“It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you’ve been sleeping in silk pyjamas” said one of the greatest middleweights of our time, the Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
This quote for me illustrates exactly what happened on June 1st 2019 at the “Mecca of Boxing”, Madison Square Garden. Anthony Joshua got too comfortable as the unified heavyweight champion of the world and the aesthetically imperfect Andy Ruiz Jr. with his rotund and fleshy exterior, provided the wake-up call that was much needed.
Make no mistake about it, this was a huge upset, reminiscent of Tyson vs. Douglas, even though this fight still doesn’t reach the levels of shock of an invincible ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson put to the canvas by 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas. The reason for this is, unlike Tyson, we’d seen Joshua have tough bouts before and were aware of Andy Ruiz’ skill level, with only one blemish on his record and that was a split-decision loss against former world titlist Joseph Parker, where many feel Ruiz Jr. should’ve got the nod. The same Parker that took Joshua the distance for the very first time.
The comparisons to that night in Tokyo, Japan in 1990, however, are not far-fetched because we can draw some commonalities. Undefeated Joshua, much like Tyson, was a heavy favourite; the underdog Ruiz Jr., like Douglas, was given virtually no chance, especially after the weigh-in, where you saw the physically well-sculpted Adonis body versus Ruiz Jr.’s chubby and bulging stomach, two polar opposites. This was a routine voluntary defence for Joshua, this was his U.S. debut at the Madison Square Garden, he was supposed to knock Ruiz Jr. in dominant fashion and “look good” in front of the American audience. It went horribly wrong.
As with any high profile loss, the conspiracy theorists were out in full force on social media. At one side you had Joshua’s loyal fan base, who had a bitter pill to swallow and on the other, surprisingly even his detractors. There were a plethora of rumours fuelled up: Joshua being concussed due to heavy sparring on fight week (which I find preposterous to say the least); a panic attack in the changing room minutes before the ring walk; Joshua’s father’s altercation with Eddie Hearn post-fight in the ring; and “psychologists” out there saying Joshua simply didn’t look like himself. I strongly ignore these rumours and believe people are searching for reasons to justify the loss and this is an insult to Ruiz Jr., who should get the credit he rightly deserves for an emphatic performance.
Now the dust is settled on the heavyweight bout, here are my post-fight thoughts (most of which I had immediately). Ruiz Jr. had a good engine, blistering hand-speed, with power to give any heavyweight problems. Joshua underestimated Ruiz Jr.’s strengths and believed his own bubble, being the clear favourite. From past fights, Joshua had visible flaws waiting to be exploited yet again. Firstly, he has previously struggled with shorter fighters, the examples being Povetkin, Takam, and Parker, who all rocked him at different points of their fights. He finds it difficult to maintain distance, fights on the outside and gets dragged into a slugfest on the inside where ultimately he gets caught. This leads me to his next vulnerability, his questionable chin. Every time he’s been hit flush, he freezes and is on unbalanced legs, e.g. Klitschko flooring him and Whyte rocking him with his signature hook. Finally, much has been made of, muscular physique of Joshua and how that works against him, particularly his stamina. Against Klitschko he was terribly gassed in the mid-rounds, albeit I personally thought he improved on that vs. Parker, seems like whenever he weighs heavier, this is a huge problem.
All his weaknesses were on full display as Ruiz Jr. played to his strengths, utilised his hand-speed, closed the distance on the taller guy and landed multiple combination of punches with precise accuracy to his body and up top. Ruiz’ advantages were Joshua’s weaknesses, excellent work rate/engine versus poor endurance. When Joshua landed the left hook, the fight was following the perfect script, Ruiz Jr. had hit the canvas and this would be an early night. Incorrect, someone switched on the button and Ruiz Jr. fired back with a left hook of his own and one would argue this shot under the Joshua’s ear set a precedence for the rest of the fight. Joshua’s equilibrium was disrupted and he remained concussed throughout the fight. This, for me, explains why Joshua asked his trainer Rob McCracken, “Why am I feeling like this?”
He never recovered from that shot and subsequent shots. He was hooking with a fighter who was too quick. Another underrated skill of Andy Ruiz Jr. is that he is very mobile and has good footwork to close the distance. Again Joshua isn’t agile like his adversaries, like Wilder and Fury. In summary, a lesson for Joshua to not to misjudge your opponent, pay no attention to distractions, stay focused and stick to the tactical game plan set out by your trainer.
Can Anthony Joshua comeback? Absolutely. Historically, we’ve seen great champions comeback from upsets and adversity, from Lewis avenging his defeats vs. Rahman and McCall, to Klitschko coming back from shocking losses to Sanders and Brewster and reigning supreme for a decade! Joshua’s attitude immediately after the fight has been quite refreshing, as he has assumed full responsibility for the loss and made no excuses (it is very easy for fighters to lay blame on others). Joshua will need to go back to the drawing board, cut weight immensely to iron out stamina/mobility issues and move around, fight behind the jab and stay clear from Ruiz Jr.’s immense combinations. I believe he will be back and the phrase “Stay focused” will need to be an addition to his already famed “Stay humble, Stay hungry” motto. He will have to show mental fortitude and eradicate any past demons.
On the flip side, can Andy Ruiz Jr. repeat his performance? Totally. This was not a fluke as I’ve explained above. Stylistically speaking Ruiz Jr. is the antagonist for Joshua’s style. The destroyer has been boxing since he was 9 years-old, with an incredible amateur record of 100-5. A few boxing insiders picked him because they had seen his feats in sparring. This is yet another reason why he beat Joshua. A.J. although is an Olympic gold medallist, he started boxing very late with a short amateur career and so far a short pro career when compared to Ruiz Jr.
The rematch will be fascinating. Revenge or repeat, let’s see.