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A British Veteran Says Experience Trumps Home Turf

Ryan Rhodes doesn't need any advice at all before the biggest job of his life on Saturday night. He knows exactly what he's up against. When he looks into the eyes of Saul Alvarez, the young Mexican touted as one of boxing's coming superstars, Rhodes says he will simply see himself.

"He reminds me so much of myself when I was 20 years old," admits Rhodes, who was raised in the same gym as Naseem Hamed in Sheffield, England. "This is like me when I boxed Otis Grant, only I'm Otis Grant, the wiser fox, the mature boxer, this time."

Wisdom and maturity are not expected to serve Rhodes in the same way they did Grant when the Canadian edged their middleweight title fight nearly 14 years ago. Some British odds players make the 34-year-old southpaw a 6-1 outsider to upset Alvarez and lift the WBC super welterweight title at the 15,000-capacity Arena VFG in Guadalajara.

But Rhodes takes no notice of the betting lines. He sees victory in his 50th fight as a burdensome formality that will catapult him into the superfight bracket.

"I'm very confident, 100 percent," boasts Rhodes, 45-4 (31). "I think I'm gonna knock this kid out. I've seen him get wobbled a few times by light-welterweights and welterweights, so I know once I start catching him, the kid's gonna walk on to one."

Rhodes doesn't talk cheaply. What you hear are the convictions of a hardened, grounded professional. After mixed fortunes at middleweight, Rhodes is thriving back down in the 154-pound weight class, where he first made his name in the mid-1990s and is the reigning European champion.

Alvarez vs Rhodes

His experience could be key. "I think it's massive," emphasizes Rhodes. "I've boxed on the world stage before. This is the first time I've boxed abroad, but I think my experience and my maturity will be a [big] factor. I'll be boxing in front of 15,000 screaming Mexicans, but I don't think that's gonna matter. When that bell rings, it's just gonna be me and him."

Alvarez, 36-0-1 (26), has been preparing for his first defense in the mountains of Big Bear, CA, and is a heavy favorite to beat his second British opponent in three months. In March, Alvarez was dominant, but not devastating, in winning a wide unanimous decision over the naturally smaller Matthew Hatton, younger brother of Ricky, to capture the vacant championship in Anaheim, near LA.

"He's a very good fighter, but I think I'm getting him at the right time," insists Rhodes. "I think [in] the next 18 months to two years, he's gonna be a superstar.

"Matthew proved that Alvarez can be hit. He stands in front of you, he doesn't mind taking shots. But I just think Matthew Hatton hitting Alvarez and me hitting Alvarez, [there] is gonna be a massive difference."

Winning would make a similarly big difference to Rhodes's career. "It's so exciting," he confesses. "I would say, in the whole of my career, this is the most exciting time, without a shadow of a doubt. I'm on the radar or your Mayweathers, your Cottos, your Margaritos, your Paul Williamses. It's absolutely mouthwatering to even think about those kind of fights, but we've got an obstacle and that's Alvarez. We're not looking past him."

Bob Papa, who will call the fight on HBO's Boxing After Dark, believes Rhodes is not without a chance, but says he will have to establish himself early and hope to quiet the pro-Alvarez crowd.

"Rhodes is in the lion's den," Papa says. "I've seen him fight on tape before and I know he's extremely skilled and very talented. But the age, to me, is a factor.

"Alvarez is the young buck and I think it's a situation where everything is going to have to go right for Rhodes for him to win this fight.

"The one thing about Alvarez is he has shown a susceptibility to getting hit. In his last fight, Hatton was able to get some shots on him. So if Rhodes can apply that pressure and make it rough for Alvarez, it could be intriguing.

"Alvarez is fighting a true man [Rhodes] in this weight class, someone who has campaigned at this weight and is a mature individual. That's going to carry some power with it."

A huge factor in Alvarez's favour will be the partisan home crowd, but Papa says Rhodes must try to neutralize it. Papa adds: "The question is, is Rhodes, on the road in Mexico, with the fans hollering on Alvarez's behalf, going to be able to stop the momentum that naturally comes with fighting a Mexican fighter in Mexico? There's a distinct home advantage, that wave of emotion that carries a fighter. Can Rhodes turn that emotion off early and disconnect the crowd a little bit from the fight?

"I think Rhodes has got to rely on every ounce of his experience in championship-level fights and try to get Alvarez off his game, not allowing him to get into a consistent rhythm. That's where the momentum tends to build and the hometown kid gets stronger and more confident."

"I would say, in the whole of my career, this is the most exciting time, without a shadow of a doubt."

Posted 12:00 AM | Jun 13, 2011

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