Ryan Rhodes: Spice Boy's last stand?

By Ben Carey


Ryan Rhodes: Spice Boy's last stand?

Ryan Rhodes is promising to deliver a boxing master class along similar lines to the way Joe Calzaghe schooled Jeff Lacy earlier this year. The two-time WBO title challenger faces Gary Lockett for a minor middleweight crown on the undercard of Danny Williams’ rematch with Matt Skelton at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on Saturday night. But despite his confidence, Rhodes will enter the ring a clear underdog against the big-punching Lockett, who will be boxing in his native Wales.

“Everyone has been speculating on when he could knock me out but if I catch him with the right shot I will end things. I think the fight will go into the later rounds. I expect to win the early rounds with him growing increasingly frustrated. The more frustrated he becomes, the more chances he’ll take, and he’s then more likely to walk onto one of my big shots,” said a quietly confident Rhodes to Boxingtalk.

In 1996, Rhodes was one of the hottest commodities in British boxing. Under the guidance of promoter Frank Warren, the Sheffield box-puncher became the fastest ever outright winner of a Lonsdale belt in just 90 days and, at just 20 years of age, the youngest British champion in 57 years.

Brushing aside his opponents with a self-assured swagger, Rhodes was dubbed “The Spice Boy”, a direct reference to all-girl band The Spice Girls who were taking the British pop world by storm at the time. However, two failed bids for the WBO middleweight title, the second which saw him blown away by late-sub Jason Matthews, checked Rhodes’ swift progress. In 2002, Rhodes’ once promising career was left in tatters when he was stopped in three rounds by the unheralded Lee Blundell. At 26, the likeable Naseem Hamed clone was dismissed as damaged goods.

After a 13 month hiatus, Rhodes returned, steadily rebuilding his career against modest opposition on undercards whilst receiving no TV exposure. Despite easing to five straight victories, Rhodes resembled a shell of his former exuberant self. With his career in the balance Rhodes decided it was make or break and elected to leave longstanding mentor Brendan Ingle for emerging Sheffield counterpart David Coldwell last April.

“I was involved with the Ingles for 22 years and towards the end I had fallen out of love with the game. I was seeing the same people performing the same old routines. Under Dave Coldwell I’ve learned some new things and I’m mixing with different people which has given me a new lease of life. Dave’s given me back my motivation, belief and excitement,” Rhodes explained.

The Yorkshireman’s newly discovered self-belief was called into question however when he pulled out with a week to go when he was originally supposed to meet Lockett in March citing a back injury.

“Let them think that I was having second thoughts if they want but it’s ridiculous to suggest that I bottled going through with the fight,” insisted a defiant Rhodes.

“But with my back flaring up it was too risky to enter into such an important fight when I was less than 100%, so I acted upon the advice of my trainers Dave Coldwell and Mark Willy. The Lockett fight was one that I’d originally asked for, and after the postponement in March I was constantly enquiring as to when it could be re-scheduled for.”

As Lockett took out his anger on Gilbert Eastman (KO1) to claim the vacant WBU middleweight strap that will be at stake this weekend, Rhodes suffered no further repercussions from his bad back by outscoring Jevgenijs Andrejevs over eight rounds in June to re-book his crossroads showdown with Lockett.

“My back’s fine at the moment. To be honest I’ve been plagued by back problems throughout my career so nothings changed. I’ve just tried to keep on top of the injury and have regular sports massages twice a week. My training has been going really well. I’ve been concentrating on my speedwork whilst sparring John Anthony and Paul Smith. Hopefully my back will be ok on the night,” said Rhodes.

If Rhodes’ preparation has gone relatively smoothly, Lockett’s has been less straightforward. The Cwmbran knockout artist, a former hot property himself, has prepared for his make-or-break fight with Rhodes in three separate locations after his car was written off.

“I think this is going to work against him. It’s not ideal to keep chopping and changing in the run up to a fight. Lockett’s been out in Thailand, then he came back and spent time in Enzo Calzaghe’s gym and now he’s completing his preparations with Brian Hughes in Manchester. All of them will have been preparing him in different ways. What if Brian Hughes doesn’t like what Enzo’s been teaching Lockett? He’s only had two weeks to change things around,” surmised Rhodes.

And despite Rhodes’ defensive frailties, he remains dismissive of Lockett’s intimidating 20 KO’s in his 27 wins (against one defeat).

“Lockett’s record looks impressive but who has he boxed? I’ve competed against Otis Grant in world class when Grant was in his prime. I’ve had some setbacks along the way, the obvious one being against Lee Blundell, but I should never have been in the ring that night because my mind was a million miles away,” argued Rhodes.

“The only thing Lockett’s got is his power, so what’s he going to do when I take that away from him? This is going to be like Joe Calzaghe vs Jeff Lacy all over again. I predicted that Calzaghe would win that fight because he had too much all-round ability for Lacy. I will box rings around Lockett. He marks up very easily. Against Yuri Tsarenko (who handed Lockett his solitary career loss), Lockett’s cheek bones were so badly damaged that he looked like he’d been hit by a bus. My southpaw jab is like being hit by a powerful right hand so I can see me busting him up just with jabs,” he added.

The prevailing opinion is that Rhodes will have to produce a flawless display if he is to rescue his career on Saturday. Considered a gallant loser in his defeat on points against Otis Grant for the vacant WBO title in 1997, it was an altogether different story when Rhodes squared off against Jason Matthews for the interim title of the same championship in 1999. This time boxing with reckless abandon against his big-hitting co-challenger, a sorry Rhodes was flattened in two rounds. A repeat of this performance against Lockett will almost certainly bring the curtain down on Rhodes’ 11-year career.

“I’ve got to use my experience in this fight,” he reasoned. “Tactically I got it totally wrong against Jason Matthews. I’d been preparing to face a boxer in Bert Schenk but when he pulled out I still went into the Matthews fight with the same mindset of just letting my shots go. For the Lockett fight I’ll be going in there with three different gameplans and, if necessary, I can adapt to all three. Lockett’s plan will probably just consist of knocking me out but I have a funny feeling that he might surprise me by trying to box in the opening rounds. If he tries to do that he’ll off come off second best,” said Rhodes.

With rumours awash that the Spice Girls are planning an imminent re-union, how ironic would a victory be for the former Spice Boy Rhodes on the anniversary of the girls’ debut number one single, ‘Wannabe’, which was released into the British charts a decade ago this Saturday.



Send questions and comments to: benjcarey@yahoo.co.uk