#Boxing

Arabian Nights – Part 2

No one realised last April just how tumultuous an effect Jarrell ‘Big Baby‘ Miller’s failed drug test would be. The initial reaction was that Anthony Joshua’s U.S. debut had been scuppered by the idiocy of a tier two fighter whose mouth could move tickets.

Fast forward six weeks and Joshua’s shocking, crushing defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr instantly entered sporting lore as one the greatest heavyweight boxing upsets of all time.

To this day, no one truly knows what happened to Joshua in the build up to his defeat to Ruiz on 1st of June, despite talk of concussions in training, a pre-fight panic attack and a general underestimation of his opponent.

On Five Live Boxing earlier this week, Joshua alluded to the fact that he may some day reveal the true story on his YouTube channel. And, while he may be the megastar with the thriving social media presence, he has yet to convince in the build up to this rematch that he has what it takes to overcome the now, highly respected, Mexican, Ruiz.

The first mistake experts – mostly those to the east of West Quoddy Head – made in advance of the June 1 encounter was to completely disrespect Ruiz on account of his doughy body and his wide eyed enthusiasm during fight week. Though hardly intentional, Joshua seemed to buy into Ruiz’ sincerity and seemingly happy-go-lucky comportment, even allowing the Mexican to pose with all four of the then champion’s belts slung over his shoulder.

The next mistake was a failure to look at the form lines. Though not as indicative as horse racing, a fair amount can be learned from examining a fighter’s record in detail. The best indicator on the pre-existing records of Joshua and Ruiz was their respective contests against fomer WBO champion, Joseph Parker, of New Zealand.

Ruiz fought Parker in an away fixture, again a hastily arranged fight, dominated the first half of the fight and fell to a very tight, majority decision in favour of Parker. Ruiz gave Parker, a technically proficient fighter, endless problems, crowding him early and often and it is telling that Parker’s trainer, Kevin Barry, actually tipped Ruiz in advance of the Mexican’s victory in June.

Parker would face Joshua in Cardiff a year or so later in a highly anticipated, if not, highly enthralling contest. Interestingly, in what some perceived to be Joshua’s least exciting performance yet, he won comfortably on points using his reach to control the fight, picking Parker off and rarely getting involved in heavy-duty exchanges.

Joshua’s next encounter saw him severely tested by Alexander Povetkin but his power was ultimately too much and he despatched the then 39 year old – weird the way Joshua takes out big hitters approaching their 40s – Russian in the seventh round. Having savilly taken apart Parker and ultimately breaking Povetkin, Joshua’s natural next step was to enter the cauldron at Madison Square Garden to make his American debut. Anyone with even a passing interest in boxing knows that the Garden, adorned by all-timers like Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis, is where you come to prove yourself in America. Vegas has the money but the venerable hall in New York has the credentials.

There was no doubt that Joshua would have to impress on his U.S debut, particalrly in light of the reasonably held view among American boxing circles that Joshua’s superstardom owed as much to his Adonis-like frame and masterful promotion of the silver-tongued, Eddie Hearn, as it did to his boxing prowess.

Joshua was unified world champion and his fights are invariably entertaining but the American boxing community and the Garden, in particular, are almost scientific in their scepticism before pronouncing the next big thing. And, as Joshua would soon learn, New York City does not provide the home comfort of 70,000 screaming British fans.

The hindsight narrative now is that Joshua boxed too aggressively and should have picked Ruiz off but the stats – provided by Boxstat – suggest that Ruiz is a really busy fighter who doesn’t allow his opponent the opportunity to control the centre of the ring and pick off feeler shots at will.

Ruiz actually threw less punches (235-248) and landed more frequently, (85-72) all while Joshua out jabbed him (49-38). Therefore, while he may not have imposed himself in the manner in which the Klitschkos once did, it’s not as though he completely abandoned the jab.

Still, one would imagine Joshua will have to focus more on this shot as while knockouts will win plaudits, the jab will control fights over 12 rounds. Joshua does not possess the defensive skills of British rival, Tyson Fury, but he is more powerful so if he can marry his obvious explosiveness with ring intelligence, it could go a long way towards overcoming the champion.

If you cast your mind back to June – watch the fight if you’ve 30 minutes to spare – you get the sense that Ruiz was never really badly hurt, notwithstanding the fact he was put on his back for the first time in his career. Look at Ruiz’ face after he goes down in third round; he looks annoyed that he got caught. Within moments of calmly rising he comes forward, catching Joshua with a massive left hook that, unbeknownst to most viewers at the time – including this one – was the beginning of the end.

And then there’s Joshua’s weight which we’ll come to shortly. First, though, there’s the elephant in the room that Eddie Hearn has blissfully brick batted for the past few months.

For those with a not unreasonable quibble that the event is taking place in Saudi Arabia there’s not much to say except that boxing, like all professional sports, is largely guided by money. The fight probably should not be taking place in Saudi but boxing is, and always has been, awash with avarice. Detractors of boxing will use this event as a stick but frankly it’s much ado about nothing. Horse racing has longstanding connections with Saudi Arabia yet this is rarely mentioned.

Promoters have always been unsrupulous and while their only concern is money, they will always hide behind the fact that everything they do is in their client’s interest. In this case, Anthony Joshua’s interest reportedly amounts to €55 million and it would be intriguing to establish how many moralists would turn down this kind of money.

Further, it will be interesting to see if pro golfers – including Phil Mickelson, Shane Lowry and Justin Rose – will be subjected to the same allegations of selling out, which to be fair they have, when the Saudi Invitational takes place early next year. Either way, Andy Ruiz Jr €10 million payout far exceeds anything he has ever earned for a fight so you supect he’d have travelled to Islamabad if the money was right.

Unsurprisingly, there have been suggestions that Ruiz’ victory may have led to excess but he seems to be surrounded by really good people, none more so that his father, Andy Ruiz Sr. Senior noted his dismay when the champion purchased a white Rolls Royce, not because he felt his son should avoid such excesses, but because he felt it would be more wisely invested in property.

Ruiz is neither a one-hit wonder nor a startled up-and-comer. Nor is he surrounded by malevolent, unsrupulous characters like Don King. This newfound ability to purchase fleets of cars and provide security for his family is only a taster and you’d imagine that Ruiz’ appetite for success has only been whetted. And, at 29, both fighters should only be entering their prime now.

As we mentioned earlier, Joshua’s weight has perhaps become the main topic of dicsussion this week. The suggestions, confirmed by Joshua himself, are that the Londoner will weigh in at his lightest since 2015. Without any knowledge of what’s actually gone on behind closed doors with trainer Rob McCracken, it would appear that Joshua’s intention is to hit and move. Apparently he’s dropped 10 pounds and while he’s still a huge man, that sort of loss is surely going to diminish Joshua’s power.

Ruiz, on the other hand, will probably weigh in around 18 stone though there wil be no sniggers at his body shape this time round. He has a proven template from the June encounter so it would be surprising if he moves too far away from it. Ruiz knows he has the hand speed, variety and power to inflict serious damage to Joshua. In round seven last time, clearly on the advice of his corner, Ruiz walked through whatever Joshua had left, knowing that a few more big shots would finish the contest. They did and Ruiz’ life changed forever.

Should Joshua win you would expect Ruiz should be entitled to a third contest but Eddie Hearn probably has bigger fish on his mind. Should Joshua lose again, both boxer and promoter will have an an enormous task on their hands to reinvigorate Joshua’s career and reestablish his legacy. Money surely can’t matter to Joshua anymore so this fight has massive consequences for his career.

All week Joshua has sounded like a man convinging himself that last June was actually a positive step in his career. Tonight he gets a chance to prove it. If both boxers go out with the intention to bang there’s only one winner. But, the sense here is that they decide to box rather than fight, the same man prevails.

Straight Up Sport prediction – Ruiz by KO or TKO

Tips

Andy Ruiz Jr @ 9/4

Andy Ruiz Jr to win round 1-6 @ 11/2

Andy Ruiz Jr to win round 7-12 @13/2

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