’m 35 now – so that’s 20 years between my first and last. I had 35 amateur fights, won 30. Then 39 pro fights, 32 wins. So that’s just shy of 80 fights in 20 years. That’s what I’ve applied my life to – 74 tear ups.

“And to be honest with you, as I sit here I feel empty. What am I going to fill the void with? Luckily, I’ll still be there and I can scratch that itch as a coach. I do love boxing, and I have for all these years.

“And hey, Chisora is still going. Maybe I’ll train him for his last fight. That would be a good end to the story wouldn’t it?”

As the food is finished and the plates are cleared away, Ryder checks his watch and realises we are nearing school pick-up time. Before he goes, he is asked how he wants to be remembered as a fighter. He thinks for a moment.

“Just as someone who fought anyone,” says the two-time world title challenger. “Someone who gave it their all, win, lose or draw – and I never drew.

“If that’s how I’m remembered I’ll be happy.”

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