Staring up at the top of an open well, the young man stranded below feels hopeless. After tripping and falling inside, he finds himself in a predicament; looking up through the corridor of brick, he can see the way back, but it will take a set of circumstances unusually specific for him to complete an almost impossible journey to the surface.
He shouts, he tries to climb the slippery walls and desperately throws stones upwards in an attempt to capture attention – but what are the chances of change? Would he be forever trapped, rueing that single act of clumsy, poor footing?
Anthony Joshua smiled, oddly, as he posed for pictures with his thirty-man team in the dressing room at Madison Square Garden. He’d just surrendered his four world titles, scrambling across the canvas, spitting out his mouthpiece after touching down for a fourth time.
The reaction of Joshua during the contest spoke volumes, as has the seemingly distant, vacant performance of the former champion in the day since.
Many onlookers claim they witnessed nerves as he paced towards the ring, chomping down on his mouthpiece, at this point, still firmly in position, yet to meet the fist of his opponent. He couldn’t deal with the ‘fat bloke’ from Mexico when the going got tough, but how hard will it be now, to return to the pinnacle of a sport beset with political undertones?
PBC and Al Haymon now possess every portion of the heavyweight world title, with Ruiz joining stablemate, Deontay Wilder in assuming his spot on the throne.
Anthony Joshua is staring up at his own slither of light from the bottom of the well, contemplating his next move. Sure, he’d fallen down, finding himself isolated and calling for help, but how can he overcome? The hunger remains the same, claimed the man plastered on billboards and turning over millions upon millions in sponsorships or fights. But it can’t be the same. Not now. Not after boxing carried him safely from the streets and criminal activity on the promise of a better life. Or since he lit up the London 2012 Olympics, determined to prove his worth.
He’d done all of those things, sat on the iron throne and now, unexpectedly, it had been melted from beneath him. The hunger can’t remain the same, because the adversity is so very different. Joshua looked jovial, addressing the media alongside a devastated and deflated Eddie Hearn. It had been his dream to promote an event at The Garden, but it would be forever seared in the memory, with Joshua turning away from the referee, looking for help from between the ropes. Throwing stones aimlessly at passersby.
What of the team that surround Anthony Joshua? Those dependent on his success, cutting cheques when he wins, or even still when he’s licking his wounds. The brand has almost become bigger than the boxer, both a gift and a curse. The Watford man’s behaviour before the fight was unusual, burning nervous energy and attempting to display calmness at every outing.
As Andy Ruiz replaced the cheat from the East, Joshua didn’t seem phased. He didn’t seem to care. The disappointment of the heavyweight division’s trifecta splitting their television contracts had put the super fights on the back burner, but did AJ take his foot off the gas, as a result?
I sat amongst the raucous fans at Wembley during the epic battle with Wladimir Klitschko two years ago, watching Joshua compose himself and return to a clinical finish. The shot Klitschko put him down with was massive, but he returned to his feet, took a couple of rounds off and stopped the great Ukrainian champion in the eleventh. Where was that composure last night?
One thing that will stay with me about that dull evening in London was the fans surrounding us, the most fickle of any in the sport. When Klitschko was down, AJ was a warrior, a destroyer, the best they’d ever seen. When the younger of the two Klitschko siblings returned the favour, those same fans were disgusted by Joshua, slamming his training, his muscle mass and everything in between.
You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.
The work in the corner was a bone of contention for many last night, with Rob McCracken struggling to concisely impassion his charge. If anyone should be passing the top of the well, listening for muffled voices emerging from its base and lowering a rope – it should have been him. Yet, he seemed panicked, rushed and perhaps less composed than you’d expect.
McCracken’s work with world champion Carl Froch was always measured, but the Cobra responded, trusting his corner and listening intently. Rob’s frantic instructions seemed stressful, perhaps merely the result of shock on the grandest stage.
Whatever happens, Anthony Joshua may always be remembered for losing last night. The aesthetics of Andy Ruiz, the late replacement in disgusting circumstances, the big American debut and the hype that has followed the British fighter have all contributed to that unbelievable result. Sure, he could return and win the rematch, but it’s worth noting, he could definitely lose again.
Those glory nights staring opposite Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder look further away than ever before, but now also more dangerous. Joshua is still a valuable commodity, but the next six months could determine the entirety career.
As his voice continues to echo and the brick walls seem to narrow when the evening draws in, we can only hope that somebody hears him and drags him back to the surface.
Article written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209