Six months ago – at the boxing mecca of Madison Square Garden – a monumental upset took place, which left us boxing fans gobsmacked. The then-unified heavyweight champion from Britain was pummelled into submission by a short Mexican heavyweight, who at first glance resembled a contestant from the famed Coney Island hot dog eating contest.
Typically, after the event, the boxing rumour mill was in full spin with excuses turned into ‘facts’ to justify the unfathomable outcome. Stories ranging from a palatable option that Britain’s great heavyweight hope, Anthony Joshua, was hurt in sparring to more outlandish excuses of there being a body double in the ring on that fatal night.
Since that monumental evening, not much has been divulged by Team Joshua or the fighter’s talkative promoter, Eddie Hearn, on what has changed or what went wrong on June 1 at ‘The Garden’.
Before narrative fallacy and the benefits of hindsight set in for Joshua vs Ruiz Jr II, here’s my take on the fight. Just to clarify – I don’t hold any insider information, nor am I willing to lay down my house as collateral for my chosen outcome. This, to me, echoes the intrigue surrounding this pay-per-view match-up.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to predicting this fight. It is possible that the first fight was inconsequential – Joshua had a bad night in the office, outside factors impacted his performance or his preparation wasn’t ideal. All perfectly valid reasons for a fighter not performing at their best.
The other possibility is that the first encounter provided all the evidence needed to say that the second fight is a foregone conclusion. Andy Ruiz Jr’s fast hands, ability to cut distance and supreme boxing schooling is a puzzle that his muscular foe won’t be able to solve.
I firmly believe that the truth lies in-between both schools of thought. Despite the hyperbole, my view is that AJ’s jab – a key weapon against a smaller man – didn’t look as sharp as before, which partly allowed Ruiz to cut distance and let his fast hands go. The rest is history.
Under the radar changes
The British fighter has made some in-house adjustments this time around, highlighting that he and the people around him accept that a change in tact is needed to win this battle against his adversary. This time, there will be no underestimating the Hispanic fighter, like on that career-altering night in New York.
The adjustments we know Anthony Joshua has made include bringing Angel Fernandez, the highly-regarded Spanish trainer, in as part of the team. Coaching team alterations aren’t something that are made flippantly at the highest levels of the sport.
The fighter’s Insta-famous entourage, who were posting daily about the jolly they were having in Miami with the former Champion before Joshua-Ruiz 1 haven’t been as much of a feature in this camp. The solitude of a training camp at Sheffield’s Elite Institute of Sport hasn’t been disrupted by media outlets and public appearances.
We haven’t seen much of the former Olympian in the public eye, partly due to the fight taking place in Saudi Arabia. The Watford man looks to have a leaner physique, with there being an emphasis on speed and endurance in this bout.
Perhaps these changes will have a bearing on the outcome, or maybe they aren’t enough to swing the pendulum in favour of the Londoner. It depends what your view point is on whether the Joshua project is salvageable.
Everything has changed for Ruiz Jr. He is richer than he ever imagined and has been rightfully enjoying his newly-found fame, but despite these factors he looks physically and mentally prepared for the rematch. The age-old boxing wisdom tells us that newly-crowned champions grow in stature and Ruiz Jr will know that he is able to stop the former champion.
To my prediction
Ruiz has been built up in some quarters as a monster since his victory against the Brit. They will have you believe that Joshua is an easy night’s work for the PBC fighter. Whilst rematches in boxing tend to go the same way as the first fight, I believe that this fight will end in Joshua reclaiming his belts.
Firstly, the cards have been stacked in favour of the Matchroom fighter. From the officials to the changing rooms – everything will be designed to make Joshua feel as comfortable as possible. I’m under no illusion that despite the neutrality of the venue – AJ will be the home fighter.
Secondly, the it’s my firm belief is that the best version of Joshua can beat the best Andy Ruiz. Time will tell whether we will see the best version of the leaner Joshua in the desert, but you can bet your bottom dollar that no stone has been left unturned in this Joshua camp.
In terms of tactics, I see the bigger man reinstating a solid jab, and as a result, not allowing the shorter heavyweight to cut the distance in a similar manner.
I envisage him going back to basics in this bout, which will see him being more cautious and avoiding getting into exchanges which undoubtedly favour the shorter man. The fight might go the distance, but my bet is that the former champion stops the smaller man late.
One thing is for sure, narrative fallacy will set in on Sunday, 8th December. The story will be that either Joshua is a hype job or that Ruiz was lucky in the first fight, but let’s give the winner the credit he deserves after the event. Ultimately this is the type of heavyweight fight that we have been craving for since last December.
Article by: Rikku Heikkilä
Follow Riku on Twitter at: @Lead_Right