“What we want is a story that starts with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.”
Samuel Goldwyn, 1882-1974
At the boxing mecca of Madison Square Gardens, the home of Ali and Frazier in ’71 and ’74, the stage on which the final act of Joe Louis’ career was played in ’51, where Ken Buchanan and Riddick Bowe had their fertility endangered, where Benny Peret lost everything, another of the sport’s greatest stories was etched into the history books.
Andy Ruiz Jnr., a pulsing paradox of Mexican vitality and Californian dreaming, with the body of a Mama or a Papa, broke the laws of the Instagram age to destroy the Anthony Joshua he faced in the ring, and the investment portfolio he has begun to represent out of it.
A shocking plot twist in the heavyweight Game of Thrones Joshua and his contemporaries, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, have indulged in for far too long already, it is a result that will reverberate decades into the future. Few within the sport afforded even the puncher’s chance to Ruiz, those outside it even less. In an age of image, of perception over reality, Joshua, statuesque in a way Frank Bruno, Ken Norton were before him, simply couldn’t lose to someone who looked like Ruiz.
The Game of Thrones writers wouldn’t have let the idea get past the flip-chart.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. The script for the English behemoth’s American debut had to be rewritten a few times; first in the preference for unnecessary prequels to the much-craved crescendo of Wilder v Joshua, then in needing a replacement for the comic-book bad guy Jarrell Miller. The selection of Miller alone spoke to the pre-eminence of the business plan, of conquering markets, not rivals, and the vernacular surrounding Joshua; of the long term plan, the 10-year dream, of chasing something bigger than boxing, are all, with the clarity of hindsight, the signposts of hubris and distraction we may have been missing.
The folly of Miller’s selection was exposed by those paid to be independent.
In stepped Ruiz Jnr., a fighter deemed sufficiently similar to the discarded, and hopefully forgotten Miller, to pose minimal threat and not render Joshua’s exhaustive preparation redundant.
Ruiz Jnr, as has been customary throughout his career, was scoffed at. Insults about his physique were the tweet trend of the day within the confines of the boxing ecosystem. Every pound of unnecessary flesh Ruiz carried pushed the emphasis of the promotion further toward the future and not the here and now; who would be next, once this ‘qualifier’ was complete, when would it be Wilder?
Only Joshua and Robert McCracken can know if boredom, the business, the lack of respect for the opponent, the determination of his rivals to progress without him has weighed on his shoulders. On a technical front, only those two can also know if the systematic building of muscularity Joshua appears intent on experimenting with has been at the expense of his stamina, his hand speed, his timing.
All were absent once Ruiz deduced he could hold all but the cleanest of Joshua’s arsenal, that he could tempt the Englishman forward and counter, and that under attack, like those body beautiful predecessors Ken and Frank, Joshua was lost.
In the prelude, Joshua had suggested he would retire if he ever had another fight like the Klitschko bout. I hope not, because for all the turnover the ‘AJ’ business now boasts, the wealth he has accumulated, the regret of last night’s performance would gnaw at him in his dotage.
He remains in his physical prime. Though analysis of how he curates that physicality would be worthy as would study of just how he tired so easily, failed to hold, couldn’t double the jab, lacked timing and displayed a series of other flaws too.
Joshua is more than he offered last night, more than the hollow champion a few have begun to suggest he was. Victories over Whyte, Klitschko, Parker and Povetkin are not the work of a paper champion. Nevertheless, a complete reassessment of his own objectives, methods and goals is necessary.
Congratulations to Andy Ruiz. Unfazed, unrepentant and ultimately, when it mattered most, irrepressible.