First things first: Give Andy Ruiz all the credit in the world.
He took a fight with the most talented boxer in his weight class on short notice, showed up in, shall we say, less than spectacular shape, got floored in the third, and picked himself up off the canvas to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage in the history of boxing. It’s an extraordinary achievement for a guy who looked like he swallowed a full beer barrel and was in need of a manzier.
But what does it mean that it happened? I’ll tell you what it means.
This division is a fraud.
It’s been one since Lennox Lewis hung up his gloves and the brutally unwatchable Klitchsko brothers ruled the class for fifteen years. Oh sure, the two Ukraine born guys had skill, but they were so safe and careful in the ring (punch, punch, hold) that they were as much huggers as they were fighters. Worse yet, their competition was paltry. Quick! Who was the third best boxer of the Klitschko era? Lamon Brewster? Maybe? Not exactly the golden age, I tellsya. For a minute we had high hopes though, didn’t we?
When Anthony Joshua disposed of Wladimir in what might be the only exciting fight of Wlad’s career, we had a reason to believe. Here was a superbly talented, good-looking, brick shithouse of a man who did not lack for personality. Greatness was in his grasp. So was the restoration of a long moribund division that hadn’t seen a truly great fighter – let alone more than one – since giants like Lewis, Holyfield, Bowe, and Tyson roamed the earth. Joshua, along with one-dimensional knockout artist, Deontay Wilder, were supposed to usher in a new era of heavyweights. Maybe they weren’t all-time greats, but they looked the part, took chances, and made exciting fights.
Flash forward to 2019.
Wilder has scored a very questionable draw against the lurching, soft-bellied mouth known as Tyson Fury, and on Saturday, the one guy who could have held mountains in his hand got laid to waste by a guy who looked like he just came from an eating contest and not only finished more hot dogs than everyone else, but ate his opponents’ too. Is that mean to say about Ruiz? I suppose it is.
Especially just a couple days after his heavy-hands and huge heart changed the course of history. The problem is, it’s also true.
We’ve had some less than great bodies top this division. John Ruiz and Nikolai Valuev…
..come to mind. But we’ve never seen a guy like Ruiz holding the brass ring. And again, more power to him. I’m happy for the guy. His height and his width might measure out the same, but maybe his body has to be that wide to hold in his massive heart. Still, for those of us thrilled by the massive upset Ruiz pulled off, we should be questioning the merit of the division as a whole if a guy in that shape and of such modest means can ascend to the top of the food chain – no pun intended.
You also have to question how big the upset really was. “The biggest upset in boxing history” some said. Really?
Joshua had some solid wins, but he wasn’t exactly the second coming of Muhammad Ali. At least Ali waited until his career was in full fade before losing to Leon Spinks and Trevor Berbick. Hell, Oliver McCall over Lennox Lewis was a bigger upset. Because at least Lewis was a truly great fighter. All Anthony Joshua has in common with Lennox Lewis at this point is the accent. It didn’t have to be so. Joshua had everything he needed to be great. Then on Saturday night he showed up with way too much confidence, baby, and no Plan B. So, let’s get something straight. Anthony Joshua isn’t Ali, Frazier, or Foreman. Hell, he’s not even Ken Norton. And Ruiz is no Earnie Shavers or Jerry Quarry. We were sold a bill of goods by Joshua. I know, I bought it too. I wanted to believe. But look around at this weight class. With Joshua still trying to figure out how a fat-bottomed boy put him on his well-muscled can four times, the top three fighters in this division are the human eyesore known as Tyson Fury, a one-trick pony named Deontay Wilder, and a guy built like a mush shithouse.
This isn’t to say that these guys have no ability, but let’s face it, drop any of the three in the Ali-Forman-Frazier or Lewis-Holyfield-Tyson era and they’d be lucky to make the B list headed up by guys like Jimmy Ellis and Michael Moorer.
In this horrid run of heavyweights, we boxing fans turned our lonely eyes to Anthony Joshua, and he left us at the altar. It’s depressing to think of it that way, but that’s the way it is. It’s even more depressing to hear boxing fans – who should know better – carry on like any of this is special. It ain’t. It’s mediocre at best. Sure, it’s more competitive and less boring than the nearly two decade snooze lead up by the Klitsckos, but that’s a cold damn comfort. To paraphrase Chris Rock, anyone who thinks this is great is a “low-expectation having motherfucker.”
All that twitter hubbub from the weekend was spent on a division that hasn’t seen a great fighter step into the ring since a long in the tooth Lennox Lewis scored a lucky TKO over Vitaliti Klitschko.
Afterwards, Lewis recognized that having that great of a struggle with the more limited Klitschko brother meant his time had passed. He then did the most unlikely thing a great athlete can ever do – he walked away. I don’t know what Joshua is going to do now. I suppose it’s not impossible he could rebound and fulfill all that potential he’d shown before last weekend. But if he can’t do better than get put on his ass four times by a guy who no one is confusing with greatness, maybe he shouldn’t bother. He has plenty of money. He’s young and still in charge of all his faculties. If we’ve seen the best of him, then he should save us the sad spectacle that’s sure to follow.
As Robert DeNiro said in A Bronx Tale, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
Joshua should search his soul and decide if he truly wants to be great. On Saturday night, he looked like a guy who took his opponent lightly, was easily gassed, and then accepted defeat. He was supposed to be better than that. And look, there’s something really fun and even inspiring about a guy like Andy Ruiz becoming heavyweight champion of the world. It’s like a member of The Fat Boys bested Chuck D in a rap battle. All those hefty fellers who got made fun of for their largesse got themselves a measure of revenge last weekend. Fat guys everywhere! Hear Andy Ruiz’s song! They tell the chubbers they won’t amount to anything. Oh yeah? Well, it appears you can be heavyweight champion of the world! Especially if the most talented guy in the division shows up underprepared and unwilling to carry on in the face of adversity. So go on you waist size 38 and ups! Get down with your bad selves in your husky jeans!
Get on down! It’s a Cinderella tale. A Rocky movie come to life.
It’s a great story, but it’s not greatness. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
If we do, the joke’s on us.