After a meteoric rise to the top of the sport, Anthony Joshua was sent crumpling back down in devastating fashion earlier this year with a stoppage defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. The question now is whether Joshua will climb back up and reclaim his throne?
Aged 29, Anthony Joshua is one of the biggest names in the sport of boxing today having won Olympic Gold in his home city of London before going on to become a unified world heavyweight champion as a professional.
Joshua had largely blitzed through his 22 opponents and many declared him as the best heavyweight on the planet with wins over the likes of Dillian Whyte, Wladimir Klitschko, Joseph Parker, and Alexander Povetkin.
The Brit was looking to expand his appeal and build a considerable American fan base so agreed to make his American debut taking on the brash Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller at the historic Madison Square Garden.
A matter of weeks before the fight was due to take place Miller failed several drug tests so a new opponent was found in former world title challenger Andy Ruiz Jr.
Joshua had agreed to take on a completely different style of fighter with a few week’s notice but despite this was still expected to deal with Ruiz in emphatic fashion.
Unfortunately for Joshua, Ruiz clearly didn’t read the storyline that night and provided one of the greatest shocks seen in the sport for a number of years.
The fight seemed to be going to plan when in the third round Joshua knocked Ruiz down but from that point on the script was torn to shreds.
Having been knocked down Ruiz got back up and hurt Joshua repeatedly in the coming rounds. Joshua was knocked down four times before the referee waved off the contest in the seventh round.
Joshua had gone from the king of the division to suddenly being labelled as nothing more than a hype job overnight. He was now the laughing stock of the sport with all of those so-called supporters now turning their back on him.
Following the loss, there were months of speculation as to what went wrong. Rumours of being knocked out in sparring, issues in camp and panic attacks were rife with the world looking for an explanation for what they had witnessed.
The reality is that we will never know for certain what was wrong that night but one thing is clear, Joshua wasn’t himself that night with strange facial expressions and a seeming lack of desire to be in the ring.
To just focus on Joshua and not to praise Ruiz is to do him a grave injustice. When looking closer at Ruiz and delving into his style and boxing pedigree it is clear that the boxing world badly underestimated him.
Ruiz may not be the most aesthetically pleasing fighter to put it politely with a physique more akin to the ‘dad bod’ term but he is a fast handed fighter with underrated technical skill.
He was a successful amateur and came into the contest with a 32-1 record as a professional having only lost a very controversial points defeat to Joseph Parker for the WBO title.
The reality is that in truth Ruiz’s style is everything that Joshua struggles with. He is a shorter man who is able to duck under his opponents and use his quick hands to land shots.
Joshua has always seemed more comfortable against taller fighters and struggled with shorter fighters with fast hands who are able to get up close and pressure him.
Joshua isn’t the most fluid boxer but one who relies on his natural gifts on athleticism and power.
Since the rematch was confirmed to take place In Saudi Arabia on December 7th every man and his dog have chimed in with what Joshua needs to do to avenge the loss. Suggestions of changing trainer, adding new members to his team, striping down muscle mass and going back to the basics of relearning boxing fundamentals have all been put forward.
Another perhaps more crucial element is Joshua’s mindset. It seems clear that Joshua went into the fight looking beyond Ruiz. He expected to deal with Ruiz quickly and spent much of the build-up talking about possible fights with the likes of Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury , and Dillian Whyte.
This time around such talk is irrelevant as this fight is everything to Joshua. If he fails to beat Ruiz in the rematch then fights with the aforementioned names are further away than ever. His stock will plummet and his days as one of the biggest attractions in the sport may be behind him.
It appears that the most important thing that Joshua can do is to get his mind on Ruiz and Ruiz alone. He has had months to focus on the right gameplan and style and no excuses exist this time around.
The most likely tactic would seem to be to adopt a style similar to that used against Joseph Parker. Whilst Joshua wasn’t the most exciting that night he was highly efficient and effective. He neutralised Parker’s offensive capabilities and largely kept Parker at range.
Joshua needs to look to utilise his jab more effectively in the rematch. The jab will not only keep Ruiz at distance but also slowly break him down and demoralise him. Joshua has to use his natural size to his advantage but he cannot be lazy with his jab. He has to throw a sharp, ramrod jab with purpose otherwise Ruiz will evade the punch and land counters with his hand speed.
He also cannot afford to get reckless and stand and trade with Ruiz. Yes, Joshua is a heavy-handed fighter who can stop any man but Ruiz has the faster hands and in a trade-off, he is far more likely to land first.
For Ruiz a quick start is vital. If he starts well and can land a good shot early then doubt will start to creep back into Joshua’s mind. Joshua knows that Ruiz can hurt him and if he is reminded of such early on then we could well see a repeat of the first fight.
The major factor in the fight is the mental aspect. Ruiz went into the first fight thinking that he could defeat Joshua but he now goes into the contest knowing that he can. He now goes into the contest as the unified heavyweight champion of the world and all the confidence that comes with such accolades.
Alternatively Ruiz could have lost the hunger of the challenger now that he is champion. It’s safe to say that Ruiz seems to have been living the high life since becoming champion. He may have become distracted by the huge changes to his life and the fame that came with his victory.
He has now earned enough money to be set for life and in the words of the great Marvin Hagler, ” It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas”.
For Joshua he comes into the contest knowing that Ruiz can defeat him and therefore may not have the same level of confidence that he once had. On the other hand, this time around he may have his focus purely on Ruiz and this may result in the sort of performance that was expected in the first fight.
The former champion is going to be hungry to prove to the world that he is the main man in the heavyweight division. The loss is going to have hurt him badly and regaining his titles is going to create a burning desire to win. Joshua knows that everything is on the line for him in this fight and if he is going to go on to leave the sort of legacy in the sport that he believes that he should then victory is essential.
In terms of making a prediction for the rematch Joshua avenging the defeat is the outcome I see as most likely. Joshua has the tools to be able to defeat Ruiz but in order to do so he needs to be mentally focused and adopt the correct tactics.
If he looks to frustrate and neutralise Ruiz with a sharp jab and not go looking for an early stoppage then I feel that the stoppage will come in the second half of the fight when Ruiz looks to jump in and take risks.
He has to be prepared to win ugly and not be involved in the most entertaining fight of his career. Joshua just needs to win at all costs and the entertainment factor is secondary to this.
This isn’t going to be an easy fight and there is every possibility that Ruiz could, in fact, claim the win again as most often a rematch goes the same way as the first fight but I just feel that Anthony Joshua has much more to offer than the first showing.
Either way this is a fascinating contest that has so much riding on it. The heavyweight division is exciting again and long may it continue to be so.