Here’s how Canelo Alvarez beat John Ryder

Canelo won a dominant victory against John Ryder on Saturday, yet there were still notes of concern. We take a look at the good and the bad from the night's work.

By: Lukasz Fenrych | 3 weeks ago
Here’s how Canelo Alvarez beat John Ryder
IMAGO / Agencia-MexSport

It was an odd sort of performance from Canelo Alvarez last night. He was utterly dominant for nine rounds and never in danger of losing, romping home to victory in front of a huge hometown crowd. And yet… the overwhelming reaction from observers was ‘that doesn’t seem to be the same Canelo’. Even the crowd seemed a little flat upon the final bell–hardly the same full-throated roar that met the champion at the beginning.

It happens, of course. John Ryder was tough, refusing to go out even when clearly in serious pain, or wobbling around the ring. And he’s an awkward customer. Nobody’s at their flashiest all the time. But there are reasons to be concerned, to wonder how much of Canelo’s performance here was tactical choice, how much was a difficult opponent, and how much was just that he’s aging a bit, and carrying injuries. He has been a fighter now for a very long time. That, too, happens, even though he’s only 32. Let’s break it down.

See our play-by-play coverage of the fight here.

The Breakdown: How did Canelo defeat John Ryder?

It should be made clear again at the outset: there is no controversy about the win. Canelo didn’t struggle, as such. He disappointed, perhaps. Towards the end, he looked flat. But he wasn’t in danger of losing, not a little bit. We’re not analysing how Ryder made it closer, because he didn’t, really- he just avoided being knocked out long enough for Canelo to start slowing, then nicked a couple of rounds.

It’s also not all doom and gloom. Canelo did some excellent things for much of the fight. It’d be foolish to pretend he’s still not really good.

So, some of the concern is that gas tank, and how he manages it. We’ll get to that a bit later. But, despite his dominance early, there were still some signs from Alvarez early on that maybe all is not right, that something is different compared to where he used to be. Things that would be noteworthy even if Ryder hadn’t been almost impossibly tough, and folded earlier in the fight. It’s important to note that it’s impossible to say for sure whether there’s physical issues, technical regression, or just odd tactical choices at play here. It may be a combination of all three.

The first of these: Canelo, historically, has been noted for his head movement. Of all the fighters of the last generation, he’s the one who has epitomised that aspect of the game. He’s been both flashy and effective- slipping, rolling and ducking, but doing so with perfect timing, and using it to set up his flashy, effective counters. In this fight, things were a bit different- he was much more likely to be behind his high guard, taking shots on the glove. Ryder is a pretty sharp puncher, but not moreso than some previous opponents who Canelo did the flashy stuff against quite happily, so it’s a puzzle as to why he didn’t.

All that said, this is probably the area of least concern, and the most likely to be part of a perfectly reasonable choice. It may even be a first step in Canelo adapting his style as he ages. It’s not that the head movement wasn’t there at all: he still made Ryder fall short frequently, including nullifying his jab almost entirely. He swayed and moved behind those gloves- he just didn’t do the flashiest slips and dips we’re used to. He also used the high guard itself just fine when it came to it. He wasn’t shipping many shots, at least not early, and he parried well and scored a few decent counters.

You can see this in the knockdown in the fifth- Canelo parries Ryder’s jab, then steps in and drops him with a 1-2 in return.

It’s not even as if he didn’t use it to set up his counters- in particular, a sideways shift and level drop was opening a route to the southpaw Ryder’s right side with regularity. The area over his liver was very red, very quickly, and Ryder really wasn’t able to do anything to stop that happening. Any time he let the right go with any intent at all, Canelo was aiming for the body, and it’s frankly amazing that he didn’t stop him with that alone.

The other area of potential concern, though, is harder to justify and more of a concern. We’d seen it before, too, but it became very clear here that it seems to be hear to stay. That is this: Canelo used to be a lovely, flowing combination puncher. Not necessarily long combinations, three or four shots were the norm- but repeated, consistent bunches of them, breaking apart defences. Even when he didn’t, if he did go for single shots or doubles, they’d be part of the overal picture. If the opening was there to load up, sure, but he’d quite happily just maneuver his opponent around the ring with casual, tactical punching.

Rarely so anymore. Now, the single-shot power punches seem to be the point, and he loads up on them a lot. This started against Caleb Plant, but it seemed part of a reasonable plan to short circuit Plant’s slick-but-limited defences. When he did it against Bivol, that seemed odd. When he did it against a 40-year-old Golovkin and gassed out doing so, that seemed odder.

Doing it against John Ryder was just confusing. Sure, he wanted the knockout. But his previous tactics had almost always got him that anyway. And yes, he caught Ryder clean many, many times. It’s not that any individual exchange was a serious concern on its own.

Break any individual exchange in the first nine rounds down, and most likely you’ll see Canelo slipping or catching something of Ryder’s, making a little move, and punishing him. It was… well, good. Even compared to the last performance: against Golovkin, part of the problem was that he’d overdo a lot of those shots, and frankly was lucky to escape punishment for it with Golovkin’s timing too wonky to clip him as he recovered.

None of that here really- he was putting the steam on the punches, for sure, but they were landing much more accurately, and even when they didn’t, generally he didn’t find himself needing to recover position. Heck, he even made some adjustments in that respect- after hurting Ryder in the middle rounds, he started to push harder in the seventh and eighth, and made some big swings, but after seeing some of those miss, he cleaned it up, and focused on sharpness and accuracy that did some good damage. Even earlier on, many of his best shots were the snappier, quicker ones, rather than the heavy-loaded ones.

So why the worry? Well, this is where we come to the gas tank. Canelo had Ryder worried- the expectation was the Brit would come in and push hard, seek to sap some energy. For the first six round especially, he didn’t. Canelo was fighting almost entirely at the pace he himself set. He should not have been running out of puff.

And yet he did. Ryder started to show more life from about round six. At that point, it could just have been that he was starting to get his own timing going- that’s been the case with him before, and it was true to some extent here. But as the fight rolled towards its end, it became clear that Canelo was genuinely tiring. Ryder could push more because there was a little less power on the shots, and had the incentive because where Canelo had been catching or slipping before, now shots were getting through.

Canelo’s shots are still landing, but a lot more of Ryder’s work is getting through.

That, frankly, is almost inexcusable. Canelo has always had a problem with his stamina. For the last 6 years or so, though, he’s managed it excuisitely. He fought 12 hard against Golovkin twice. He tired, for sure, but he never wilted, and in the second fight in particular- even if you think he lost- he judged what he needed to fight to the end perfectly. It’s just troubling that someone who did that is now running out of battery three rounds from the end of a fight he fought entirely on terms he dictated himself.

And that’s the big worry. All fighters lose something as they age- all of them have to find a way to manage that, to keep doing the things they can while covering off the weak spots. Canelo’s decision to fight the way he is currently choosing to just seems bizarre. He isn’t always going to be in with opponents he’s able to handle comfortably for the first half of the fight.

What happens if he steps in with, say, David Benavidez, and doesn’t knock him out? In that respect, the lessened head movement may be a good idea- it’s less energy intensive, and easier to maintain if carrying injuries or strain. But the loading up? He may be gambling that he can knock such opponents, committing more, out early on. But, well, this is the third fight in a row where that hasn’t happened. It just seems to be the wrong decision, even after a clear win.

A couple of notes before we wrap up. First: the focus has been on Canelo here, so Ryder has gotten short shrift. But he did do himself proud. Yes, he was tough, and struggled with his defence, but he did also know how to get inside, muscle Canelo around, and keep himself relatively safe when in close. He knew how to recover- not all opponents do.

And he did find those routes when they opened- some of Canelo’s opponents have given up, run out of ideas. Ryder didn’t, he kept trying variations on the things he knew, and eventually did find where the gaps were opening up. It wasn’t enough- it would have needed a lot longer to be enough- but it was a good effort.

Second: this is not an argument that Canelo is shot, or past it. On the downslope of his career, for almost certain. But he’d still beat most people at this weight; to re-iterate, he’s still really good. This is about notes of concern, not a total disaster. It’s just… well, that was the story of the fight. Excellent work and worrying trends, rolled into one.

The Future: Where do Canelo and Ryder go from here?

Canelo has made what he wants clear: a rematch with Dmitry Bivol at 175lbs. Whether that happens, though, is less so: Bivol has been equally clear that he won’t rematch unless it’s at 168lbs for all of the belts. It must be galling for someone of Canelo’s stature that his opponent is insisting on coming in with a disadvantage otherwise he’ll just be bored, but there it is. Whether they come to an agreement remains to be seen.

If they don’t, the obvious candidate is the aforementioned David Benavidez, who beat Caleb Plant earlier in the year and looked excellent doing so. That would be a fight which could really test Canelo’s gas tank. There’s also rising Cuban star Dave Morrell, who like Benavidez lays claim a subsiduary version of one of the world titles Canelo holds.

If he stays at 168, you’d think it’d be one of the two, though he could also call up Jermall Charllo, who as the current WBC middleweight champion could claim first dibs on the 168 version of that belt if he moves up. The other option is comitting to 175 to persuade Bivol by beating others, though since every other belt is currently in the possession of the terrifying Artur Beterbiev, it may not be the best move.

Ryder can probably do whatever he wants. He’s 34 and has just taken both a heavy beating and his biggest payday: he could retire. But ‘courageous performance against Canelo’ is the kind of thing that makes him a tempting opponent for many: anyone seeking to prove they belong with the Mexican may call on Ryder to see if they can better the champion’s performance. Which is a brutal way to make a living, but gives him options. He can also go back home and ride on this fight with some domestic dust-ups.

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About the author
Lukasz Fenrych
Lukasz Fenrych

Lukasz Fenrych is an analyst and writer. He has been covering combat sports since 2019, and joined Bloody Elbow's boxing team in 2022.

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