GOAT lessons from Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor have Sandy Ryan primed for Terri Harper showdown

The glitz, glamour and tall tales of Las Vegas are like nothing else in boxing folklore. Saudi Arabia might be throwing mega money at blockbusting fights in 2024 but Sin City’s allure remains unmatched for the fight game.

That draw of a neon wonderland steeped in boxing is part of what persuaded Britain’s WBO welterweight champion Sandy Ryan (6-1-1, 2 KOs) to turn her life upside down in pursuit of greatness, changing her training and management team and relocating to the Mojave Desert ahead of Saturday’s showdown with two-weight world champion Terri Harper.

Just don’t expect any of those tall tales.

“The training was good. I’ve been locked in, isolated myself and not seen much of Vegas,” Ryan told The Sporting News. “I’m not here to do that.”

WATCH: Ryan vs. Harper exclusively live only on DAZN

The 30-year-old was sporting a slight black eye from her endeavours at DLX Boxing when we spoke and she isn’t kidding when she talks about the sparring Stateside being of the highest level. 

Since September’s controversial split decision draw against WBA and WBC champion Jessica McCaskill — a bout many observers felt Ryan won handily — she’s shared rounds with pound-for-pound superstar Claressa Shields.

“It’s great work,” she said. “I respect Claressa massively for what she’s done in the sport, so for me to get some work in with her, I appreciated it. 

“We got some really great rounds in. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

It’s not the first time Ryan has been the choice of gym opponent for the very best. Katie Taylor namechecked her sparring partner as a key ingredient in November’s revenge win over Chantelle Cameron for undisputed super lightweight glory. The WBO champ is now working with Taylor’s manager Brian Peters.

“They’re obviously completely different fighters but they’re both great in their own way,” Ryan said of Taylor and Shields, who are ranked No. 1 and No.2 on the Sporting News’ women’s P4P list. “They’re both very professional in their own way. 

“I picked up a lot of things from both of them, which I’m grateful for. I believe I was a help to them also. It’s great as well because it shows where I belong. I’m up there sparring the greats. It’s where I want to get to, the pinnacle of the sport.”

That journey towards the summit continues this weekend against Harper (14-1-2, 6 KOs), another elite combatant Ryan has faced behind closed gym doors. The 27-year-old had her super featherweight reign ended by Alycia Baumgardner in November 2021 before leaping up four weight classes to dethrone Hannah Rankin the following year.

Despite those exploits, this fight being back down at 147 lbs arguably moves Harper back towards her more natural weight. The confidence of both fighters heading into the matchup has lent a spiky edge to the build-up.

“She knows who I am and what I’m bringing to the table. I’m looking forward to getting the best of Terri Harper,” Ryan proclaimed.

“I feel like she’s going to try and box me but if she wants to stand there and fight me, either way I don’t mind. I’m confident in both, whichever way the fight is going to end up. I’m going to be dictating, I’m confident what I bring to the table will be enough to defeat Terri Harper.”

Harper’s previous title defence up at super welterweight ended in a disputed draw with Cecilia Braekhus at the same Sheffield Arena where Saturday’s blows will be traded.

Outcomes such as that and Ryan’s deeply questionable draw with McCaskill have added weight to arguments that the elite female fighters should be able to compete over three-minute rounds, allowing their range of skills more time to shine and decisively claim an upper hand.

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“I don’t mind, I can fight two minutes or three minutes,” Ryan said. “I train three and four minute rounds in the gym so I don’t mind going to three minutes, but it’s not my call. I’m just doing what I’m told to do.

“I also believe that if they did make it three minutes then they have to make the pay equal if they’re making the time equal.”

Ryan vs. Harper is the co-main event alongside undefeated Sheffield super lightweight Dalton Smith’s step-up test against Jose Zepeda. It’s not quite equal billing, but a rejuvenated and re-focused Ryan might just end up stealing the show with a performance worthy of the Las Vegas fight fraternity to which she now belongs.

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