It wasn’t supposed to happen. On June 1, heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua stepped into the Madison Square Garden ring for his American debut. At 22-0 with 21 KOs, many considered the 30-year-old the best big man in a decade. Powerful, athletic, confident.
On this night, more than 10,000 fans had made the trip to support their fellow Brit. Joshua’s opponent? Andy Ruiz Jr., a late substitute after Joshua’s original opponent, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, failed multiple drug tests. Ruiz was 33-1, but he hadn’t faced top fighters. At 6-2, he was four inches shorter than Joshua, and had an eight-inch reach disadvantage. Not to mention Ruiz’s physique; he looked more like a vanilla sundae than a legitimate threat. The fight should have been a walkover. An easy payday. But after Ruiz caught Joshua with a left hook on the temple in the third round, the British champion was never the same.
After three more knockdowns, the fight was stopped in the 7th round. Andy Ruiz Jr. had scored one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history and became the first boxer of Mexican heritage to become a heavyweight champion. This Saturday, December 7, the two heavyweights will face off again in front of 15,000 fans in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia in the most highly-anticipated rematch in recent memory. Yet questions remain about both men. Although Joshua is still the clear favorite at 4:9 odds (Ruiz is 9:4 to win), the former British champion has no shortage of critics.
He had zero answers for Ruiz’s assault in the first fight. Joshua appeared to give up in the seventh round. Did he simply underestimate Ruiz? Did Joshua not prepare properly? Or was he simply exposed as an extremely flawed fighter. Coming back from such a shocking defeat isn’t easy for any boxer, and Joshua has yet to prove he’s got the mettle to do so.
As for Ruiz, he was clearly the hungrier fighter on June 1. The man who put everything on the line. After he was knocked down in the third round, the 30-year-old got up and floored Joshua – a punch that changed both men’s lives forever.
But Joshua won’t be overlooking the Mexican-American heavyweight who took his belts this time around. How will Ruiz deal with the pressure? The expectations? No one knows. There’s also the issue of Ruiz’s notorious struggles with weight. A hefty 268 pounds for their first bout, Ruiz looked significantly slimmer in training camp. While it might seem like a good idea, former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson was publicly surprised by the change, saying “it didn’t make sense” and “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it." Meanwhile, Ruiz's trainer said this week that his fighter won't be coming in too much slimmer after all. (Tyson offers more entertaining insights in One Night: Joshua Vs. Ruiz, the Sylvester Stallone-produced promotional video above.)
Will Ruiz turn out to be another Buster Douglas, who shocked the world when he stopped Mike Tyson in 1990, only to get knocked out by Evander Holyfield in his sole title defense eight months later? Or will Joshua crumble once again, and get outfought by Ruiz for the second time? Each man's place in boxing history and massive future paydays hang in the balance, as Saturday's victor will set himself up to face the winner of the Feb. 22 Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder rematch for a title unification superfight later in 2020.
Fury recently explained how he thinks the Joshua/Ruiz rematch will unfold on the True Geordie podcast: “I see the rematch going pretty much similar to the first fight, I know they both lost some weight and there’s more time to prepare and all that, they’ll have different game plans,” Fury said. “But Mike Tyson said it, and it's very true: ‘Everyone’s got a great game plan until you get punched in the face.'"
Fury added that Ruiz will have the mental advantage, given how he beat Joshua in the first fight. 'What my opinion of that fight is, he beat him once and knocked him out, so he’s got a mental edge going into the rematch,” Fury said. “For whatever excuse they made, whatever the problem was in camp, whatever happened in the changing room, whatever. You’re going into it mentally beaten already because you’ve already been knocked out by somebody."
Wilder is also picking Ruiz to win, and explained why in a video shared Thursday on Premier Boxing Champions' Twitter feed.
"I've said it many times, and I'll say it again, I don't think Joshua understands how he lost in that fight," Wilder said in the video. "He got knocked down four times, and then he quit. That is huge for me. On the outside looking in, to see how that fight occurred and everything that was going on, I think he's going to be fighting his demons inside of that ring, not just Ruiz. I know he's trying to cancel out a lot of things in his mind, especially, including me, his biggest and ultimate rival."
"I think Ruiz has the momentum to go in and do it again," Wilder said. "It definitely was a big confidence builder and a booster for him to win that first one, especially after getting put on his ass and getting back up and then to put Joshua down four times. It changed his life. But coming [out with a win] in the rematch can change his life forever."
"And for those reasons, I'm leaning towards Ruiz. But we know this is boxing and anything can happen. Most of all, I wish those guys nothing but luck, great health going in, and even better health coming out."
Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz on Saturday Dec. 7 will be streamed exclusively on the DAZN app. Here's how to watch.