Final shot at the big time for Rhodes?

European light-middleweight titlist Ryan Rhodes

So Ryan Rhodes has once again earned the right to fight for a world title. The Sheffield born fighter has been pencilled in to take on the WBC world champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for his light-middleweight title in Guadalajara, Mexico on 18 June.

“We have chosen Ryan Rhodes (to fight Saul Alvarez) because he is the highest available contender,” the World Boxing Council president José Sulaimán announced this week.

Of course, Rhodes, 34, has challenged for the middleweight world title before, losing narrowly on points to Otis Grant in 1997 in his native Sheffield. Two years later, Jason Matthews stopped him in two rounds to claim an interim belt. Rhodes’ chance to make a mark on the world scene seemed to have passed him by.

Winning streak

But he has turned his career around admirably in the last four years, winning his last 10 fights since a points defeat against Welshman Gary Lockett back in 2006. The veteran southpaw has been on the brink of another title shot since picking up the European light-middleweight title by defeating Jamie Moore in an epic slugfest in October 2009, rising to No. 4 in the WBC rankings in the process.

However, the Yorkshireman faces a huge task  ahead of him as he bids to get his hands on that elusive world title at this late stage of his 49-fight career. Some 14 years his junior, Rhodes’ opponent Alvarez, who began boxing professionally at the age of 15, is arguably the rising star of the sport.

The 20-year-old with an impressive KO record (36-0-1, 26 KOs) convincingly defeated European welterweight titleholder Matthew Hatton to claim the vacant WBC light-middleweight title earlier this month in Anaheim, California. The fight was, in truth, very one-sided, with Hatton simply outclassed by the bigger and more talented Mexican, who pummelled Ricky’s younger brother for 12 rounds on his way to a lopsided decision win. It is little wonder that this exciting and charismatic young fighter has been hailed as the next big thing in the sport by no other than the ‘Golden Boy’ himself, Oscar De La Hoya.

Massive underdog

Rhodes will be a massive underdog going into the fight, particularly in the home country of the current champion and new idol of Mexican boxing, where he will no doubt be met with a hostile reception from Canelo’s fanatical followers. His promoters, Golden Boy, will also be keeping a close tabs on the fortunes of their future cash cow, and a decision win for Rhodes in a close fight in Mexico is about as likely as heavyweight contender Cris Arreola winning slimmer of the year.

However, the faded former welterweight titlist Carlos Baldomir aside, Rhodes represents the stiffest test to date for Alvarez, and the flame-haired Mexican has shown his vulnerability in the past. Lest we forget he was on the brink of being stopped by Miguel’s brother Jose Luis Cotto on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather and Shane Mosley fight last year before rallying to claim a TKO victory in the ninth round. Rhodes’ speed and power should cause ‘Canelo’ plenty of problems, and even Hatton was able to connect with several blows through the champion’s rather suspect defence.

And the big-hearted Yorkshireman has been here before. Who would have bet on him to recover from his crushing defeat to Lockett in Wales’ Millennium stadium in 2006 to be where he is today – on the brink of a world title?

Rhodes has been written off numerous times, and he will likely relish his underdog status as he takes on what will surely be his last opportunity to become a world champion. And, as ever, with ‘Spice Boy’ involved, it is bound to be a thriller in Guadalajara.

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