Can AJ Bury Ruiz Alongside Demons In Diriyah?
The first fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz was made at short notice, the rematch was made in urgency in many ways and on Saturday the perfect fight for boxing takes place in Saudi Arabia.
Joshua was the sport’s untouchable, unbeatable sweetheart, equally relaxed endorsing a dozen global brands and knocking out opponents. He had been world champion for 37 months before agreeing terms to fight late-replacement Andy Ruiz in June. It was Joshua’s big American debut, the start of the invasion.
Ruiz was the Mexican fighter with the large smile, belly, love of bling and a carefree attitude that disguised his commitment to his craft and his guile; he survived one heavy knockdown to stop Joshua in round seven. It was one of modern boxing’s biggest shocks, a stunning upset for punters and bookies. A rematch was talked about before the pair left the ring and then the squabbling started.
Ruiz initially refused the offer to fight in Saudi Arabia and his reluctance only added to the final and convincing financial deal. “He held out, he wanted more money, he got more money and that’s boxing,” said Eddie Hearn, the promoter of both fights.
There had been a rematch clause in the original fight agreement and that came with a figure for a second fight. However, deals in boxing are and have always been fluid; Ruiz had signed it, but simply believed - correctly, it turns out - that he was worth more money.
The fight’s late, late diversion from a planned venue in either New York, Las Vegas or Cardiff was inevitable once Saudi money was involved. “It was clear from the very start that they were serious, very serious, I called AJ and said it’s on - we are going to Saudi. It suited him, he’s very comfortable here,” added Hearn. Joshua spends a lot of his “vanished” time in Dubai. Ruiz is the foreign fighter here.
The guaranteed injection of the Saudi money, which is coming from the country’s Public Investment Fund, has transformed the fight in many ways, adding some high, high figures to the event. There is bold talk of Ruiz making 12 million dollars and Joshua as much as 50 million dollars, the types of shared purses unseen in the heavyweight division since Mike Tyson was biting and fighting. There is even the suggestion that their combined purse, once all of the extras - pay-per-view, worldwide sales and sponsorship- have been totalled that the pair could split 100 million dollars. Heavyweight boxing is back, make no mistake.
“All I asked for is a second chance,” admitted Joshua. “I just wanted one more chance to beat him - there has never been an excuse for what happened that night. But, there are reasons and I will say when this fight is over.”
Joshua has been in Saudi Arabia for nearly two weeks, has trained behind high walls at the British Embassy in Riyadh and runs at midnight inside the compound. He left “British” time a long time ago and has been preparing for the first bell at midnight in Saudi, getting his body and mind ready for a late start on what will be a chilly night. He looks a lot slimmer, sounds far more confident than he has at any point since the shocking ending in New York.
There is a firm belief in the Ruiz camp that Joshua is made for their fighter, that Joshua has no defence against the speed and that Joshua was reluctant enough last time to still be carrying the scars. They firmly believe that a repeat, possibly even quicker, is the most likely outcome once the first bell sounds. It is an understandable interpretation of what happened back in June, but that was then and this is now.
Before the first fight Joshua was told that it would be a walkover - that is the harsh and brutal truth - and that Ruiz had nothing other than heart to trouble him. The thinking at ringside that night inside Madison Square Garden was that Joshua would take a few rounds to soften Ruiz up and then force a late stoppage.
On the night it was quickly apparent that a sharp edge was missing and Joshua fought like a man with something occupying his mind, looked distracted and lacked urgency long before the first of four knockdowns on a night of horrors. There has not been a single excuse, but there are surely some reasons for Joshua’s performance. “He will be different this time,” warned Robert McCracken, Joshua’s trainer since long before the Olympic glory in London in 2012. The bookies narrowly agree, but it is tight.
Nobody is talking about the three heavyweight belts - some like to say it is four - the pair are fighting for, which is a relief in every way. The fighters have not once mentioned the belts.
Ruiz now has the confidence Joshua had the first time, but boxing is certainly not that simple. If Joshua can stay relaxed and smooth, using a lot more movement and not panicking under pressure, he can win a fight that will have a lot of thrills and spills.