The Jesse Ryder Rehabilitation Project is officially underway, but it's far from low-key.
Ryder intends to debut in the boxing ring on July 5 in Auckland. He will be part of a televised undercard on a fight night which culminates in a bout between established boxers Shane Cameron and Monte Barrett. Ryder continues to seek a willing opponent.
He initially called out former New Zealand cricketer Craig McMillan, who was not interested. The origins of Ryder's request stem from last summer's T20 match between New Zealand and South Africa at Eden Park. Ryder was returning to the New Zealand side after a calf injury. McMillan said Ryder was selfish in trying to reach 50. He used up nine balls to get one run and the hosts lost. Ryder's off-field discipline lapsed after the criticism. Ryder claims he wanted McMillan to be part of his drive to get physically fit and into a mindset where he feels comfortable playing for New Zealand again. One core aim of the project is for Ryder to drop from 106kg to 96kg. McMillan, who is about to start a stint of commentary work at an Under-19 tournament in Malaysia, said he had no intention of being part of a grudge match.
Ryder has done previous boxing-oriented fitness work at well-known Kiwi trainer Billy Graham's Naenae gym in Lower Hutt, a city that is part of greater Wellington. Ryder hit the bag, skipped, and did drills such as press-ups and sit-ups, but he never sparred in the ring. It provided a way for him to connect with his local community: he took the initiative by organising barbecues at his house for younger gym-goers.
"I loved doing that. Half of them Billy had pulled off the street, for starters to keep them out of trouble. I got on well with them - and some of their parents - so invited them home from time to time. They all loved playing PlayStation and table tennis." Promoter David Higgins of Duco Events, which is organising the boxing gala evening, said it was a big coup to sign Ryder. "When we found out he liked boxing, we got in contact, and he's agreed to make his debut on television. That's courageous. There's nowhere to hide and no one to rely on. He doesn't want to lose, so it's pressure and adrenaline rolled into one. He also gets a chance to knuckle down, get fit, gain confidence and lose weight."
Ryder has opted out of a New Zealand Cricket contract for the coming year (starting July 1) as he attempts to refocus his life. He had broken team protocol again by hitting the town in Napier during the South African series and was subsequently dropped. He has not played for New Zealand since.
Ryder's decision to box publicly follows his psychologist Karen Nimmo saying his conduct was "exemplary during trying circumstances" playing for the Pune Warriors in the Indian Premier League. Nimmo attended the tournament for two weeks - as did Ryder's manager, Aaron Klee - to provide support for their charge, who has had several well-documented indiscretions involving alcohol since becoming a professional cricketer. She would not say whether he had drunk alcohol during the tournament.
Ryder was one of the better New Zealand performers in the IPL. He batted through the innings for the first time in his T20 career to help the Warriors beat eventual finalists Chennai Super Kings with 73 not out off 56 balls. The Warriors exited early but Ryder averaged 25.6 at a strike rate of 121 in 11 games.
Duco Events claims it will put together an attractive purse for a suitable opponent to do six minutes in the ring with him. Ryder and any opponent-to-be will wear 16-ounce gloves and headgear. They will compete over three two-minute rounds. Ryder will adopt an orthodox rather than southpaw stance, despite being a left-hand batsman.
He knows it'll be different fighting in front of a hyped-up crowd. "Nothing seems to faze me on the cricket field so I hope that continues in the ring," he says. "There can be crowds of 50,000 but once I step over the rope, I hardly realise they're there. However, going into a fight for the first time I'll be nervous. It'll be interesting to see how the crowd reacts."