Callum Smith vs John Ryder is a gripping 12 rounds of back-and-forth action
Ahead of Callum Smith vs John Ryder tonight, a mandatory defence of "Mundo’s" Super WBA super-middleweight title, much of the talk centred around the champion’s future and fights versus the likes of Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and WBO 168lbs king Billy Joe Saunders. It was rather disrespectful towards Ryder yet also understandable.
Unbeaten Smith was widely viewed as the best in the division and Islington’s Ryder had mostly competed - and occasionally fallen short - at a lower level. That being said, the Londoner had earned his shot against the local hero at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena and, as a compact, aggressive southpaw, presented a challenge the huge former top amateur had yet to encounter, as a pro at least. On the plus side, Ryder had it all to gain and very little to lose; for Smith, widely expected to retain and with marquee showdowns within touching distance, the opposite was true.
As it transpired, Ryder confounded pre-fight expectations to push Smith harder than anyone has previously, only to lose on too-wide scorecards of 117-111 and 116-112 (twice).
Smith opened tentatively, maintaining a high guard and popping out the jab. Ryder landed a few surprise shots out of a crouch and had some early success backing the home city favourite to the ropes and unloading. The size disparity was, as anticipated, glaring. In round three Callum began to find gaps through the guard for jolting straight shots and the odd uppercut.
Ryder enjoyed a better fourth, blocking shots on the forearms to get inside then landing short punches at close quarters. They clashed heads in that session, leaving both men cut over their respective right eyes. John proved adept at springing in, doing his work then quickly moving away, out of danger. Smith varied his own output nicely and landed a lovely left hook-straight right combo in the sixth. It looked pretty even at halfway.
Ryder came back in the seventh and eighth as the ebb and flow continued, denying Smith room and having his way up close. The Londoner advanced as he punched, automatically smothering counters at times. Smith’s work was usually cleaner, but he was in danger of being outhustled in some rounds. The champion held more in the ninth to combat Ryder’s suffocating strategy and was the boss at range. It was a key adjustment.
Smith continued these tactics into the championship rounds. The 10th was tight but Smith edged it. Ryder came out with renewed purpose in the next as Callum tried to beat and wrestle it out of him. John took a few to land his own and appeared to buzz Smith in the 11th. They showed exemplary fitness in there. Smith found the space to connect with some eye-catching blows in the last but Ryder emptied the tank in pursuit of glory.
I had it six rounds apiece at the end or 114-114 but the men that mattered kept alive the huge fights for Smith.