Boxing: Record beckons Rhodes

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The Independent Online
Ryan Rhodes is a young man in a hurry, swept along in the slipstream of Naseem Hamed's meteoric rise to prominence. But is Rhodes going too fast too soon? That is the major question waiting to be answered in his home city of Sheffield tonight.

Just 23 days past his 23rd birthday, Rhodes tackles the more experienced Canadian southpaw Otis Grant for the vacant World Boxing Organisation middleweight title at the Ponds Forge international centre.

It is a sizeable rise in class for a prospect of 16 professional fights and, if Rhodes passes the examination, he will become Britain's youngest world champion since Jack "Kid" Berg in 1930.

Technology is being provided for soul-mate and gym-mate Hamed to watch Rhodes' title attempt by satellite link-up in his hotel room in New York, where he is preparing for next Friday's world title fight with Kevin Kelley.

On the same Saturday a year ago, it was queried whether Rhodes was being thrown in too early against former WBO champion Paul "Silky" Jones for the vacant British light-middle title. But the schedule was spot on. Jones was halted in the eighth and Rhodes was crowned as the youngest British champion for 57 years. And 90 days later he won a Lonsdale Belt outright in record time.

"I think I've been moved along just right," said Rhodes. "I'm prepared to fight for a world title and I think everything's going to plan. I'm always up for it no matter who it is. Having Naz in the gym encourages you, helps you a lot. Naz coming through so young has been a help to me. He's explained things, told me what is going to happen and how to handle it."

The Jamaican-born Grant, 29, comes with a sound pedigree. He was unlucky only to draw with former champion Lonnie Bradley in March. Grant was awarded a re-match but Bradley had to give up the title because of retina trouble. His only defeat in 30 fights came against the World Boxing Council champion Quincy Taylor in 1994 and has 17 stoppages on his record.

Grant has thoroughly prepared for this fight and arrived in Britain more than a month ago to acclimatise properly. That is the measure of how seriously he is taking Rhodes.

Can Rhodes climax a quite outstanding 12 months? It will be tough but he may gradually wear down Grant to force the late stoppage he is predicting.