The hunger for muscle-upon-muscle seems to have left deposed, heavyweight King, Anthony Joshua, as he edges towards his shot at redemption. Previously draped in definition, those monstrous deltoids have shrunk, as he prepares for the most important fight of his career in a purpose-built stadium, carved carefully into the Arabian desert.
The Watford man has definitely lost weight. The weight of expectation and the weight of those four trinkets he’d built his professional career upon. Anthony Joshua has already been the world champion; beating Charles Martin, Wladimir Klitschko and Joseph Parker. But that title means little when questions are left unanswered.
The ever-humble one stated he still lived with his mother and was plagued by claims of insincerity. He couldn’t be himself – and despite having fought to escape his criminal past, he was chastised by his own countrymen. Joshua, now thirty, has acted as a wonderful, rags-to-riches success story for the British boxing public. But he’s also been a disappointment. Both of those things aren’t mutually exclusive.
His scripted, generic answers to questions from the media have done nothing to engage his fans and whilst he clearly suffered from concussion in the first fight with Andy Ruiz, the q-word has been thrown about wrecklessly – not least by the new champion himself. Only now, when faced with a shot at reclaiming his belts, shall we truly see how much boxing means to him.
Joshua has cemented himself as a power-puncher, knocking out opponents and dominating bouts from the opening bell. Of late, though, he hasn’t had that luxury. Carlos Takam pushed the defending champion, with Alexander Povetkin catching him cold and breaking his nose. Little did we know a portly Mexican would bring the former Olympic champion crashing back to reality. But should it have come as such a surprise?
Andy Ruiz couldn’t be more likeable. The Mexican-American has crept out from boxing’s shadows, a victim of its contractual monopoly and picture-perfect marketing strategy. You haven’t seen him on a billboard, have you? You won’t have caught him advertising massive American brands. Well, until now. Ruiz, the openly overweight champion has always possessed the ability to tangle for titles – but not for the typical ‘poster boy’ image.
Boxing has always been a sanctuary for those lost men or women, desperate for a sense of something. Ruiz, a tremendous national-level amateur, found himself lost at what should have been the height of his career – suffering defeat on foreign soil to Joseph Parker, in New Zealand. The fight was close. But Ruiz didn’t do enough to drive home a meaningful victory. That contest would act as his most important lesson, which has taken years to remedy.
When he was drafted in, late and with little expectation, Ruiz knew what he was capable of. He might have been the only one. We watched on from pubs, clubs, homes and illegal streams, cheering Joshua’s short, spiteful hook on the inside that floored the brave challenger. Ruiz rose. Unlike his peers, he seemed fuelled by touching that famed Madison Square Garden canvas, jumping almost immediately into the pocket. That decision proved fruitful and heavyweight boxing was dealt an enormous shock.
New York was shaken, but little did we know that Diriyah lay waiting. You couldn’t match the two cities – thousands of miles apart, or years apart in their culture. On Saturday, Anthony Joshua will attempt to wrestle his titles back once and for all. A vulnerable chin and a lion’s heart – the least effective double act in a sport of such brutality – shall once again be tested. Ruiz isn’t coming to lie down – he’s made his money.
Saturday’s fight can only end one of two ways; Joshua’s revenge or Ruiz’ repeat. Yet the probability of either outcome remains immeasurable. Can Andy Ruiz outbox Anthony Joshua for twelve rounds? Would Joshua manage to render Ruiz unresponsive for ten seconds, with the perfect shot at a clinical moment? The old cliché, ‘It is heavyweight boxing’, rings true, but it doesn’t help.
Joshua’s performance against former WBO champion Joseph Parker, cautious and calculated, could be replicated. Keeping the California-man at distance, pawing the jab and utilising his additional height and reach would ensure an easier night. But can he keep a rampaging Ruiz at bay? Can he take the Latino’s shots, squaring off against each other on the inside?
If Joshua loses then general consensus screams at retirement. How will we look back on the London 2012 gold medalist’s career? Has he surpassed expectation? Probably not. A victory against Andy Ruiz in their rematch doesn’t solidify Joshua amongst the best of British fighters, but it allows him to move towards bouts that certainly would. A showdown with WBC champion Deontay Wilder or fellow Brit Tyson Fury would smash the needle to bits. Those are the nights that AJ’s fans expect.
Meanwhile, eating slices of pizza sneakily out of view from trainer Manny Robles, the beautifully talented Andy Ruiz has put himself through the mill. Don’t be fooled – he’s an athlete. The constant talk of fast food is nonsense and victory over the Englishman is key. If he was to emerge victorious again this weekend, tucked away in a very different desert, what would follow? Wilder? Fury? It was never just about money, but the dollars didn’t hurt.
The bottom line is, that two big men shall collide centre-stage. The British challenger, Anthony Joshua, has been here before. He’s had to overcome the odds, whether it was moving weight on the streets of Watford or toppling a former Olympic champion in his home town. Andy Ruiz never had the same pressure of expectation. Nobody truly believed in him.
On Saturday, in Saudi Arabia, the heavyweight division shall change once again as belts potentially become fragmented. Let’s hope for war…
Written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209