Back at his London flat, John Ryder speaks to Danny Flexen about the contentious defeat to Callum Smith and why the general public has cheered him up no end
It does not seem like the locale of a man who believes he really should be a world champion today. The desultory central London estate is all ‘No ball games’ signs and laundry drying on the balconies. He lives on the third floor or an unremarkable building – there is no lift – but when he greets Ben, the videographer, and I, it immediately becomes clear from his warm demeanour that this is John Ryder the family man, not the warrior who most observers believe deserved the decision over Super WBA super-middleweight champion Callum Smith in Liverpool just three days earlier.
He welcomes us into the rented flat he shares with partner Nancy, five-year-old daughter Heidi (she’s at school) and 16-week old son Brody. Mum has taken baby out for a sleep and we make ourselves comfortable in a dwelling that is both well-furnished and homely, in the traditional sense not the estate agents’ euphemism for small. A glimpse of Heidi’s room as we walk past – as pink and fluffy as you might expect – underlines not only where John’s priorities lay but also the difference a victory over Smith could have made to all their lives. Instead the judges tallied 117-111 and 116-112 twice, all in the local champion’s favour, leaving Ryder heartbroken and a large majority of observers perplexed.
“I knew I’d won, but I didn’t know how close it would be with the scorecards,” Ryder recalls of the moments between the final bell and Michael Buffer’s announcement of the result. We are sitting on his plush sofa and I can attest that, apart from a nick over his right eye caused by a head-clash, there are no marks on his face; cliched and flawed as it may be, he does not look like a loser. “I thought that I’d won pretty comfortably. I need to watch it back, I’ve just not had the time on my own to sit there and take it all in. People ringside were shouting at me – the likes of Darren Barker – ‘You’re a world champion.’ I was like, ‘Really, yeah?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re world champion.’ I was up on Tony’s shoulders, arms aloft and it’s just, ‘I’ve done it,’ dream come true, job’s done now and then… 117-111, you think, ‘Well, that’s a bit wide, that must be for him.’ Then I’m thinking, ‘115-114 or 113 will probably be the other two for me.’ Then it went the other way, 116-112, and I was thinking, ‘There’s no way he beat me by six rounds and then by four. No way!’ I’ve definitely won more rounds in that fight.”
I have yet to find anyone, on social media or in real life, who believes Ryder won fewer than five rounds. I scored it a draw live then, watching again with the sound muted a few hours before I visited the Islington man, I marked him a one-point winner. It was no doubt a close fight but Ryder appeared to dominate the home stretch and forced the title-holder to fight on his terms (up close and personal) far more often than the reverse. When a fighter is engaged in combat, especially at the highest level, it can be hard to retain a reasonable idea of the score. Ryder concedes the point but believes the momentum of the contest was clear, to him and his experienced trainer Tony Sims.
“It’s hard because I wasn’t thinking about the last round or the next round, I was just taking one round at a time,” he points out, rubbing elbows bruised from blocking numerous attempted body shots. “I’ve been guilty of thinking about the past rounds and the next rounds in the past. I knew I had a minute in between each round to recover, so ‘Let’s just focus solely on that round, win it, then get back to the corner.’ There was no Tony saying to me, ‘You need to win that round now, you’re well behind,’ there was none of that. It was pretty straightforward. Tony doesn’t really get irate, does he? He’s a cool cat in the corner. He just said to me at the end of the eighth, ‘Last four rounds, you need to win these.’ Even at three and one even, which is how you had it, I’m still the winner. I believe I’ve more than done enough to win the titles and be world champion.”
The only three men that really matter, however, disagreed, and Ryder was devastated in the immediate aftermath. Now, however, three days after the gripping battle, Sims seems far more angry than his charge. Ryder is laidback and philosophical by nature, plus the level of public uproar at the result, and the score margins, has made a big difference to his reaction.
“They all said pretty much by two or three,” Ryder explains regarding friends who have told him by how many rounds they feel he triumphed. “I mean I’ve seen some people say ‘You won by four or five,’ Tony had me by four; these are the people whose opinions I respect. As long as Tony believes I won, wholeheartedly, he wouldn’t bullshit me, he’d tell me straight. If I’d got back at the end of the fight and he’d said, ‘You ain’t done enough’, I’d be heartbroken, obviously, but I’d say ‘He’s called it as he’s seen it.’ Listen, Tony wouldn’t risk putting me on his shoulders if he didn’t think I’d won it; he’s not as young as he used to be and he’s got Joe Cordina out this weekend in Monaco, he’s not gonna risk putting his back out. People stop me in the streets saying, ‘It’s a liberty, you’ve been robbed there, you should be world champion.’”
Tony Sims’ son, Charlie, is Ryder’s manager and the team plan to write to the WBA President, Gilberto Mendoza Jr, seeking to restore “The Gorilla” to the mandatory position he occupied before the defeat, at the very least. This would allow Smith to take part in his much-ballyhooed marquee fight at Anfield, possibly against WBO king Billy Joe Saunders, with Ryder, until recently the WBA Interim ruler, securing the next shot, against one of two men to whom he has lost exceptionally close bouts.
“I’ve been in worse positions, I believe,” John says, leaning back into the sofa. “I’ve been at the pinnacle of the sport now, fighting for a world title, Michael Buffer announcing me, and he got my name right! I’ve been there before when I’ve been fighting for British titles and I’ve had harsh decisions go against me; I thought I beat Rocky Fielding in the same arena but it went against me.
“I’m in a good position, got a great family unit, a great team around me – [S&C Coach] Dan Lawrence, Tony Sims, Charlie Sims – great friends inside and outside the gym. Life’s good. You can’t really be down when you’ve got complete strangers in the street saying, ‘You shoulda won that.’ Scousers come up to me afterwards, ‘It’s a liberty lad, you shoulda had that.’ It’s easy to say nothing, if you don’t think I won, but complete strangers coming up to me saying, ‘You should feel really hard done by’, they haven’t got to do that and it’s just really making me take note now.”
**You can watch our in-depth video interview with Ryder below**