Nigel Benn inspired John Ryder to ride out storm against Canelo in Mexico

John Ryder revealed that Nigel Benn was his inspiration when, in the fifth round against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at Guadalajara’s Akron Stadium, he was knocked down by the Mexican and at risk of being stopped.

The 34-year-old emerged from Alvarez’s homecoming fight having defied expectations to enhance his reputation by producing a performance that consistently proved he is as tough as he is brave.

He suffered a suspected broken nose in the second round, which often left his face covered in blood, and continued to take sufficient punishment from a both heavy-handed and explosive puncher that a further cut opened by his left eye in the second round.

If his impressive recovery from the knockdown – he responded by immediately fighting back – meant he remained competitive, his injuries and the extent to which they would have affected his ability to see again put him at risk. 

By the final round, however, Alvarez – a deserved winner via unanimous decision – was also tired, and was no longer seeking the stoppage he had been fighting for. Ryder’s difficulty breathing through his injuries – they fought at 1,566 metres above sea level – had also meant that he had had to stand up in between rounds, but, perhaps like when in 1995 Benn, the father of his stablemate Conor, recovered from a knockdown against Gerald McClellan, similarly one of the world's leading fighters, even as the significant underdog Ryder refused to be intimidated.

“I just thought to myself ‘What would Nigel Benn do?’,” he said when asked how he had survived the fifth round. “He’d come out swinging. He’d probably knock him out though. I didn’t do that, unfortunately. I’m in the gym around great fighters and former idols so I could pull from the best in the business.

“I felt [my nose] go instantly, and the blood in the back of my throat. It threw me for a couple of rounds but it is what it is. It’s a new experience in the boxing ring and something I’ll learn from.

“He was very good. [But] I still think he’s probably past his best.

“He couldn’t get me out of there. His plan was to stop me. He didn’t. I know I took a great shot in the fifth round. I come back swinging and probably had some good rounds after that.

“I’m just gutted. I’ve put so much into this sport over the past few years and I’ve not always got the rub of the green. I come here with a dream, and fell short. But that’s boxing. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.

“No regrets. Just getting caught with that punch in that second round. I felt like it could have been slightly different, moving forward. It took me a few rounds to regroup and readjust but the great corner kept me calm, kept me in the fight, and I’m just happy that we live to see another day and fight another fight. I just wanna finish the year strong now.”

The 34-year-old Ryder was, according to Alvarez, the toughest of the undisputed super middleweight champion’s eight British opponents. The extent to which Alvarez, 32, was the draw on the occasion of his first fight in Guadalajara for 12 years and on Cinco de Mayo weekend was consistent throughout fight week, when he was little more than an afterthought, and again on fight night, when while Ryder waited Alvarez wore a crown on his way into the ring.

“It was a fantastic performance,” said Eddie Hearn, who promotes both fighters. “The back half of the fight he was very competitive. He won a couple of rounds; Saul looked a bit tired as well. It was a decent pace. After five or six rounds I didn’t think he’d get through that. What we saw was a fighter with lots of heart, and not just lots of heart, but someone who was prepared to fight back. Not just trying to survive, but prepared to stand and trade. He boxed really well. Once he started believing in himself he was effective. To make it competitive in the latter stages was incredible, considering the punishment.