Fresh Rhodes for Ryan
John A. MacDonald
In a professional career that spanned 17 years, Ryan Rhodes has seen, done and achieved almost everything possible in boxing. By the time he retired in 2012, Rhodes had two spells as British champion (12 years apart), set records as the youngest post-war British champion at the age of 20 and the fastest outright winner of the Lonsdale belt (90 days), won the European title and challenged for world titles at two weights.
During his 52 fights, he amassed a 46-6, 31 KOs record and learnt how to handle the media glare during his rapid assent in the 1990s, bounce back from crushing defeats and rejuvenate after a period of stagnation.
Now, at 38, Rhodes is using his own experiences to the benefit of others as he forges a reputation as one of Britain’s most promising young trainers. Whilst it seemed almost inevitable that Rhodes’ knowledge would be highly sought after by the next generation of fighters, coaching wasn’t something he had considered after retirement, until his long-time friend Curtis Woodhouse approached him.
“It was something I’d never even planned on going into, but boxing has been a big part of my life since I was six years old and I felt that I had a hell of a lot of experience and knowledge to pass on,” Rhodes told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his gym in Sheffield.
“When I finished fighting I used to go to [Dave Coldwell’s gym], doing some training still and a couple of my friends asked if they could jump on some training circuits with me and it just grew from there. Then I started training Curtis. His son played for Rotherham [United] F.C and, when Curtis was bringing his son over, he asked: ‘If you don’t mind when I drop my son off, I’ll come and train with you.’ So it all started from there, really.”
The pair quickly formed a formidable bond and Woodhouse asked Rhodes to become his trainer on a full-time basis. For Rhodes, the key was familiarity. Having trained alongside Woodhouse, when they were both coached by Coldwell, he knew his new charge’s strengths and weaknesses. The former footballer’s ability to have a fight was well documented - he rarely shied away from the opportunity to exchange bombs - but Rhodes was keen to add some finesse to the firepower.
After a short while of working together, Woodhouse had a fight scheduled against Lewis Van Poetsch. As Rhodes hadn’t intended to become a trainer, he wasn’t licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control to work the corner. Instead, Jon Pegg stood in whilst Rhodes anxiously offered encouragement from out side the ring.
“I think the good thing was that I’d trained with him, I’d sparred with him, I’d done a hell of a lot of rounds with Curtis,” said Rhodes. “I think the main thing was that I’d trained with him that long that I knew what his attributes were and I knew how he could use them to the best of his ability. When he was fighting, he was just relying on his pressure fighting and brute force. I just tweaked a few things and gave him confidence that he had a good jab and he could use it.
“I was very nervous [when Woodhouse fought Van Poetsch], especially since I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because I couldn’t go in the corner. I was shouting from ringside and everything but it just wasn’t the same because I wasn’t in the corner.”
Just three months after their first fight together, Woodhouse was handed the opportunity to challenge for the British light-welterweight title against Darren Hamilton and with it fulfil a promise he made to his late father that he would win the belt.
The duo enlisted the help of the highly regarded Adam Booth. The tactics they devised relied on Woodhouse outboxing the champion – a notion that to most would have seemed fanciful at best pre-fight.
However, Woodhouse succeeded in executing the plan well enough to claim a split decision (116-115, 116-114, 113-116). To see his close friend win the British title brought Rhodes a sense of happiness comparable to when he first claimed the coveted belt himself.
“We knew Curtis could beat Darren Hamilton. Obviously, Darren Hamilton was a good fighter, an awkward fighter but with Curtis’ ability and the fact that he was so dedicated [we were] confident going in to that fight,” said Rhodes. “Adam played a massive part. Curtis was down there [in London] three times a week and back up with me four days a week. Adam mentioned to Curtis that he’d done a lot of training with Hamilton, so Adam knew quite a bit about him, which was great news for us.
“Well, put it this way, a few tears flew from my face. I was just absolutely overwhelmed and so happy for Curtis. It was a great night. When someone dreams of something and it comes true for that person, when it’s someone that’s that close to me - it’s as good as me winning the British title the first time when I beat [Paul] ‘Silky’ Jones. I was so happy for Curtis - he’d fulfilled his dream by winning that British title. It was an absolutely amazing night.”
It wasn’t long until Rhodes was once again reaping the rewards of teaching a fighter to curtail his natural instinct to get involve in a tear-up, this time it was former soldier Ross Burkinshaw.
Burkinshaw teamed up with Rhodes on the back of three consecutive losses and a list of injuries. He was a fighter who had become disillusioned with boxing, but Rhodes – seeing parallels with his own career – was able to rekindle Burkinshaw’s love for the sport and instil a belief and confidence that led to the Sheffield man stepping in as a late replacement against Jason Cunningham for the vacant Commonwealth bantamweight title.
“When Ross came to me it was as if boxing was the last thing he wanted to do,” revealed Rhodes. “When we started training and we were training hard, he was enjoying the craic with the lads. It was something Ross probably needed three or four year before. I was the exact same when I was out of Brendan’s. Knowing what I know now, I should probably have left Brendan’s two or three years prior to when I left. It wasn’t meant to be, it happened when it happened and that was the same with Ross.
“With Ross, what we had to do was take his balls away from him. As soon as Ross fought and got caught, all he wanted to do was have a fight, have a war. We had to take Ross’ balls away from him and make sure that if he did get caught he didn’t just stand and have a fight with him, he moved, boxed and used his advantages rather than his disadvantages.
“The thing with Ross, everyone had wrote Ross off, everyone thought he had nothing left, that he was finished. The achievement with Ross was so different to Curtis. With Ross it was two fingers up to everybody.”
Now based in his newly opened 26RR Fitness gym, Rhodes is keen to develop the next generation of fighters as well as his growing stable of professionals with kids classes held three times a week, attracting almost 30 children a session.
Although understandably proud of his achievements, in this new chapter of his life, he believes he’ll capture the one honour that alluded him as a fighter – the world title.
“What I wanted to achieve when I turned professional was to win that British title. Just to win it, not even to win it outright! Not only did I do that, I won international titles, I won a European title, I fought for world titles, and I fought against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters [Saul Alvarez] in the world. I think I did all right.
“One day I believe I’ll be in the corner and I’ll have trained a future world champion. That’s what it’s all about, seeing kids grow from such a young age in to great fighters and guiding them along the right path.”