Tonight, at a quickly-assembled stadium in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, a heavyweight title fight will take place. In one corner will be the current owner of all the sanctioning-body belts except the WBC strap—Andy Ruiz. In the other corner will be the man Ruiz took the belts from back on June 1 at Madison Square Garden—Anthony Joshua. If any fight should be on pay-per-view, it’s this one. It’s not. It’s on DAZN. For those of us who get DAZN, this one is a holiday gift come early.
Let’s take a look at what happened back on June 1, both in the fight and how it came to be.
Joshua stepped into the ring at MSG as the unbeaten champion. He was the man who swiftly and destructively took the title from Charles Martin in 2016, then made successful defenses—and tons of money—successfully defending his belts against Dominick Breazeale, Eric Molina, Wladimir Klitschko, Carlos Takam, Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin. His opponent for his maiden fight in the USA was supposed to have been Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. However, when Miller flunked a drug test, then flunked another one, Joshua was left without an opponent.
Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, looked through the ratings to try and come up with a suitable opponent. Two names came up. One was Dillian Whyte, who is also promoted by Matchroom Boxing Whyte and Joshua had rumbled in December 2015, and Joshua won on a seventh-round TKO, but but not before being rocked by Whyte earlier in the fight. Hearn figured a Joshua-Whyte rematch, if one ever took place, should be in England, not in New York City. The other name which came up was Andy Ruiz. He had a 32-1 record with 21 knockouts. Hearn was looking for an opponent who would not embarrass the promotion, but stand no chance of beating Joshua. Ruiz, he figured, would put up a courageous effort before being flattened and staring blankly at the MSG ceiling. Hearn figured right on one of those three—Ruiz certainly did not embarrass the promotion!
So, Ruiz was chosen to face Joshua. His lone loss had come in December 2016, when he dropped a 12-round majority decision to Joseph Parker in Auckland, New Zealand. In his fight prior to being called to face Joshua—on April 20—Ruiz stopped big, shopworn Alexander Dimitrenko in the fifth round. For that fight, Ruiz weighed 262 pounds. Days after the fight, Ruiz was called to replace Miller against Joshua. He went back into training.
If you figured with another solid month of training as he prepared for Joshua, Ruiz would come in lighter than the 262 pounds he weighed for Dimitrenko, you figured wrong. For Joshua, Ruiz put six pounds on his already ample frame.
In a fight week interview with Joshua, when asked about Ruiz’ physique, Joshua joked, “He won’t be hitting me with his stomach. He’ll be using his fists.” Little did he realize how many times those Ruiz fists would be hitting—and dropping—him. Was Joshua overconfident going into the fight? He’ll tell you he wasn’t. I’ll always believe he was!
When the two climbed into the ring, the first thing I noticed Joshua do was rub both his eyes with both of his gloved fists. Usually, fighters will bang their gloves off their forehead, nose and cheeks, just to prepare themselves for the leather which would soon be making contact with them. But Joshua wasn’t doing that. He looked as if he had woken up from a nap in his dressing room only minutes earlier.
“What in the world is he doing?” I said to my ringside colleagues around me. Most didn’t seem to notice it. None had an answer.
Before they could give much thought to Joshua rubbing his eyes, the fighters removed their robes. Any thoughts of Joshua being tired quickly disappeared. All thoughts were on the physique of the two men. The challenger was 6’2” and looked like a giant beach ball with legs. Joshua was 248 lbs and 6’6” of chiseled black granite.
“What’s the fastest knockout in heavyweight title history?” joked a young writer, not knowing it was Lamon Brewster KO 1 Andrew Golota in 2005 AND Herbie Hide KO 1 Damon Reed in 1998, and thinking he was about to witness another record-setting first-round demolition.
“At least we’ll be able to get home early, tonight,” snarked another one.
The sight of Joshua and Ruiz standing face to face just feet apart, moments away from fighting for the World Heavyweight Championship did indeed look absurd—much more ridiculous than Ron Stander standing in front of Joe Frazier in 1972 and Two Ton Tony Galento in front of Joe Louis in 1939. Many boxing writers were laughing when the bell rang. They laughed for only a little while longer.
With about one 45 seconds gone in round three, Joshua landed what may have been his best punch of the fight—a hard left hook to the chin. Down went Ruiz. The writer who had hoped to get home early had to be thinking exactly that.
However, the hook and knockdown only seemed to energize Ruiz. He got right up clear-eyed and looked directly at referee Michael Griffin. The fight continued. However, it became a different fight after Ruiz arose from the knockdown.
Ruiz began to find a rhythm and his timing. About one minute after he was dropped, Ruiz wobbled Joshua with a hook to the head. A flurry of punches sent him down as the SRO crowd exploded in disbelief.
When Joshua arose, he looked dazed. There was still over one minute to go in the round. Ruiz pressured the defending champ, who was doing everything he could to survive. With 12 seconds remaining in the round, Ruiz began blasting a teetering, unsteady Joshua with both hands. The champion dropped against the ropes, then took a deep breath on his hands and knees, watching as referee Michael Griffin counted. He arose on rubbery legs and took the mandatory eight. Griffin then waved the fighters together. Before another punch could be thrown, the bell rang.
Joshua was able to pull it back together for the fourth and fifth rounds, but that was partly because Ruiz had nearly emptied his gas tank in round three, in his efforts to end the fight. Determined, he recouped in round six and was able to rekindle the fire he had shown three rounds earlier. He pounded Joshua on the inside and beat him to the punch from the outside.
He was doing the unthinkable. Would he—could he—continue, and perhaps pull off the impossible?
He absolutely did.
He pounded a floundering, gasping, champion unmercifully in the seventh, willing to trade punch for punch. The crowd was deafening. Then came a knockdown of Joshua. When he arose, he look every bit a beaten man. There would be no Hail Mary punch for him. On June 1, 2019 at Madison Square Garden, there would be no pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. A weary Joshua went down again in the round. When he arose at Griffin’s count of “four,” Joshua curiously turned his back on a still-counting Griffin and took a walk. He headed into a neutral corner. Griffin stayed after him. Then, he asked Joshua “Do you want to continue?” Rarely will a fighter say “No,” especially an unbeaten world champion with millions watching on DAZN. Joshua faintly said “Yes” to Griffin’s question. There was nothing in that “Yes” which meant “Yes.” Judging by how Joshua said it and by his body language, Joshua’s “Yes” really meant “No.”
Joshua’s numerous title belts had just switched hands. There was a new unified heavyweight king. Ruiz’ numerous Mexican and Mexican-American fans in The Garden were ecstatic. Even Joshua’s fans applauded the incredible performance they had just seen.
It didn’t take more than a few days before Eddie Hearn announced he would put into effect the rematch clause. For a few weeks, the site of the rematch was discussed. Would it once again be in Madison Square Garden? Las Vegas? Hearn shook his head to both places. He also shook his head to Mexico, where Andy Ruiz wanted it. Can you picture the rematch in a packed 125,000 seat soccer stadium in Mexico? Hearn couldn’t, and turned that site down. The new champion wasn’t overly-thrilled with England, and rejected it.
Then, Hearn came up with a site unfamiliar to staging heavyweight championship fights: Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. Diriyah is a small suburb outside of the capital city of Riyadh. The Saudi government paid a reported $40 million for the fight, and erected a temporary, 15,000-seat stadium for the event. The makeshift stadium was assembled in one month.
Following his four-knockdown loss to Ruiz, Joshua took off very little time, much to the dismay of many. A source close to Joshua said, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to get right back into training after that tough of a fight. I think he should have taken off a month or two and done nothing in the way of training.
For several months, Joshua stayed out of the limelight, working hard in the gym to regain the sparkle and excellence he had displayed before stepping into the MSG ring to face Ruiz. His biggest concern was his body structure and weight. At 248 pounds and as chiseled as he was, he looked more like a body-builder than a fighter. He and his team went back to work.
His training changed. His nutrition changed. His body changed. There would be more cardio. There would be less concentration on power punching. There would be more effort put into footwork, jabbing and hand speed. He worked on defense and on head movement. Joshua prepared for this fight the way a top-level athlete prepares for an event.
Meanwhile, the champion partied the Summer of 2019 away. He did what every loving son would do: He bought his mom a new home. He also purchased a new, expensive car.
Hey, he had become the heavyweight champion of the world, an overnight worldwide star. Why shouldn’t he indulge.
Ah, yes. Indulge. He did exactly that! While Joshua was busy training, re-shaping and desperately trying to improve, Ruiz said he was doing the same thing.
“My weight has never been an issue in my boxing career,” said the new champion. “But, for this rematch, I am training extra hard. I will be considerably lighter for the rematch. I don’t care how much Joshua trains. I am prepared to die defending my title.”
In the weeks leading up to the rematch, the major talk was about the weight of both fighters. The guess was that Joshua would shed 10-15 pounds. However, with his magnificently-honed body, the question was, “Where will Joshua take the weight from?” That question was answered in the last week, as reporters in Saudi Arabia saw firsthand the newly-structured body and physique of Joshua. They were amazed. His legs no longer looked like tree trunks, but like the legs of a track star. They were finely-muscled and defined, not inflated with pumped calves and thighs. His arms not longer resembled the arms of a body-builder. The new-look Joshua showed Muhammad Ali-type arms—long and lean, not overly-muscled. The same can be said for his torso. It is restructured. Reshaped. Remodeled. Anthony Joshua is bringing a new person, a new fighter into the ring in Diriyah.
“You can change a lot of things,” said a friend of mine the other day, “but you can’t change your chin. How will Joshua react when he gets chin-checked?”
That is certainly a reasonable statement: “You can’t change your chin.”
Or can you? I believe you can. It can be changed by strengthening neck and shoulder muscles. Joshua has been seen doing long and almost-torturous neck/shoulder routines. He has also been spending hours on working on defense and on moving, rolling with punches. Don’t expect to see him standing up straight, like a statue. Expect flexibility and movement in Joshua which you didn’t see in the first fight.
As for Ruiz, his weight has never been an issue. He began his career in 2009 at 299½ pounds. In his next bout, he “dropped” to 292½. He didn’t fight again for eight months. When he did, he had shed 42½ pounds, weighing in at 250. However, exactly one month later, in his fourth fight, Ruiz weighed 271½. He had gained 20 pounds while in training camp! From there, he weighed fluctuated from as low as 246 pounds (vs Matthew Greer in 2013) to a high of 272¾ (against Ken Lemos in 2014). In his last three fights, against Kevin Johnson (2018), Alexander Dimitrenko (2019) and Anthony Joshua (2019), the scale has moved consistently upwards. He was 252¼ for Johnson, 262 for Dimitrenko and 268 for his title win against Joshua.
Then came the weigh-in for the rematch. The ex-champion, Joshua, got on the scale first.
Nobody was surprised when he weighed in at 237.8 pounds. Then came Ruiz. Was he going to be “considerably lighter,” as both he and his trainer said he would?
There was shock as the camera focused on the scale. We were waiting for “considerably lighter.” Did the champion shed 15 pounds for his rematch? Twenty pounds? Thirty pounds? We shook our collective heads when we saw the weight: 283.7 pounds.
By the time the bell rings, Ruiz will have had three meals, maybe four. Maybe even five. He will most likely weigh over 300 pounds by fight time.
His non-caring attitude is so reminiscent of back-back-back fights by James “Buster” Douglas, who, in February 1990, came in at 231½ pounds and shocked the boxing world by knocking out Mike Tyson in the 10th round. Eight months later, looking as if he had trained in Las Vegas buffets, Douglas weighed in at a much softer 246 pounds against Evander Holyfield, who ended his reign with a third-round knockout. Will history repeat itself?
Can we expect Joshua to stay on the move for much of the fight, attempting to keep Ruiz at bay with his reach and newly-improved jab and hand speed? Or will he be drawn into the same kind of firefight he engaged in back in June against Ruiz. Also, will Ruiz, with his added baggage, be able to fight at a fast, hard pace deep into the fight?
We don’t like Ruiz’ condition—or lack of it. On the contrary, we don’t recall a heavyweight champion—ex or not—ever restructuring and rebuilding everything about himself for an immediate rematch.
I can’t stop thinking of what Buster Douglas did to himself after the Tyson fight.
I have a feeling history will repeat itself in Diriyah.
I’m looking for Joshua to regain the title with a unanimous decision.
Randy Gordon is author of a terrific book which touches on his decades in the game. Get it for Christmas!