June 1, 2019, live from the famous Madison Square Garden New York, Anthony Joshua was on course to start his American takeover, a step to bolster ‘brand AJ’ in the US with a future fight with WBC king Deontay Wilder in sights.
Joshua was taking on the big brash New Yorker ‘Big Baby’ Jarrell Miller, a fight full of spite; however, towards the end of April, it all fell apart.
Jarrell Miller failed not one, but three VADA tests and was removed as Joshua’s opponent. It was the start of a series of events that completely changed the trajectory of Joshua’s career.
Over the next week or so, promoter Eddie Hearn scrambled around to find a suitable replacement which was harder than expected given the three belts on the line. It would have been disappointing to get a sub-standard replacement given the aim of the event in New York. In stepped the Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr.
If a sub-standard replacement would have been disappointing, Andy Ruiz Jr coming in was a complete catastrophe.
When Joshua put Ruiz down in the third round, the fight was playing out as most expected. But what came next was not in the script. Ruiz fought fire with fire and was quicker and more accurate, knocking Joshua down four times before the referee waved the fight off. The boxing world was in shock.
As is customary in a voluntary title defence, a rematch clause was ensued, which has taken the fight to Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, and this Saturday will be one of the most intriguing fights of the year.
The Case for Ruiz
Contrary to what promoter Eddie Hearn says, Andy Ruiz was not brought in as a late replacement to give Joshua a tough fight. He was brought in to take a beating and make Joshua look good, let’s not re-write history. But Ruiz showed many facets in that fight which leave him a strong favourite for many in this rematch.
Firstly, his dimensions are not what you’d expect from a heavyweight. Short (for a heavyweight), stocky with a big belly. Joshua wouldn’t have fought many with these dimensions, a smaller target, constantly having to punch down or bend at the knees to bring himself in line.
Ruiz, on the other hand, has always had to fight bigger men. This was no different for him. But perhaps the most surprising was his hand speed and movement. Joshua had struggled to pin down smaller fighters in the past, but also as quite a basic ‘textbook’ boxer, struggles with opponents with good lateral movement.
Ruiz also goes into this fight knowing he’s hurt Joshua multiple times. Mentally this is a big win for Ruiz, and question marks on how this would have affected Joshua is yet to be known. Ruiz’s experience, calmness under pressure and movement could just be the perfect recipe for a style that Joshua just isn’t comfortable with and will struggle with again. The boxing adage ‘styles makes fights’ in this instance is almost flawlessly summarised.
There’s also one major plus for the backing of Ruiz. Collins – Benn, Collins – Eubank, Price – Thompson, Bellew – Haye, Tyson – Holyfield, Froch – Groves, Mayweather – Maidana, Mosley – Forrest, Ward – Kovalev, I could go on. What do these all have in common? In boxing, the rematch generally goes the same way as the first fight.
History dictates that this is on Ruiz’s side.
The case for Joshua
Anthony Joshua was a massive favourite in the first fight and with good reason. There was nothing from Andy Ruiz’s previous 33 fights that he had anything in his arsenal that would beat Joshua, his best wins prior coming against Alexander Dimitrenko and Franklin Lawrence. Are we to believe therefore that overnight Andy Ruiz Jr became a genuine top four heavyweight, or was it just a bad night at the office for ‘AJ’, which does happen?
We'e already noted that Joshua was emotionally invested in the Miller fight and really wanted to hurt him after a spicy build up. The change of opponent to the respectable, mild mannered Ruiz must have taken the spite out of Joshua and perhaps lacked any fear or intensity. He completely underestimated Ruiz, a mistake he won’t make again.
I think it’s also worth mentioning the rumours after the fight that Joshua had an illness or a bad camp leading into the fight. Of course, some of the rumours we laughable, but I think it must be questioned if Joshua was actually 100% fit on the night and how much, if any, that played a part.
But I think the biggest case for Joshua is to see what he has done since the defeat. Has he overreacted and completely started afresh? No. Has he done absolutely nothing, thinking next time will be different? No. Instead, Joshua has been pragmatic and made small tweaks to his team, training methods and sparring partners that shows how seriously he’s taking this fight.
Firstly, he brought in up and coming respected trainer Angel Fernandez, who trains Isaac Chamberlain. He would have got Joshua moving differently, using different combinations, thinking differently and hopefully using more head movement. There is a question though how quickly this can be embedded, not sure the four months will be enough.
Secondly, Joshua has spoken about how he’s done more ‘real boxing training’, more sparring and less strength and conditioning. His physique in the build-up week certainly looks less muscle bound and more mobile and the increased sparring will be a major benefit.
Let's not forget in all of this, Joshua is still a hellacious puncher who can knockout anyone in the division, if he takes his time, picks his shots and doesn’t rush in.
So, who will win? Honestly, I can’t split it. If pushed really hard, I’d side with Ruiz given the history of rematches favouring the victor from the first, and the question marks around how different can Joshua be in five months.
I think for Ruiz to win, it will have to be by knockout, in no way can I see him getting a decision in Saudi this weekend.
With that said, I can just as easily see Joshua getting the knockout or putting in a performance like Parker and winning on points.
This is a real 50:50 in my opinion which makes it such an intriguing fight and why I can’t split them.News Now - Sport News