As a man who often speaks in the couplets and chiasma of a Californian self-help guru and pursues enlightenment among the slings and arrows life as a prizefighter affords him, Anthony Joshua will surely embrace the truth his rematch with Mexican Andy Ruiz should provide. The British giant is likely to learn more about his mettle as a fighter this weekend than in any of his preceding encounters and, whether victorious or not, will also reveal much about his own character to those, like me, who questioned his ability to reinvent himself following such a humbling defeat.
Irrespective of the outcome of the rematch there will be a satisfaction, a solace or consolation at least, in the clarity of the result. Providing controversy doesn’t visit, Joshua’s boldness in seeking redemption when more pragmatic options were available will be lauded. For there are many fighters who would’ve sought a more circuitous route back to the top and many of us watching from the ringside or the comfort of our sofas who would have accepted the pragmatism it would’ve represented.
This isn’t the storyline Joshua had planned of course. Defeat, and a rematch to reclaim only that which was lost, wasn’t the script the 30 year old had mapped out with the Matchroom Sports ‘cartographers’. The dance toward transcendence had been performed with barely a misstep. And yet, with his eyes searching the horizon for grander destinations, for influence and affluence beyond the confines of the sport Joshua discovered but a decade earlier, it was the unseen hazard, disguised beneath the Trojan horse of Andy Ruiz’s physique, that tripped him up.
Andy Ruiz would have the advantage of speed against most contemporary heavyweights, particularly ones as sculptured and statuesque as Joshua was back in New York. Ruiz can fight too. There are few Mexican fighters who can’t, whether prepared, motivated, over-matched, decrepit or all of the above. No matter the perceived disadvantage they may be battling and with the acknowledgement of the cliche the sentiment represents, Mexican boxers can never be overlooked. A lesson Joshua has had to learn publicly and via boxing’s most brutal pedagogy.
Ruiz’s strengths and the soundness of his boxing fundamentals, remain camouflaged by a moon-faced, grateful expression and a roll of pink molasses where muscle is presumed to reside. Ruiz may prove to be no more than incongruous outlier to the accepted wisdom of what makes a modern big man. An anomaly if you will. It is possible he may be at the vanguard of a more modestly dimensioned era, one in which 220 pounds or 6ft 3 inches in height are the new, or rediscovered, optima. Or, Saturday may pivot perceptions once again. A crushing defeat will diminish the value of his victory in June, as well as add the blemish of another defeat to the contentious loss versus Joseph Parker three years ago. “It was a fluke”, will be an unfortunate sobriquet for the upset win he scored at Madison Square Gardens. But it will stick nevertheless. Boxing doesn’t do sentiment.
Ruiz is fighting to keep not only the baubles he won in June but to ensure that victory retains the significance it held when he punched his way to it.
On June 1st, Joshua woke as the heavyweight division’s crown prince, heir apparent to a throne occupied by the vanquished Wladimir Klitschko, countryman Lennox Lewis before him and backward in time to his ultimate idol, Muhammad Ali.
By June 2nd that kingdom was ransacked and the four belts he began the weekend with dramatically wrestled from his grasp. The outcome scoffed at his pretensions and rendered Joshua a sorry figure, arms splayed out to the top rope to his left and right, blood seeping from his nose. He was disappointed not to continue, to his credit, and in not proposing any excuse in the immediate aftermath deserved further respect for meeting disaster with the charm he had largely welcomed the triumphs that preceded it.
But, as with all sporting figures lofted high by the press, the fall attracted cynicism about his true quality as widely disproportionate to the loss as the consideration of him alongside those greats he succeeded had been in the prelude to the fight. There is little space for anything other than binary opinions these days. No grey, only black and white. In or out, yes or no, legend or bum.
Joshua has many attributes and sufficient remaining prime to build a legacy worthy of the bastardised term, but his defeat did expose the myopia his commercial brand had encouraged and brought a more considered evaluation of his capabilities and standing.
He is better than his performance in June, but, equally, he has much to do to reignite the premature comparison with the likes of Lennox, Joe, George and Mike he’d begun to attract.
History reminds us that rematches are more likely to provide a continuum from the outcome of the first. Tunney, Ali, Liston, Holyfield all offer evidence to support the theory, and whilst the same Ali, as well as Patterson, Joe Louis and Lennox substantiate the opposite, there remains much to conclude Ruiz will do it again.
The revelation Joshua expects to be as much as 10 pounds lighter and has returned to boxing 101 and away from the pseudoscience of weight lifting and associated training encourages doubt in my previously firm belief Ruiz will win again. There is a sense among the great and good of boxing that Joshua will look to accomplish more from distance, to control the pace of the fight with his jab and to impose himself physically by clinching when Ruiz closes the gap.
All very well. Until he gets hit in the face. For my own conclusion is Joshua will find it hard to resist the desire to knock out Ruiz and convey the idea that the preceding defeat was an abomination. A fluke.
The very idea Ruiz is trying to suffocate.
Sky Sports Box Office host the event in the UK.