It is always nice when you make a tenuous connection between two boxing bills then realise they have more in common than you initially thought. The tagline “The Clash On The Dunes” that was given to Anthony Joshua’s successful rematch against former WBA Super World, IBF World, WBO World and IBO holder Andy Ruiz Jr. made me think of the May 1983 contest in an outdoor arena at the Dunes Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas between Michael Dokes and Mike Weaver, which was also a rematch that went the distance, albeit to a draw. The show was dubbed “The Crown Affair”.
Dokes-Weaver II is one of my all-time favourite shows and fights for a number of reasons. I love Dokes — and if you also love Dokes I really don’t have to say much more about it than that. In pre-fight TV spots, the WBA holder showed that his gourmet cooking skills did not just apply to crack — he really was a decent chef. Former titlist Weaver, meanwhile, displayed that he was an accomplished pianist. It was bizarre. It was also perfect.
As well as loving Dokes I also love heavyweights, most of us do, and the event boasted four heavyweight contests, three of which were noteworthy. There was of course Dokes-Weaver, but viewers and the 20,000 in attendance also got Greg Page against Renaldo Snipes, a win for Page that saw him defend his USBA title in a fight that also doubled up as a WBC heavyweight title eliminator.
Larry Homes was in the mix, too. The then-WBC holder earned a split decision over Tim Witherspoon in an absolutely bazzing contest. The two men battered each other in a highly skilled and technical way, you really couldn’t have asked for more. Holmes later revealed that ‘a lot of corn and rice and steak’ after the weigh in the day before had led to severe diarrhoea so he felt weak in the ring.
The crowd booed the decision. Many in attendance at ringside thought ‘Spoon had won. Sport Illustrated’s front cover had ‘Battered But Still Champion’ alongside an image of Holmes squinting out of two slits due to the damage his challenger had inflicted. Then they both went on TV a few days later to review the fight and had a good old-fashioned verbal barney. It was the gift that just kept on giving.
There was a nothing heavyweight fight between Vince Parker and Britain’s Anthony Blessyn, who both disappeared from view. Future Lennox Lewis victim Ossie Ocasio decisioned Randy Stephens over 15 for the WBA cruiserweight title, and Tyrone Moore met Happy Jimenez in and around the 140lb limit. It was the heavies, though, who powered the show and ensured that it still rings out across time.
Don King was known for his mammoth cards yet this one was quite svelte and streamlined by his standards. What it did underline is that if you throw a bunch of heavyweights on a bill people will turn out for it and it is a huge added bonus if the big boys whack the bejesus out of each other.
Although none of the fights on the Ruiz-Joshua II bill got anywhere near the standards of the ones above it was a smart move by Eddie Hearn to put as many of the big men on there as he could, we got five heavyweight contests in total.
Hearn has doubled up on them a few times for Joshua cards — Povetkin-Price and Whyte-Helenius on the Parker and Takam, shows, for example — yet putting four or five heavyweight contests on one card is one of the best ways of ensuring fireworks. The “dark art of matching” isn’t an exact science, but if you can get as many of boxing’s big, lumbering dinosaurs in there as possible you are almost guaranteed knockouts and decent fights.
In Diriyah, the main event saw Joshua execute a smart game plan against a woefully overweight and underprepared champion en route to a near shutout win (two lots of 110-118 and 109-119). Ruiz (now 33-2, 22 KOs) is completely to blame for his lack of prep and therefore pep; Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) should be commended for slimming down and boxing to a plan.
Many, this writer included, felt that Ruiz had underlined the fact that he has more natural hand speed and talent when beating Joshua in seven at Madison Square Garden in June. You can blame his weight for his loss, you could also reasonably argue that Joshua was similarly unprepared in New York and if you spliced the two fights a good median would be a points win for Joshua, although one with a bit more back-and-forth action than we got in the desert.
Alexander Povetkin’s draw against Michael Hunter was probably the most typical heavyweight fight on there. Many felt that Hunter deserved to win the well-contested WBA final eliminator only for the draw to come in after a decent contest. Dillian Whyte was cleared to fight Mariusz Wach so he also featured.
Whyte look out-of-sorts at times and while the wide scores of 97-93, twice, and 98-93 were a fair reflection of the fight they don’t tell the story of just how laboured the Londoner looked in his return to the ring. Undefeated fighters Filip Hrgovic and Mahammadrasul Majidov got the job done with stoppage wins over Eric Molina and Tom Little (KO 3 and rsf 2 respectively).
It means that Joshua’s fight was and remained the big story and performance, as he showed a different side by boxing and moving to constantly off-set his blubbery opponent. It is a style that should suit him in fights like this. Too often heavyweights lose the fights they should win while waiting for the big ones to take place. This was the case with Lennox Lewis, twice, and then Joshua in New York.
If Joshua has learned to do what Lewis did under Emanuel Steward, box at range and only close the show when you know the time is right, then he should be able to avoid banana skins as he bids to secure a fight against either WBC holder Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury. The problem with getting those ones has been down to the two perennial boxing Ps: promotional fissures and politicking. Hearn did a great job in the build-up to this one: the venue, the purse, the event — he laid it all out for his fighter, and then let him go out and do his job.
The problem is that both Wilder and Fury have name-checked Hearn as a stumbling block when talking about a fight with Joshua, who really does need that type of fight to keep him sharp and to see how his legacy will shape up. There is likely to be a homecoming fight to reward his loyal fans against someone like IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev. If Hearn can throw up to three or four heavyweight fights on there we could actually have a show, as most of Joshua’s UK cards have been dire.
However, if either Wilder or Fury do not take shape in 2020, Joshua may need to strike out on his own promotionally and retain Hearn as an advisor, which worked for Lewis alongside Kellie nee Frank Maloney as he made his way towards those defining fights against Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.
Returning back to that night in Vegas in 1983, though, you might instantly recall that Dokes was part of that sad-eyed pack of 1980s heavyweights who were ravaged, rather than enhanced, by drugs: weed, crack, coke or anything they could get hold of. Dokes, Witherspoon, Tony Tubbs, Pinklon Thomas et al had talent to burn and threw it all away. If they were focussed they would have been solid additions to any era.
Dokes admitted using cocaine up to 48 hours before his 10th-round loss to Gerrie Coetzee in 1983. Right before being battered by Riddick Bowe in one in 1993 he ate an entire plate of pasta. “The past is history, the future isn’t here yet, and the present is linguine and clam sauce,” he told a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. After being iced in one by Bowe he was asked where he goes next, “Disneyland” was his response. There was so much talent, so little consistent dedication and too much temptation.
This brings us to Ruiz. The man who charmed the world in June then turned it off on Saturday. Sure, he still has his fans yet his blatant disregard to them is going to be hard to swallow, unlike the copious amounts of food he admitted he had consumed while “partying” after his big win.
With his twinkling eyes, soft voice and personable demeanour Ruiz was easy to like, but it is equally easy to dislike the fact that he has asked Joshua for a rematch when the long and short of it is that he doesn’t deserve one. He caught a feather in the wind in June, it is unlikely he will get to that level again. Whenever he looks in the mirror he will see the one and only person he should blame for that.
It is sad. A few more months of focus could have opened up so many doors for Ruiz. Sure, he has earned over £15,000,000 across two fights yet American heavyweight money tends to disappear into a black hole. Fighters like Lewis banked their money, retained their focus and got the fights that they craved. Ruiz is now a footnote in heavyweight boxing history and now walks this earth like a slob, carrying his regrets around with him like so much extra weight.
Saturday night was well and truly Joshua’s night. One he fully deserved. And if you think that he was running or tying someone up is cheating then you really do not know what you are looking at. The 30-year-old out-boxed Ruiz and was well worth the win, and all those titles that are now back in his possession.
Article by: Terry Dooley
Follow Terry on Twitter at: @Terryboxing