Who would of thought that former world champion Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21KOs) and the current unified king Andy Ruiz Jr (33-1, 22KOs) would be heading to Saudi Arabia for one of most anticipated heavyweight rematches since the turn of the century?
If someone can find a respectable source – preferably more suitable then the one who leaked the Joshua sparing rumours this week – that thought Ruiz Jr would have become the first ever Mexican heavyweight champion, then hand over a hat for me to feast on. To call the first instalment of Joshua-Ruiz a shock would be an understatement. The new face of snickers became the envy of every average bloke and had us all contemplating a career in boxing. Instead of carrying around a derby we all thought that the possibility of holding a world title one day was not the most daunting of tasks, after all.
Putting the sarcasm and pipe dreams to one side there is a genuine fight to address. In many people’s eyes, Ruiz Jr has become a world class operator who now threatens to ruin not only Joshua’s career but muscle his way into the top of the heavyweight food chain. Considering that he came from a hand-picked credible replacement on Joshua’s American debut to a sudden class act is a little harder to digest on a personal level.
Another explanation for the big upset at Madison Square Garden is that Joshua has been overhyped and not quite as good as we all first thought. To be an Olympic gold medallist and a former unified world champion speaks volumes about how good Joshua has been. You don’t become a bad fighter over night, remember class is permanent and form is temporary. We cannot ignore Joshua’s victories over better opponents in the mould of Dillian Whyte, Wladimir Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin and even Joseph Parker. So that analogy also seems a little far fetched.
Alternatively, and the most logical explanation would be that Ruiz Jr brought his best and Joshua was nowhere near his. The Londoner was distracted by the publicity, exposure and endorsement deals. Basically, he got ahead of himself taking his eye off the ball. Also, take into consideration the late replacement against an opponent with a completely different style to his original along with constant reminders of an undisputed fight in the horizon. Of course, these are not excuses from Joshua – who has been been the constant professional throughout – but our own drawn up conclusions and that’s even without the concussion discussion.
Historically immediate rematches are a bad idea…
When the immediate rematch was announced many observers questioned the decision. How many heavyweights over history have gone on to reclaim their title(s) following defeat? I’m sure we have all dug through the achieves to collect that information. If you haven’t then the answer is three. Floyd Patterson became the first heavyweight to lose his title against Ingemar Johansson in 1961 before regaining it in 1962. Eighteen years later Muhammed Ali retrieved his titles against a then novice pro in Leon Spinks in a shock defeat. It was a twenty-two-year gap before Lennox Lewis erased the Hasim Rahman demons in 2001.
Generally, immediate world title heavyweight rematches end in repeat. Joe Louis as the champion beat Jersey Joe Walcott in 1947 before defending it in 1948. Rocky Marciano went in as favourite – the first challenger to be so since Louis defeated James J Braddock – against then champion Walcott in 1952. It was repeat for Rocky in 1953 prior to back to back victories over Ezzard Charles in 1954.
Into the swinging sixties and Patterson was destroyed in four minutes and 16 seconds over two fights against the heavy-handed Sonny Liston in 1962 and 1963 respectively, who in turn was dealt the same blow against then Cassius Clay in 1964 before a repeat by the newly named Muhammed Ali 1965.
In 1985 Michael Spinks prevented Larry Holmes from equalling Marciano’s 49-0 record by creating his own history in becoming the first light-heavyweight to win a world heavyweight title, before retaining it again a year later. That was the last time an immediate heavyweight rematch ended in a repeat.
History may not impact on what happens in the future, but it can influence it. We can learn, adapt and make better choices from what history teaches us. Just how badly Joshua unravelled would be the most alarming. Where exactly did it all go wrong? It wasn’t like the lottery punch that Rahman landed on Lewis which can be easily identified and rectified. It was a left hook that scrambled his senses, leaving Joshua unable to combat or resist anything that Ruiz Jr threw at him on that horrible night in New York.
The one successful immediate rematch that ended in revenge that Joshua can learn from is when Patterson overcame the big Swede Johansson. Comparisons can be drawn from the way Patterson approached that fight. He clearly overlooked Johansson as nothing more than a lay-up and had one eye on the hard-hitting Liston. The American also hit the deck seven-times in the third round but the main punch that scrambled his senses was “Ingo’s Bingo”, a shot that he was unable to recover from, just like “AJ” against Ruiz Jr’s left-hook. In the rematch Patterson was down again in the first round before finishing off Johansson with what is considered to be the best punch Patterson ever threw in his whole career.
Mind games at the weigh-in or has Ruiz Jr over indulged?
Ruiz Jr hit the scales this afternoon at 283lbs, his heaviest since his second professional fight back in 2009, while Joshua came in at 237lbs his lightest since 2014. We cannot read too much into it because who knows what the champ had tucked away in his trousers or under that sombrero? What we can assume is that Ruiz is looking to carry more pop in his punches and Joshua will look to bolster his speed and lateral movement.
Ruiz Jr has incredible hand speed for a “little fat man” and will look to get underneath Joshua’s jab and unload at close quarters. The extra weight – which is probably about 10lbs less then the official reading (minus his hat, vest, trousers and trainers) has been added to increase power along with his already fast hands. Don’t let the weight gain fool you and don’t rush to the bookies to whack a wager on Joshua like many did after the Douglas-Holyfield weigh-in back in 1990, he will still have lightening hands but he has no plan ‘B’ bringing the same style that made him successful in the first fight which could be enough, although I believe it will be his eventual undoing.
Joshua is clearly looking to combat the new champs hand speed with his own in an attempt to beat him to the punch and keep his much shorter opponent at distance. Bar the knock downs in round three Joshua was able to land and put Ruiz down for the first time in his career in their first encounter. Joshua was not patient enough and instead of biding his time, picking the right shots at the right time he got clumsy and amateurish, which inevitably resulted in his own downfall.
A slimmer, hungrier and stronger mentality will be the key to victory if Joshua is to put the wrong right. Anything less will end in a second defeat on the trot. Above all else Joshua must believe in his game plan that he and trainer Rob McCracken have mustered up and not allow himself to divert no matter what Ruiz Jr throws at him.
I can see Anthony Joshua avenging his defeat and becoming the fourth heavyweight to successfully win an immediate rematch within 8-10 rounds. This could be one of the most devastating knockout victories in Joshua’s career a la Mr Patterson.
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