By John Kelly
John Ryder has become the first recipient of the Steve Hiser Award for Bravery as Fisher ABC continue to honour the legacy of their legendary coach.
Ryder accepted an honorary Fisher vest from Hiser’s wife, Sandra, and daughters, Natalie and Karen, at the Queen Victoria pub in Bermondsey last Saturday night.
Hiser passed away in May at the age of 82.
Islington’s Ryder, who turns 35 this month, challenged 32-year-old Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez – regarded as the best current pound-for-pound fighter on the planet – for his super-middleweight world titles in May. Fighting in Canelo’s home country of Mexico, Ryder took the champion all the way before losing the decision 118-109, 118-109 and 120-107 after the twelve rounds.
Ryder, who fought as an amateur for Angel Amateur Boxing Club, went the distance despite suffering a broken nose in the second round and being dropped in the fifth in front of more than 50,000 fans.
Ryder had called Hiser for advice three days before his fight with Canelo. Hiser’s response was typical. If it got tough, Ryder was to “stick the nut in, son”.
The idea for the award came from George Wadman, a coach at Fisher alongside his brother Andrew.
Ryder never boxed for Fisher but has a long association with the club. He is considered an ‘honorary’ Fisher fighter having first sparred there fourteen years ago. ‘The Gorilla’ often uses Fisher as an out-of-camp base and is known as a popular fighter who makes himself available to spar with anyone, including kids.
Andrew Wadman said: “This is so inspirational for the fighters and a class thing to do.”
After breaking his nose in the bout, Ryder was swallowing large amounts of blood and his bravery was recognised as it brought cheers from the home fans.
Wadman added: “That bravery shown by Ryder is what brought the idea together with consent from Steve’s family. He is an honorary Fisher boy, and the award was presented in the Queen Victoria – whose landlord is former Fisher fighter Mark Thirlwall – by Natalie Hiser, Karen Hiser, Sandra Hiser and George Wadman for exceptional bravery against the odds.”
Presenting the award, Karen Hiser paid tribute to her father. “Dad was brave, really brave,” she said. “In the last weeks and days of his life he basically lived his last moments the way he lived his life. He never gave up, he never stopped trying. He just dug in and kept going as long as he could.
“But this is a celebration. I want to tell you a little story that illustrates that dad was brave and he showed grit and determination all the way through his life. There was one story and I just kept thinking about it when I knew we were going to present this to John.
“He told me once that when he was a bit younger he went to the beach and swam out into the sea. He turned around and he was way, way further out than he should have been. He thought, ‘oh shit, this is really bad, I better start swimming in’.
“So he started swimming and he was getting nowhere. He was getting knackered. He’d obviously got caught in a rip-tide. They’re really dangerous, you don’t get out of a rip-tide, you’re supposed to swim sideways. You don’t swim back in, nobody does that. No one swims back into the beach directly from a rip-tide…apart from dad.
“So he tried and he tried and he swam and he bloody well did it. He got onto that beach and he was absolutely knackered and absolutely exhausted. Nobody around him had the faintest idea of what he’d just done. He’d basically just saved his own life through grit and determination and just bloody-mindedness and not giving up.
“That’s what bravery is, isn’t it, just digging deep and it’s not giving up and finding the strength from somewhere.”
Turning to Ryder, Karen said: “Which is why this is awarded to you. I’d just like to say I heard somewhere this week that bravery is infectious and I don’t know whether that’s true or not but I’d like to think that dad’s bravery inspired you, and your bravery is going to inspire others.”
Accepting the award, Ryder said: “Last year my amateur club closed down, so I’ve got a club now, which is good. I spent a lot of time at Fisher throughout my amateur days, sparring. It’s been like a second home throughout my career and still now as a pro I get down there a few times.
“Thank you, it’s been a pleasure – and long may it continue.”