Alvarez-Ryder: The Week That Was

Wednesday, May 3

The start of the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-John Ryder fight week build-up demonstrated the extent – not that it was entirely unexpected – to which Ryder is viewed as little more than a dance partner to the all-conquering Alvarez among those in Guadalajara.

The press conference staged at the suitably corporate-looking, high-rise Riu Hotel was preceded by both main event fighters conducting “sit-downs” with the written media. Ryder, joined by the, frankly, near-endlessly quotable Eddie Hearn and his trainer Tony Sims was joined by little more than a handful of those relevant – half of which were among the British contingent. The remainder were Mexican, which meant that none of those among the US media already in town to cover Saturday’s fight bothered giving Ryder their time.

Perhaps inevitably, Alvarez’s was attended by a considerably greater number – owing to the presence of further Mexicans and Americans. The extent to which interest in Alvarez – and indeed the Mexican element of his first fight outside of the US since November 2011 and first in Guadalajara since that June – is influencing the final days before Saturday’s fight was then demonstrated by the fact that the questions the world’s highest profile and most marketable fighter was asked, and therefore answered, in Spanish were not translated.

Typically, the desire to promote and sell pay-per-views means that every effort is made to attempt to make every possible audience as aware as they can be of the relevant fight. In Guadalajara in 2023, however, the only audience being prioritised is that that can speak Spanish – and perhaps that is fitting, given the occasion’s “homecoming” nature.

Comparisons have been made between Saturday’s fight and that 20 years earlier at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium between America’s provocative Greg Haugen and the great Julio Cesar Chavez. Where Haugen had insulted both Chavez and the Mexican people, however, Ryder and those around him are full of respect. Ryder hasn’t once audibly attempted to unsettle the undisputed super middleweight champion, and his trainer Tony Sims was similarly polite at the press conference, when he spoke in English and paused to be translated into Spanish, and started by thanking those present for the reception they had been given and by highlighting his respect for the Mexican fight community by saying, among other things, “We come from London; from humble beginnings”. That Hearn had started by saying, “Last night I was getting my haircut in Guadalajara, and I was told, ‘Welcome home’”, suggests that he wasn’t quite going for the same approach.

Hearn, so instrumental in making Saturday’s fight and in the careers of both fighters, regardless ought to have been sat at the top table. The same cannot be said for Mauricio Sulaiman, the attention-seeking president of the increasingly lamentable WBC, who not only insisted on speaking, but on promoting the WBC’s latest meaningless belt. Taking time to patronise Ryder – though thankfully resisting the urge to pat him on the head – he told the challenger: "You can trust that the judges will treat you with respect." Whether Ryder and Sims left full of confidence and wondering why they might ever have worried remains unclear. 

Shortly after the introductions concluded, the attempts to translate those speaking Spanish into English for a press conference that was being broadcast on television ceased. When the fighters then faced off, Ryder’s advantage in size was unexpectedly pronounced.

Among those present throughout was none other than Conor Benn, who, amid Hearn’s willingness to speak of him potentially fighting on June 17 in the US, was both supporting his friend and stablemate and remaining relevant. Hearn expects to announce the details of that promotion imminently.

Thursday, May 4

Despite Guadalajara’s Hotel Riu being referred to as the “fight hotel” for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-John Ryder, it’s the considerably more stylish Hilton Hotel where so many of those of significance to Saturday’s promotion are staying.

Tony Sims and Dan Lawrence, Ryder’s trainer and conditioner, cut as relaxed figures as not only their fighter but Conor Benn, another consistently in tow. In the absence of any fight build-up organised by Canelo Promotions – an organisation in its infancy – Ryder, his promoter Eddie Hearn and some of those around him conducted interviews at the Hilton where, perhaps typically, they were enduring the wait a fighter is always confronted with before he can weigh in, rehydrate, and ultimately fight.

If the Canelo Promotions website is an accurate reflection of their potential as promoters, it’s worth recognising that its figurehead – the world’s leading fighter Alvarez – is listed on it as having had a total of 55 fights and one defeat. Six victories and a further defeat are still to be recorded, which, given the obligatory bombast so routinely indulged in by almost every promoter, suggests that they still have much to learn. 

Perhaps they didn’t organise any promotional activities for Thursday because they didn’t want those covering Saturday’s fight to miss the email entitled, simply, “Recommendations”. “The list of allowed and prohibited objects for the fight between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez vs John Ryder,” the email read. It was complemented by four attachments that listed, in Spanish – and two different formats – the 24 prohibited and 13 sanctioned miscellanea. Admirably, selfie sticks were among those prohibited.

ProBox TV chose reading that email over attending the event the WBC had organised at the Hotel Riu on Thursday afternoon. The oversized nature of the model WBC belt placed in the hotel lobby before it started can only have been surpassed by the sanctioning body’s self-importance; the near-orgy they were no doubt hoping to oversee hopefully did not.

Friday, May 5

“The king is coming home,” read the backdrop at Guadalajara’s Degollado Theater, where Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and John Ryder participated in Friday’s ceremonial weigh-in ahead of Saturday’s fight. 

Degollado, incidentally, translates to “beheaded”, but the venue, almost disappointingly, looked much like numerous other old-fashioned theatres. What was most curious about staging it there was that both fighters had already weighed in earlier on Friday morning, behind closed doors. Ceremonial weigh-ins typically take place to help promote the relevant fight and therefore in front of the public. While there were members of the public present – a small contingent in town to support Ryder made themselves known – by staging it inside the theatre there was a limit to how many could attend. The theatre is also situated in a spacious town square; there were therefore more waiting outside to briefly glimpse the two fighters than there were inside, where there also weren’t any interviews conducted with the fighters, despite them by then having had a chance to rehydrate and recover.

Mauricio Sulaiman, perhaps unsurprisingly, spent more time on stage than either of the two fighters, and he also spoke. Perhaps most gallingly of all, he would have left believing most of those in attendance appeared fond of him, even if their response to him was a reflection of their anticipation of the arrival of “Canelo”, who he has long worked to associate himself with.

A mariachi band performed a set while that anticipation built – an anticipation in many ways captured by the presence of Julio Cesar Chavez Snr and Marco Antonio Barrera, both of whom were present in their separate roles as television pundits. 

When Ryder was introduced to the stage, amid, inevitably, some boos, he stripped down to his underwear and socks, unaware of how long it would take Alvarez to join him and that he would be stood there waiting. In Guadalajara, even more so than in Las Vegas, what was unfolding was the “Canelo” show. 

As though the master of ceremonies, David Diamante, wasn’t already straining every sinew to make the occasion as grandiose as he could, a Mexican singer then appeared on stage to sing before Alvarez’s introduction – all while the relaxed Ryder was made to wait. When the undisputed super middleweight champion was then finally introduced to the relatively dark setting of the theatre room, he was wearing sunglasses that felt as appropriate as the kimono worn by midlife crisis’ Eddie Hearn.

A lengthy stare down between the two fighters followed, as, eventually, did a pro-Alvarez, Latin American chant. Almost predictably, before he could tear himself away from the stage, Sulaiman then oversaw goodies being thrown into the small crowd.

Saturday, May 6

The shuttle bus from the Hotel Riu in the centre of Guadalajara to the Akron Stadium on its outskirts was so full of those making their way to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s homecoming fight that there were times they resembled cattle.

When it finally pulled up in the car park they then had to make a lengthy journey across that car park, where numerous Mexican fight fans were gathered from early in the afternoon – many enjoying barbecues by their cars.

ProBox TV arrived shortly before 4pm, when, curiously, an hour-long interval was about to start in which accredited media wouldn’t have been allowed to collect their passes and would have simply had to wait outside in the intense heat. After gaining entry to the stadium, the precarious, 20-minute journey to the ringside seats – across all manner of cables that occasionally had to be climbed over, sometimes in areas of the stadium that a more experienced organisation than Canelo Promotions would likely have forbid access to – began.

The presence of the great Marco Antonio Barrera and Julio Cesar Chavez at ringside provided a reminder of the significance of the occasion – one that was potentially at risk of being undermined by the presence, everywhere, of the light-up bracelets so often favoured by self-satisfied-yet-endlessly-bland performers like Coldplay. 

Among the conversations that took place at ringside was one between representatives of ESPN and DAZN. DAZN, oddly, given their attempts to promote what is almost obligatorily referred to as “content”, refuse ESPN permission to show highlights of their fights on ESPN’s popular programme SportsCenter, which might just prove a pretty good place to start spreading awareness of them.

Not long after David Diamante had to pause making an introduction to check the name of the referee stood alongside him, Eddie Hearn arrived ringside with Regis Prograis in tow, essentially confirming rumours that had spread in boxing circles that the WBC super lightweight champion had agreed promotional terms with Matchroom. Matchroom’s press release announcing the development imminently followed.

Soon after, Hearn could be seen referring to his “best ever signing”, which, for all of Prograis’ talent and appeal, came as a surprise. It then became apparent that it was Andy Cruz he was referring to, because Cruz was soon also ringside, and the subject of another official announcement.

At his post-fight press conference John Ryder was still wiping blood away from the nose he said he believed Alvarez had broken in the second round – so much so that his chair had to be replaced before Alvarez attended his. It was almost 1am in Guadalajara by the time Alvarez showed up, alongside Hearn, Eddy Reynoso, his wife, and his two children.Before he had, he and Ryder had spent time together bonding over their new-found mutual respect. 

The most lasting impression of the evening was regardless the extent of Ryder’s disappointment. He described himself as “gutted” at having lost, despite the extent to which he had impressed and enhanced his reputation. There sat a fearless fighter with not only heart, but who had believed he was going to win and took little consolation in how positive an evening it had in so many ways been for him.