Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jr.: There are no sure things in boxing

first_imgOn June 1, Anthony Joshua fought outside the United Kingdom as a professional boxer for the first time and made his American ring debut at Madison Square Garden. As expected, the British heavyweight sensation made quick work of Andy Ruiz, stopping his hopelessly outclassed opponent in the [note to editor: insert proper round here].[Second note to editor: Oops! Sorry about that. I thought this sort of thing only happened in old sports comedy movies starring John Belushi. Here’s the rewrite.] Anthony Joshua has enjoyed rock-star popularity in his native England. He’s charismatic, articulate, gracious, charming and might have the prettiest smile ever for a heavyweight champion not named Muhammad Ali. After a ragged adolescence, he found purpose in the sweet science. Now 29 years old, he looks back on his early days and says, “I realized I was getting in trouble for fighting in the streets and getting patted on the back for boxing. So I started boxing.”MORE: Watch the full replay of Joshua-Ruiz on DAZN”AJ” won a gold medal as a super-heavyweight at the 2012 Olympics, turned pro the following year, and had compiled a 22-0, (21 KOs) ring record as of last Saturday morning. He captured the IBF heavyweight belt with a second-round stoppage of Charles Martin in 2016 and, two months later, knocked out Dominic Breazeale. Then, after a breather against Eric Molina, he prevailed in a thriller over Wladimir Klitschko to annex the WBA crown in front of 90,000 screaming fans at Wembley Stadium. But he’d looked less impressive since then in beating Carlos Takam, Joseph Parker (thereby adding the WBO title to his inventory), and Alexander Povetkin.Originally, Joshua was scheduled to fight Jarrell Miller on June 1. “Big Baby,” as the 30-year-old Miller is known, stands 6-4. His last three fights were fought at 305, 317, and 315 pounds. He carries his weight well, but there’s too much of it.To date, Jarrell’s size and persona have outweighed his ring accomplishments. A Big Mac would have been more competitive than some of his opponents. But he had moved steadily up the ranks in a thin heavyweight division en route to a 23-0-1 (20 KOs) ring record.”People say I don’t deserve a title shot,” Miller acknowledged after Joshua-Miller was announced. “But who did Joshua fight to get a title shot? Who did Wilder fight to get a title shot? Who did Fury fight to get a title shot? The guys I’ve fought have been just as good as the guys they fought. Being big is a privilege, and I love it so don’t hate on it. Anthony Joshua ain’t going to walk me down. Deontay Wilder ain’t gonna walk me down. Ain’t nobody gonna walk me down.”Once Joshua-Miller was announced, Jarrell followed with a flood of attention-grabbing statements:- “AJ is making a huge mistake coming over to fight me in my own backyard. All he’s doing is delivering me those belts by hand. He’ll be leaving New York empty-handed.”- “That punk AJ is standing in the way of my dreams, and on June 1 he’s getting run the hell over. He’s a lion, sort of. He’s a giant p—. He’ll get his knickers in a twist when I go at him.”- “He can be the pretty boy. All that humble crap and being nice is full of s—. The more that you understand what boxing is; all that humble, that fake s— he puts on. Boxing isn’t a humble sport.”- “He’s a privileged spoiled brat, and I’m from the grit of the street. He can keep his gold medal. I got street medals. He wants to win. I want to hurt him. I want to tear his head off his f— body.”Then, at the Feb. 19 kickoff press conference at Madison Square Garden, Miller stepped over the line of propriety. Earlier in the day, he’d attacked Joshua’s character at a sitdown with a group of writers, saying, “There’s a difference between being a role model and a real model. He’s not genuine. He’s a UK Uncle Tom.”Once the press conference began, Joshua and Miller strode by prearrangement to stage center for a staredown. And Jarrell departed from the script, giving AJ a hard two-handed shove.It didn’t take long for things to get heated during the Anthony Joshua vs. Jarrell “BIG BABY” Miller press conference. #JoshuaMiller— Sporting News Fights (@sn_fights) February 19, 2019Things degenerated from there with an obstreperous Miller interrupting Joshua whenever AJ tried to speak. Then seeking to advance his own narrative, Jarrell told the assembled media, “I see my mother go through some stuff that none of you would survive. I see my family starving with no shoes on their feet. We are from the dirt, from the gutter. There were many years that I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I’ve always had this anger and drive in my stomach, though, that would keep me going. I knew that I must be fighting for something. God has a plan for everybody.”Joshua, who by then had had his fill of Miller, responded, “I got a tear in my eye, Big Baby. Get the violins.”But Miller persisted with insults, leading Joshua to proclaim, “He’s stupid and ignorant. I’m going to throw this jab down his throat. I’m going to knock him the f— out. Come out and watch this one, New York.”Later, after comparable comments from Miller at a press conference in London, Joshua added, “All this spirit this boy has in him, talking s—, I’m going to strip it from him. I’m going to strip him of his soul in that ring. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”As Eddie Hearn (Joshua’s promoter) noted, “It helps the promotion to have a good guy and a bad guy.” Tickets were selling well. A big strong 300-pound opponent with a big mouth is marketable. Joshua was a 5-to-1 betting favorite. But Miller is a powerful man and could not be taken lightly. It was likely that he would try to turn the fight into a street brawl and rely on an iron will that, to his way of thinking, couldn’t be broken.”He’s never been in with nobody like me before,” Miller declared. “I’m 300 pounds of lean mean fighting machine. I always get the job done. That’s my mentality. There’s a lot of things Joshua does well. He gets hit pretty well too.”Joshua, for his part, called Miller “easy work” and dismissed Jarrell’s trash-talking as “a sign of weakness.””He’s slow,” AJ said of his opponent. “He’s not a puncher. His stamina isn’t that good. He’d probably do better in the NFL. He isn’t the end of the rainbow. He’s just another stepping stone, someone else in my way. On June 2, Jarrell Miller will be irrelevant.”MORE: A behind-the-scenes look at Canelo-JacobsThe fight promised to be fun while it lasted. Miller is durable. He takes a good punch, but he’s also relatively easy to hit. It was understood that he’d have to take a lot of punches to beat Joshua. And he’d have to be in peak condition to pressure AJ for 12 rounds. The widespread assumption was that Jarrell would lose, but he was expected to lose in an exciting way. Joshua-Miller would have energized the crowd and been an entertaining scrap.Then everything fell apart.On April 16, it was revealed that a urine sample taken from Miller by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) on March 20 had tested positive for GW1516 (a banned substance also known as Cardarine and Endurobol). On April 18, VADA notified the New York State Athletic Commission, promoter Eddie Hearn, and both the Joshua and Miller camps that a blood sample taken from Jarrell on March 31 had tested positive for human growth hormone, another banned substance. One day later, on April 19, Miller hit the trifecta when it was announced that a urine sample taken from him by VADA on March 31 had come back positive for EPO (erythropoietin), a banned performance enhancing drug that stimulates the production of red blood cells.At that point, the New York State Athletic Commission refused to license Miller to fight in New York. Earlier in the year, Jarrell had observed, “There’s only a short time to get something done in boxing. You get old quick in this game.” Now he had lost out on the lion’s share of a $6.5 million purse.With Miller out of the picture, Team Joshua began looking for a new opponent. It says something about the sad state of boxing today that several ranked fighters turned down an opportunity to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. Foremost among them were Luis Ortiz and Adam Kownacki (both of whom are in the Premier Boxing Champions universe and have been promised fights against WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder). Ortiz, it appears, will fight Wilder this fall. Kownacki’s future is more speculative since Wilder announced on social media in late May that he’ll be fighting Tyson Fury in early 2020. In theory, Wilder-Kownacki could be sandwiched in between these two Wilder fights. But a short time can change so much in boxing. In turning down multi-million-dollar offers to fight Joshua on June 1, Ortiz and Kownacki put their financial future at risk.Then, on May 1, 29-year-old Andy Ruiz was formally announced as Joshua’s opponent.Ruiz, who is Mexican-American, was born and lives in California. He turned pro in 2009 and had compiled a 32-1 (21 KOs) ring record. Over the years, he had picked at the carcasses of Joe Hanks, Ray Austin, Franklin Lawrence, Kevin Johnson and Alexander Dimitrenko. In 2016, he lost by majority decision in an IBF title bout against Joseph Parker.Jarrell Miller has the physical attributes of an NFL lineman. The heavily-tattooed Ruiz looks like an overweight biker who has been eating six donuts a day and drinking copious amounts of beer for the past 10 years.Ruiz has a good amateur pedigree. But he fought his first pro fight in 2009 at 297 pounds.MORE: Andy Ruiz Jr. and the top upsets in boxing historyAnd Top Rank (which promoted him for much of his career) became so disgusted with Ruiz over lifestyle issues that it let him buy his way out of his contract last year. Prior to last weekend, his most memorable moment in the sweet science had come after a 10-round decision over Sergei Liakhovich in 2014 when Andy told the media, “I f— up my hand really bad in the second round. Thankfully, it’s just fractured and not broken.”Introducing Ruiz to the media at a May 4 press conference in Las Vegas, Eddie Hearn acknowledged, “It’s been a sh— 10 days.” He then segued into promoter mode, declaring, “Andy Ruiz will be coming to win. He doesn’t look intimidating, but he can really fight. Ruiz has been watching Joshua for years, thinking of ways to beat him. But Joshua hasn’t been watching Ruiz. The guys in boxing all say, ‘Wow! This is a really tough fight.’ This guy can fight. This guy has fast hands. This guy has a high boxing IQ. This guy has a big heart. This guy has all of Mexico behind him.”Manny Robles (who trained Dominic Breazeale for his 2016 challenge to Joshua and now trains Ruiz) admonished, “A lot of people doubt Andy because of the way he looks. But looks can be deceiving.”Ruiz, who is unpretentious and seems affable enough, began his remarks with the warning, “Everyone underestimates me because of the way I look. I’m in this to win it.” He then advised the assembled media that he eats a Snickers bar in his dressing room to give him energy before every fight and expressed the hope that he could parlay fighting Joshua into an endorsement deal with Snickers.Asked if he had a message for AJ, Ruiz warned in his high-pitched sing-song voice, “Anthony, don’t underestimate this little fat boy. I’m coming for you.”Hah-hah-hah. Virtually no one believed any of it.But …Mark Twain famously opined, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” In that vein, Ruiz is a better fighter than he looks. Clearly, he was more formidable than Tom Schwarz (who will be fighting Tyson Fury on June 15). And his credentials were on a par with, if not better than, those of Breazeale (Wilder’s most recent highlight reel victim).But Ruiz didn’t look the part of a championship contender. In visual terms, Joshua-Ruiz was one of the worst mismatches in boxing history. AJ is 6-6, a magnificently sculpted 245 pounds, and conjures up images of Michelangelo’s statue of David. Ruiz claims to be 6-2 but falls well short of that mark unless, perhaps, he’s measured around the waist. On June 1, he would weigh-in at 262 pounds.MORE: Ruiz has explosion of new social media followers after upsetJoshua was a 20-to-1 betting favorite. One week before the fight, Ruiz told Gareth Davies of The Telegraph that he was studying early Mike Tyson fights for moves he could unleash against AJ. That, people reasoned, was a little like Gareth studying video of Michael Jordan for moves he could use against LeBron James. Even if he knew what to do, he couldn’t do it.And realistically speaking, Ruiz’s portly appearance said something about the condition he was in. Didn’t it?Fight week was marked by far more talk about the possibility of Joshua fighting Wilder than Joshua-Ruiz. At a sitdown with reporters just prior to the final pre-fight press conference, AJ acknowledged, “A fighter is supposed to say that he’s focusing completely on the fighter in front of him. But I won’t lie. I’m looking at the big picture.”At the same sitdown, Ruiz spoke of going to a boxing gym at age 6 at the urging of his father.”My first amateur fight,” he recalled, “I was 7 years old. There was no kid my weight in my age group, so I had to fight an older kid. I was self-conscious about my weight when I was young, but I got used to it.”Ruiz also referenced having had some skirmishes with the law when he was an adolescent but added, “Boxing kept me away from getting in major trouble.”There was the usual fight week talk.“Whatever he tries to do,” Ruiz offered, “I’ll make it difficult for him. … It only takes one punch to change a fight. … I come forward and throw combinations that Joshua hasn’t seen. … I’m chubby and short but I’m as fast as lightning. … I’m willing to die in the ring to get this victory.”A fighter can visualize what he wants to do in the ring. But he still has to make it happen. The assumption was that Joshua would walk through Ruiz’s power (or lack thereof). After all, fighters as pedestrian as Raphael Zumbano and Joell Godfrey had gone the distance with Andy.The final pre-fight press conference was marked by expressions of mutual respect.”I don’t have nothing bad to say about Anthony Joshua,” Ruiz proclaimed. “He’s a champion. I respect him. I’m a fan of his. But in the ring, there are no fans.”Joshua responded in kind, saying, “Andy has the mentality and the heart. If it’s all about aesthetics, you might as well go to a body-building gym and pick one out and say, ‘we’ve got the next world champion on our hands.’ It’s not about that.”MORE: A look back at Anthony Joshua’s nightmare week in NYCStill, it was clear that Jarrell Miller’s banishment had taken much of the air out of the promotion. Eddie Hearn conceded that fight week “would have been less flat with Miller.” And jokes at the press events about Ruiz’s physique were the order of the day:- “Ruiz looks like a circus clown without make-up.”-“Ruiz is a Mexican-American version of Butterbean.”- “The only thing Ruiz is going to test positive for is pizza.””Ruiz will do badly,” one veteran scribe predicted.”He won’t do that well,” another responded.There was a time when the world stopped for a heavyweight championship fight at Madison Square Garden and the heavyweight crown was the most coveted prize in sports. Those days are gone. In some respects, Joshua-Ruiz was as much about the positioning of economic assets as it was about history and glory. But the night offered moments of high drama.The arena came to life when Irish Olympic gold-medalist Katie Taylor entered the ring to defend her WBA, WBO, and IBF 135-pound women’s titles against Delfine Persoon of Belgium (who brought the WBC strap to the table). An exceptionally good fight followed.Taylor was the better boxer and landed the sharper cleaner punches. Persoon was stronger and kept forcing the action. As the rounds passed, Delfine kept fighting and Katie kept boxing. What was clear, though, was that Taylor was tiring and not hitting hard enough to keep Persoon off.The fight devolved into a bloody slugfest. Each fighter’s face became more bruised and swollen. Persoon kept moving inexorably forward, throwing inartful clubbing right hands. And an exhausted Taylor kept firing back. Katie’s power was gone. Her strength was gone. All she had left were the remnants of her conditioning and her will to survive.In recent years, the New York State Athletic Commission has become known for bad decisions, most of which favor “the money fighter.” Earlier in the evening, England’s Josh Kelly (who’s being groomed for bigger and better things) had gotten a gift draw against Ray Robinson (from Philadelphia). If the judges were unkind to a fighter from Philadelphia, it was unlikely that a fighter from Belgium would fare any better.The consensus at ringside was that Persoon had forced the action effectively enough to deserve the nod. But the decision went to Taylor by a 96-94, 96-94, 95-95 margin.WHAT A FIGHT! 💪#TaylorPersoon— DAZN USA (@DAZN_USA) June 2, 2019Afterward, Belfast native Carl Frampton (the 2016 Boxing Writers Association of America “Fighter of the Year”) told BBC Radio 5, “The judges have got it wrong, and it is heartbreaking to see Delfine Persoon in tears. I thought she won that fight by miles. That was a disgraceful decision.” Former WBA heavyweight beltholder David Haye added, “That is not the sight you want to see where someone has given everything in the gym but they do not get the decision because of the political power.”Even Eddie Hearn (Taylor’s promoter) acknowledged that he’d scored the fight a draw and conceded, “Quite a few people had Persoon winning.” He also quoted Katie as saying, “We’ve got to fight her again, straight away.”In women’s boxing today, “world championships” are dispensed like trinkets from a gumball machine. On Saturday night, both Taylor and Persoon earned the right to be called a champion.As for Joshua-Ruiz; predictions, speculation and hype no longer matter once the bell rings.Prior to the fight, trainer Manny Robles had told his charge, “Show him early that you belong in the ring with him.”Ruiz did just that. In Round 1, he backed Joshua up with his jab and was elusive when AJ tried to find him with jabs of his own. Round 2 was more of the same. The little fat boy could box. The little fat boy had fast hands. Joshua wasn’t making the statement that he’d hoped to make against the little fat boy. One had the sense that each passing round would be like a taxi meter clicking away at AJ’s reputation.Forty seconds into Round 3, order was restored. Joshua landed a right uppercut followed by a thudding left hook up top that dropped Ruiz to the canvas. It was the first time in Ruiz’s pro career that he’d been knocked down.The little fat boy rose at the count of five. Joshua followed with a solid right hand. Then AJ got sloppy, and Ruiz staggered him with a counter left to the temple followed by a barrage of his own. Suddenly, Joshua was on the canvas with 1:45 left in the round. He rose. Ruiz went after him. Joshua fired back but he was on unsteady legs. Ruiz took his time, measured his foe, and dropped him again with an accumulation of blows. Joshua rose even more unsteadily than before and was saved by the bell.The little fat boy could punch. The little fat boy could take a punch. The little fat boy could fight.”Getting hit on top of the head; it dazed me a bit,” Joshua said afterward. “I don’t think I recovered. I can remember it, but there was so much going on.”During fight week, AJ had declared, “I’m a fighter; a serious fighter.” Now, robbed of his full senses, his default instinct was to not fight.In Round 4, Joshua was in survival mode. He gathered himself together to win Round 5 with his jab but seemed tentative, even a bit gun-shy and befuddled.Round 6 was all Ruiz as he scored heavily to the head and body.By Round 7, the fight had been beaten out of Joshua. Ruiz dropped him twice more. AJ beat the count, barely, after the final knockdown. But a fighter who rises has to be ready to fight, not just standing. Referee Michael Griffin appropriately halted the contest at the 1:27 mark.A Memorable Night At @TheGarden 💫Watch Back @Andy_Destroyer1’s Historic Upset 👉— DAZN USA (@DAZN_USA) June 2, 2019“I don’t think Anthony knew where he was,” Eddie Hearn said afterward. “You know, he spat his gumshield out on the floor to try and probably get a little more time or just didn’t know where he was. He’s trying to stand up. He could hardly stand up, so he was looking at the ref. He didn’t say, ‘I don’t want to continue.’ The ref said, ‘Are you OK?’ And he sort of said, ‘Yes, I’m OK.’ But the fight was done.”“And the new …”  A heavyweight champion hopes to hear those words from inside the ring on the night that he wins the title. And never again. On Saturday night, Anthony Joshua heard them.In a sour footnote to the proceedings, it became clear yet again after the fight that judging in New York is a troubling issue. Michael Alexander and Julie Lederman had Ruiz ahead by a meager one point at the time of the stoppage. Shockingly, Pasquale Procopio had Joshua in the lead by a 57-56 margin.Ruiz was ebullient at the post-fight press conference. “I’m still pinching myself to see if this is real,” he said. “That was followed by, “Mom, I love you, and our lives is gonna change. We don’t have to struggle no more.”Joshua was gracious in defeat. A bit too gracious for some people.Long after midnight — well after Ruiz and most media had left Madison Square Garden — AJ met with members of the fourth estate who had remained on site. In the ring after the fight, he’d told Sky Sports, “Boxing’s a tough sport. I just got beat by a good fighter. This is all part of the story and the journey. This is the risk we take, isn’t it?” Later, he’d told the BBC, “I’m a soldier. You take the good with the bad. Ruiz was the better man tonight.”Now AJ asked rhetorically, “It’s an upset, isn’t it? One shot on top of the dome rattled me a bit. I tried to stay in there a few more rounds. But respect to Andy. I move forward now and see who’s next and what’s next.”Who’s next? What’s next? That’s not what boxing fans expect to hear under circumstances like this. What we expect is, “I can’t wait for the rematch so I can get my title back.”There’s a rematch clause in the fight contracts. It was announced on Tuesday that Joshua will exercise it. MORE: Timing alarming on Joshua-Ruiz rematchMeanwhile, Joshua had hoped — and still hopes — to emulate the success of Lennox Lewis who became the standard bearer for British boxing and, despite crushing defeats at the hands of Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, retired as King of the World. So let’s give the final word to Lewis who observes, “Every time you lose in boxing, people think you’re done. That’s preposterous. They don’t think that in other sports.”Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected] His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times  – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.last_img

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