Boxing: Rhodes revved up for Mexican stand-off

Ryan Rhodes will try against staggering odds to win the World Boxing Council light-middleweight belt tonight when he fights the unbeaten Mexican Saul Alvarez, who is 20, the biggest star in Mexican boxing and fighting in front of 15,000 of his hometown-fans at altitude in Guadalajara.

Rhodes, now 34, was just 20 and looked 13 when he was known as Spice Boy and first won the British light-middleweight title in 1996. He still holds the record for being the youngest British champion.

"It's been a long road to get here and it's not getting any easier," said Rhodes. "This fight is the most difficult of my career but I have no fear because of where I'm from and the gyms I've been in; people think I'm mad for taking this but I think I would have been mad for saying no."

Rhodes is a product of Brendan Ingle's boxing gym high on a hill in Wincobank on the outskirts of Sheffield. He was a major part of the gym, studying at the enigmatic Ingle's knee, from about eight years of age and shared thousands of rounds with his oldest friend, Naseem Hamed.

"Everybody inside that gym believed they could take on the world and win," said Rhodes. "I remember being with Naz when he was up against great fighters and he would be desperate to get in and fight – I'm still like that. This is my ideal fight."

Alvarez is unbeaten in 37 fights, turned professional at 15 and has slowly become a major attraction with his heavy-fisted style. However, he has struggled against proper light-middleweights and his best wins have been in fights with welterweights; Rhodes is not just a full light middleweight, he is a big light middleweight.

Alvarez's promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who is convinced his man can become the next Mexican sensation, said: "Saul looks like an Irishman, acts like an American and fights like a Mexican." Rhodes said at a press conference: "That's good – but has he ever been to Sheffield?"

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