In the moments before Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr took to centre ring last Saturday night, Joshua stood in the corner like a colossus with his elbows resting on the top ropes. The camera focused on him and he looked every inch a star. I couldn’t help feeling that he’d become a brand more than just a boxer and the night was more than just a fighters US debut. He was coming to conquer America and it was a mission that overshadowed the task in front of him, to beat a 268lb Andy Ruiz Jr who came to the garden with little more than hope and a dream. Seven rounds later, that dream became a reality and the bubble was forever burst for the all-conquering British fighter.
It was a shock, yes, but the writing was on the wall for Joshua long before he boarded a plane from the UK. I had said prior to the Povetkin fight that Joshua would have a tough night’s work with Sasha and, regardless of age, the Russian exposed all the weaknesses in AJ that Ruiz Jr capitalized on last Saturday night. I watched the Pov fight again this morning and Joshua’s performance was almost a carbon copy of the car crash we witnessed in New York. I imagine that, in hindsight, Povetkin will be kicking himself that he hadn’t been more aggressive in the opening 5 rounds. But we could go back further and say that Carlos Takam landed on Joshua far more often than he should have and, although it was a one sided bout, there were glaring issues that needed to be addressed with Joshua the fighter before Eddie Hearn rolled him out in NYC as Joshua the brand.
It was an expensive oversight. The mega bouts with Wilder and Fury are effectively blown and, though those fights may yet happen, paydays of $100M plus are just fantasy figures now. So…what happens next? Hearn wants an immediate rematch in London and there is a clause that allows for that but there are significant problems with this. First and foremost, Andy Ruiz Jr is the champion now and he will decide who he faces next. He may want to honour the rematch but not immediately and Al Haymon will certainly seize this opportunity to set up the unification bout with Wilder that seemed almost impossible when Joshua had the belts. Frank Warren has already said Fury wants a shot at Ruiz Jr and they’re prepared to match anyone when it comes to purse bids. Both Haymon and Warren will know that if Wilder were to beat Ruiz Jr and unify the belts, a rematch with Fury could still generate the payday that a Joshua bout might have garnished.
The second issue for Joshua is the rematch itself, should it take place. Ruiz Jr didn’t take AJ out with a lucky punch, he beat the man up and there will be psychological issues for Joshua. When Ruiz Jr got off the canvas in the third, Joshua followed up with a massive right cross before Andy went to work on him so the bulk and power that Joshua brings is largely wasted on a fighter like Ruiz Jr. Both men will know this going into a rematch and Ruiz Jr alluded to it in the post-fight press conference when he said he could have been more aggressive. Whereas Eddie Hearn is banging a drum for an immediate rematch, Joshua is less enthusiastic. When asked about it on several occasions, he hesitated and said he would rather fight Wilder or Fury. He said he would take the rematch if he had to, but this is not the sound of a resolute former champion demanding a shot at regaining his crown. Hearn even went as far as to say Joshua ‘must’ take the rematch and he ‘must’ win it if his career is to recover. Having taken the beating that he did, I’m not sure AJ wants any piece of Andy Ruiz Jr right now.
At the end of the 6th round, Joshua went back to his corner and we can see him say “Why do I feel this way though?” so he was in real trouble at that point. It was also said that, after the 3rd round he asked his corner “What am I doing here?” and that must be a worry, both on the night and in the long term. This was a man who got ferociously battered in the ring and Andy Ruiz Jr can honestly say he’s had far tougher nights with far less reward. There was a moment in the post-fight press conference where Ruiz Jr said “Mom, I love you and our life is going to change. We don’t have to struggle no more.” This is the dream come true, the Rocky moment and it was beautiful.
Ruiz Jr is the champion now and I suspect the floodgates will open with offers. Hearn may offer him a trilogy if he accepts the immediate rematch and agrees to stage that in London. Haymon will come to the table for a Wilder bout, with Warren matching all purses to make Ruiz Jr vs Fury. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wladimir Klitschko makes a bid as he’s been talking a comeback. The WBO may mandate a defence against Dillian Whyte and Oleksandr Usyk may seize this as the perfect opportunity to stake his claim in the heavyweight ranks.
Povetkin will fancy a crack in Moscow and monies will flood in to make that happen. But Andy Ruiz Jr, the most unlikely of hero’s, will make that decision but it’s a testament to the truly wonderful nature of this sport we love that the underdog finally has his day. Who knows, he may surprise us all and beat all comers, but most people feel he’s a short-term champion. Either way, the division is alive again and the impasse of ‘he said/she said’ is over. As the great Mills Lane used to say, ‘Let’s get it on!!’