Make no mistake, Anthony Joshua is under a world of pressure as he steps into the ring this weekend to defend his unified heavyweight crown against Andy Ruiz Jr at the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden.
It might sound like a ridiculous statement, considering AJ is the undefeated unified champion of the world and has won 21 of his 22 fights by way of knockout, but as Joshua makes his American debut, he carries with him the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.
Let’s backtrack to September, when Joshua had made his first successful defence of his unified crown against Alexander Povetkin, stopping him in the seventh round.
A mere 24 hours before that fight, Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury had been announced, but this was dismissed as bluster by Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, doubting the fight would ever take place, even publicly re-affirming this position barely a month before the pair entered the ring.
Hearn instead focused on April 13, AJ’s second fight in a row at Wembley and he defiantly stated that his boxer didn’t need to fight anywhere else other than the UK.
Three months is a long time in boxing. Wilder and Fury clashed in an astonishing fight and both made a point to call out AJ afterwards, with Fury having the bravado to call his fellow Brit a chicken, all while Joshua still had no opponent for April 13.
Joshua made a very public appearance in the ring after Dillian Whyte stopped Dereck Chisora in the 11th round a few days before Christmas. After the fight, Whyte also called out AJ, prompting Joshua to leave his commentary position and declare: “We know how the list goes, who is one and two. If there’s anyone that deserves a shot, if it isn’t them, it’s you.”
One and two naturally referred to Wilder and Fury, and a Twitter poll, conducted by Joshua a few days after the Povetkin fight, confirmed the public’s thoughts on the matter.
April 13 became null and void, no opponent was found, Wembley remained empty and Joshua eventually confirmed his American debut against ‘Big Baby’ Jarrell Miller.
What AJ nor Hearn could’ve accounted for, however, was Miller failing a drug test weeks before the fight, with Andy Ruiz selected as Joshua’s new opponent on May 16.
Interestingly ,neither man featured on Joshua’s initial Twitter poll.
It’s a far from easy start on the journey to his American debut as Ruiz is ranked fifth with the WBA and 11th with the WBO. The fact Wilder brutally knocked out Dominic Breazeale in the first round two weeks ago further compounds his situation and puts greater pressure on AJ to perform.
There is no doubt Joshua should beat Ruiz (who is 12/1 to win) and this is unlikely to be a Buster Douglas versus Mike Tyson repeat. It is the way Joshua must win, though, that will be crucial, as it can be argued AJ hasn’t had a great performance since beating Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley.
There has been mitigating circumstances around these performances, however, as he suffered a broken nose against Carlos Takam (10th round KO). He went the distance against Joseph Parker, who clearly came to go 12 rounds, and suffered from the flu against Povetkin. The remaining trend is he was victorious, but he’ll need a convincing performance against Ruiz to show he is still the man in the division.
AJ is acutely aware Wilder is not in his immediate future as the American announced he will have a rematch against Luis “King Kong” Ortiz next. This means the pressure will be on as Joshua will have to beat Ruiz Jr very convincingly in order to maintain the clamour for a fight against “1 or 2”.
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