It was supposed to be so easy the first time Anthony Joshua met Andy Ruiz back in June at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Joshua was the heavy betting favourite, held three versions of the world heavyweight title, was unbeaten in 22 fights and Ruiz was a late replacement. What could possibly go wrong?
When Ruiz was dumped heavily to the canvas in round three there was over two minutes left for Joshua to finish the job, retain his titles and start the party. That was the plan.
However, it was the fabulous Garden ring, the venue for greatness, the scene of so many masterpieces in boxing’s rich history and as Ruiz, his eyes crystal clear, jumped up he was about to enter boxing folklore.
Ruiz was the bullied fat kid, the big boy people joked about, but as a fighter there was respect in most circles; Ruiz had lost just once and that was tight, on points over twelve rounds against world champion Joseph Parker in New Zealand in late 2016. Parker’s trainer, Kevin Barry, arrived in New York the day before the first bell and explained exactly how Ruiz would win. “He’s faster than you guys think, he hits harder than you guys think and his heart is bigger than you guys think,” Barry said.
In round three of the fight after the knockdown, Ruiz nodded to the referee that he was fine to continue and then he was hit flush on the jaw with a sickening right hand - he never flinched and that was the exact moment that Joshua’s titles were lost. A wild left from Ruiz connected, Joshua’s legs went one way, his body went the other way and they met again on the canvas. The unbeaten, untouchable champion was down. He got up, he was sent tumbling again and he was saved by the bell and a shell-shocked referee at the end of round three. Joshua survived the fourth, fifth and sixth and was stopped in the seventh, on his feet but out of his head.
That was in June and now, nearly six months later, there are still no answers, nothing that explains the seemingly impossible result. “I got involved, that’s what happens,” said Joshua at 2am after the fight and again ten days ago at his training base in Sheffield.
They fight again in Saudi Arabia on December 7, all three belts and Joshua’s career are on the line in a fight of extremes. The betting favourite is once again Joshua, the odds a lot slimmer than the first expected massacre.
They have both prepared in isolation for the rematch; Ruiz has promised to lose some of his belly fat and Joshua looks like he has reduced his sessions with the weights. However, come fight night they will no doubt be at about the same dimensions they were for the first fight and that is because that fight was won and lost in the ring and not in sessions behind closed doors. They each know what they have to do to win: Joshua must not get hit, Ruiz must hit him.
“Joshua’s problem was that he had no fear of me, he thought that he would walk through me - he had no respect for me,” said Ruiz. “He now knows that I can knock him out. I did it once and he knows that I can do it again. He is worried, he’s under all the pressure.”
Long before Joshua vanished behind closed doors to plot victory and prepare his mind and his body for the Saudi fight, he was brutally honest in his assessment of the disaster in New York. “He had a plan, he caught me, I kept fighting back, but he had prepared, he’s a good fighter - it’s what happens in heavyweight boxing and I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s that simple,” insisted Joshua. There will never be any excuses from Joshua.
In many ways the damage done by Ruiz in New York was exaggerated by the foolish notions and beliefs that Joshua was some type of invincible comic book character. Joshua and his people had created a marketable, smiling, punching and devastating beast, equally comfortable kissing the heads of babies at functions and hitting the heads of challengers under the neon lights in a ring. He was loved and feared and unbeatable, well, that’s what the blurb said.
Joshua, now 30, is fighting for more than just his collection of belts in Saudi Arabia, more than just the millions he will get paid - he is fighting to get his old life back and that makes him very dangerous indeed.
Get the latest betting odds for Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr 2 here.