Dave Ryan: The art of winning away
John A. MacDonald
In just three fights – spread over 17 months – Dave Ryan has gone from small-hall opponent to Commonwealth super-lightweight champion defending his title at London’s O2 Arena and televised live on pay-per-view. The Derby battler will look to repeat the trick when he faces rival John Wayne Hibbert for a third time at the O2 Arena on Saturday after their fight of the year contender in May. Ryan’s achievements are made all the more impressive by the fact that he has overcome injuries, operations and knockdowns to do so, all whilst fighting out of the away corner. “I always wanted to fight on a higher level but never thought I’d be able to fight at the O2 in front of all them people,” Ryan told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his home in Derby.
Ryan defended his Commonwealth title against Hibbert as the televised opener to Matchroom Sports’ Rule Britannia card at the O2 back in May. The bout was a rematch of their 2013 contest which Ryan had won. Once again, Essex local, Hibbert had home advantage and was a slight favourite in the eyes of the bookmakers. Neither of these facts – nor Hibbert’s rich vein of form – deterred Ryan, who was confident of repeating what he had done in their first contest.
“I believed that I was always going to win it. I beat him last time in his own backyard. It was a close fight but I won it on points and I believe I was the winner even though some people say he won it - mainly his team - but I was very confident I was going to take the second fight as well,” said Ryan.
Early on, it appeared that Ryan’s confidence may have been misplaced as he found himself on the canvas in the third round from an overhand right before getting dropped once more in the fifth from a body shot.
“I wasn’t panicking when he put me down the first time,” Ryan told BM. “I didn’t even see that one coming. I think I was controlling the fight up until then. I was pressing forward then next thing I know I’m going: ‘Fuck where did that come from?’
“He caught me with a nice body shot. I was having problems with me ribs a couple of weeks before the fight and I went in to that fight with injured ribs. The place he hit me was right on the injury so it wasn’t too good but I managed to suck it up and press forward.
Ryan showed great mental fortitude to rally, making the bout with Hibbert one of the best fights of the year. Ryan’s resilience was rewarded in the ninth as he obliged referee Victor Loughlin to stop the contest, having dropped his opponent twice.
Fighting away from home is nothing new to Ryan. In his fifth contest he went on the road, losing on points over four rounds to Scott Woolford in London. With the boxing scene in his home city of Derby being somewhat stagnant, Ryan found that the earning opportunities were more lucrative in the away corner.
Often these contests were at short notice, against vastly more experienced fighters - or both. As a result, Ryan’s ledger reads as 17-8 (4 KOs). Whilst much importance is placed on fighters maintaining their “0”, Ryan feels defeats have benefited him opposed to hindering him.
“Being the away fighter has its downs but it has its ups as well: you get paid a bit more money than you do when you’re fighting at home,” he said. “We’re just a little old city in Derby and I think I’m the only fighter in Derby at the minute so it’s not ideal for boxing at home.
“I’ll come and box people anywhere. A lot of the time it’s against the home fighter so you have that disadvantage. Being the away fighter doesn’t bother me a bit, however hostile the crowd is. In fact, I think it makes me box even better than I normally would.
“Quite a lot of them short-notice fights I probably lost but the thing is I’ve learnt a lot more from the ones which I’ve lost than the ones which I’ve won. Even though me record ain’t the best, looking back I’ve learnt a lot from it and I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have that sort of record.”
Fittingly, it was the 32-year-old’s willingness to face anyone, anywhere, any time that led to his breakout win. In December 2013 on the undercard of Stuart Hall’s world title tilt against Vusi Malinga, Ryan took on former world title challenger Paul McCloskey at three weeks’ notice. Ryan survived a knockdown in fourth to get the nod from referee Steve Gray. Immediately, Ryan was aware of the impact the victory would have on his career.
“I boxed Sam Eggington [L10] over in Birmingham and I got a call – I think it was a couple of days after – saying: ‘Do you want to fight Paul McCloskey?’ I was like: ‘Too right. It don’t bother me, I’ll fight anyone.’ The fight was a couple of weeks before Christmas and I thought: ‘That money will come in handy with the kids and what have you so, yeah, I’ll take it.’
“Again, I wasn’t expected to win but I trained like a normal fight and I was going there for the win. Any fight you put me in I believe I could win it. That fight just opened so many doors for me. The hard work will eventually pay off if you just stick at it”
Ryan found himself unable to capitalise on the biggest win of his career initially, after a freak accident on a night out with friends a few weeks later resulted in him breaking his fibula in a fall. The break required surgery and kept Ryan out of the gym for three months. Being a naturally active person, he found it difficult to follow doctor’s orders to convalesce.
“I had a major operation - I’ve still got the pins and the plate in me, at the minute,” he said. “When I left the hospital they said I [would be] bedbound for six weeks but I lasted about two days before I was out on the crutches and walking around the house and that,” Ryan told BM. “I did put on a bit of weight but it wasn’t too hard to get back in the gym, losing the weight and getting fit again. It’s what I’ve always done. It comes naturally to me to keep fit and train hard in the gym.”
After 10 months out of action, Ryan returned to the ring to challenge for the vacant Commonwealth 140lbs title against Tyrone Nurse. Ryan couldn’t have dreamt of a better start, as he sent his opponent to the canvas in each of the opening two rounds. Nurse valiantly battled back but the Derby man did enough to claim a majority decision (113-113, 114-113, 114-113). Nurse had fought in 30 professional contests prior to the bout though many were against lower-level opposition. Ryan believes this may have played a big role in the outcome.
“It’s a massive advantage knowing that all your opponents have been live opponents and they’ve all come to win. Whereas with Tyrone Nurse, a lot of his opponents were journeymen. The only time he did box a name was in the Prizefighter [tournament] which I believe he did well in – he got to the final – but they were three round fights which I think anyone could win, really.
“It felt forever, stood there holding the ref’s hand [while waiting for the decision to be announced], but words can’t describe how I felt. It was probably the highest point of my boxing career so far.”
The odds-defying wins over McCloskey and Nurse seem even more unlikely when Ryan revealed he fought both contests with what he described as “one-and-a-half hands.” An injured right elbow had plagued him for up to five fights with made him reluctant to throw a right hand. While many would see it as a disadvantage, Ryan sees it as positive having witnessed his jab improve considerably during that period.
“I’ve not been able to throw a straight right hand with much confidence for quite a long time because if I miss a shot and hyperextend the pain which I get in me arm is unbelievable,” he explained. “I’m unable to even hold it up after that.
“It took the Tyrone Nurse fight to make me think: ‘I’ve got somewhere, now it’s time to sort this arm out and get it on the mend so I can start fight properly with two hands again.’ We’ve been working round it and now I’ve had the operation and things are a lot better than they used to be anyway.”
Ryan seeks to move to a higher level but first must overcome Hibbert in a third meeting, at the O2 Arena this Saturday. “I’ve won the last two and I’m more than confident that I’m going to win the third one as well,” Ryan told BM. “He’s always going to be a threat - every boxer is at the end of the day - but I’m going to be a lot cuter with my work, [keep] a better defence. I’m not going to rush. I think I rushed a little too much last time and I walked on to a few shots.
"I think we have seen the best of John Wayne Hibbert. He’s hit me with his best and I still won the fight. He hit me with his best while I walked on to the shot which makes it all that more powerful and he still didn’t take me out of there.”
Ryan hinted at a more technical bout this time opposed to the war of attrition the second fight became. "I think he’s going to bring a completely different gameplan,” he said. “He’s going to try and box me and not get involved.
“Everyone thinks I’m just a come-forward fighter but I can box on the back-foot. My boxing skills haven’t really been shown in me last couple of fights. I think I’m a very underrated fighter skill-wise.”