John Ryder insists ‘the fire is still burning’ on eve of Jaime Munguia test

John Ryder is always honest with himself, always honest with those around him, and he is honest when we discuss his next fight: this weekend’s clash with Jaime Munguia in Phoenix, Arizona.

“I question myself daily,” the Briton admits. “‘What are you doing this for?’ But I know that I’m doing it for a good reason, because the fire’s still burning, I’m still getting up on these cold mornings, I’m still putting in the miles. The desire is still there.”

For Ryder, Saturday’s main event is another mission against a Mexican, eight months on from his brave but ill-fated attempt to wrest the undisputed super-middleweight titles from Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in Guadalajara. Ryder was closing in on his 35th birthday when he suffered a decision defeat by the pound-for-pound great, and he later admitted that his motivation now is a few more fights that offer the biggest financial rewards possible. Yet there is the chance that the end is nearer than it seems.

The “Gorilla” has had an impressive career, though a world title has eluded him, with ‘interim’ gold proving a respectable, standout accolade. How would it feel for Ryder to retire without a full world title to his name? “It’s hard to know until the time arrives, I suppose,” he tells The Independent. “Going into the Canelo fight, I said to someone in the team, ‘Win, lose or draw, I could walk away after this fight.’ Then, immediately after [the bout], I said: ‘I can’t wait to fight again.’ We’ve been through so many camps now, you probably get that feeling so often. That buzz of fight night is irreplaceable. It’s just how long do I have that determination?”

The determination is there to step in with Munguia – a younger, unbeaten foe. At 27 years old, Munguia is already 42-0 with 33 knockouts to his name.

“He’s got a very high work rate, throws a lot of punches,” Ryder says. “He’s obviously a bit taller than me, which I tend to prefer. He had a change of trainer recently, so I don’t know how much that’s gonna help him. The thing with changing trainer is that you kind of resort back to what you’re used to doing – you kind of get stuck in between two styles. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he comes out. I’m training for the best Jaime Munguia, I know he needs to come out and win well, and he needs to keep his dreams of fighting Canelo alive. I’m looking to upset that party, so you’re going to see the best of me.”

Indeed, an all-Mexican showdown between Canelo and Munguia is on the cards, and some pundits have perhaps been a bit too quick to assume that it is a certainty; Ryder is the underdog here but should not be overlooked. Even so, “I think it’s natural,” the southpaw admits. “When I stepped into the fight with Zach Parker, it was like, ‘This is for the WBO interim [title], the winner of this will be next in line to fight Canelo.’ Obviously that’s a big carrot being dangled, but you’ve got to focus on the job at hand. If Munguia doesn’t win here, he doesn’t get the opportunity.”

Ryder survived a knockdown to go the distance with Canelo, ultimately losing on points (Getty Images)
Ryder survived a knockdown to go the distance with Canelo, ultimately losing on points (Getty Images)

In late 2022, Ryder fought past Parker to secure his own shot at Canelo, a fight that the Briton wishes he’d had a decade earlier. Yet Ryder’s regret is not related to the outcome of the bout, but rather the learning experience involved. “I think it would have made me 10 times a better fighter, I think it would have guaranteed me being a world champion,” Ryder suggests.

“People steer away from hard fights, but these are the fights you need to test yourself, your grit and mentality. You don’t need too many hard fights in your career, but I’ve done that now, and I think it’ll stand me in good stead to go in there and do a job – especially in another fight with a tough Mexican on away soil.”

When Ryder fought Canelo, his children also travelled to Mexico and stayed in Cancun with Ryder’s partner and mother-in-law, before Ryder’s partner flew to Guadalajara. “You could write a book on the day she had getting there, but she finally made it as I was getting my hands wrapped,” Ryder laughs. “Hopefully she’ll arrive in better time [this week]!”

Ryder’s children – Heidi, 9, and Brody, 4 – will not be present this time, having been taken out of school last year to see their father’s bid to become undisputed champion of the world. “I’m sure my daughter will be wanting to see the result first thing on Sunday morning,” Ryder says. “She’s more aware, she’s that bit older. I don’t know if they understand, but I hope in time they will. It’s the sacrifice to try and achieve your dreams, and I hope that one day it will motivate them.”

Motivation, memories, Mexicans – Ryder goes again on Saturday.