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All the Marbles

What to expect from this Saturday’s Heavyweight Showdown

By Johnn Zemel   - @intuboxing

We all know the story by now. Fat underdog gets picked at the last minute to face Greek god, shows up unassuming and seemingly non threatening, and shocks the world to become the Unified Heavyweight Champion of the World. We’ve seen the gifs of the knockdowns over and over. We’ve heard the sound bites of Anthony Joshua in his corner talking to his team. We’ve smiled at and shared the pictures of Andy Ruiz’s exuberance and joyful celebrations in the ring, perhaps touching that part of us deep down that might be the reason why we continue to watch this violent and beautiful game. Every time we have thought that we knew what was going to happen inside of that squared circle, there’s always that thought in the back of our minds, that says but maybe. Andy Ruiz validated that thought, that which has been ingrained in every fight fan since Dempsey. This is blood sport, the hurt business, but watching Andy Ruiz jump up and down after shocking the whole world made us all feel good about what we just watched. It’s been 6 long months since that fateful night that changed the course of two men’s lives and the Heavyweight picture. There’s one question on everybody’s minds: Now what?

Anthony Joshua first came onto the Heavyweight scene by winning the gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Games in his home country, immediately becoming the people’s champion there. His career was fast tracked, and he very quickly became the face of boxing in his home country. He was handsome, charming, and built like Hercules on creatine. He won his first title by knocking out the overmatched Charles Martin in the 2nd round in 2016 and followed that up a year later by knocking out longtime champion and Heavyweight standard bearer Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 people in a fight that was considered by many to be the Fight of the Year. He continued from there with highlight performances, one after the next, each one growing his exposure and making his star even brighter. He was one of the most popular fighters on the planet, the face of boxing for an entire continent, and seemed poised to become the next great boxing superstar. All that was left to do was introduce him to the most lucrative boxing market on the planet- the United States of America. He was set to face American Heavyweight title contender Jarrel Miller in a fight that was meant to burst him onto the scene and provide a platform for him to showcase the talent and charisma that made him such an icon in his home country.

Andy Ruiz Jr. has a much less heralded background story. Despite a successful amateur career in which he held a record of 105-5, Ruiz found himself unable to break through onto the scene. He lost in the Olympic trials, which would have given his unique look and fast hands a tremendous platform. He eventually turned pro, to little fanfare. He scraped and clawed his way onto the Heavyweight scene, making the most of every opportunity until he finally got his first title shot. He was set to face Joseph Parker in Parker’s home country of New Zealand for the vacant WBO Heavyweight Championship. This was the fight that could change everything and finally place him on the pedestal that he knew that he was destined for since he had his first fight at only seven years old. Parker ended up winning a controversial decision, making him the new champion. It was Parker that would be getting the big seven-figure paydays and fighting to unify the division, while Ruiz once again found himself on the outside of the Heavyweight title picture looking in. Sometimes in life you only get one chance to be great, only one opportunity to prove to yourself and the world that you’re special. All Andy Ruiz could do was keep working hard and pray that the opportunity would show itself once again. 

On April 17, 2019, something happened that would change the course of both of these men’s lives and careers. Jarrel Miller was confirmed to have tested positive for a literal litany of banned substances across multiple pre fight drug tests. The fight was off, and a replacement needed to be found quickly, with less than eight weeks until the fight date that was announced. There was far too much money on the line to cancel and in boxing perhaps more than anywhere else, the show must go on. Joshua’s team quickly made a list of potential replacements and Andy Ruiz made the cut, having looked impressive against Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20th. Only one month out from the fight date, on May 1st, it was announced that Andy Ruiz Jr. would be fighting Anthony Joshua for the WBO, WBA, IBF, and IBO Championships. Joshua would get his much anticipated American debut and Ruiz would get that coveted second chance that he’d been dying for. It was on.

The night of the fight is burnt into the memory of every fight fan the world over. Joshua knocked Ruiz down for the first time in his career in the 3rd round, leaving him looking shocked and on the canvas. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Only thing was, Ruiz wasn’t told about the plan, or maybe he just didn’t care. After getting up, he was immediately treated to another massive right hand from Joshua that would have put any other fighter down for good. However, Andy Ruiz Jr. wasn’t any other fighter. He ate that right hand like it was a Snickers bar and threw back a flurry of counters that turned the tides of this fight and shocked every man, woman, and child watching. By the end of the exchange Joshua was down on his knees, the first of what would be four knockdowns for him that night. Joshua stayed alive as long as he could, but the fight was eventually waved off in the 7th round after he was unable to come out of the  corner. Anthony Joshua, the face of the Heavyweight division and boxing itself in the eyes of a loyal, excited fan base had been defeated. Andy Ruiz Jr. was the new Heavyweight Champion of the World. 

The backlash was immediate. The calls of Anthony Joshua being overhyped, despite his resume being the best in the division, were littered across the internet. The conspiracy theories of him taking a dive, or being knocked out in sparring a week before, or of him having a panic attack in the locker room prior to the fight were rampant and overnight. The idea that his career was over was floated among bloggers and podcasters alike. The man who once seemed certain to own this era of Heavyweight boxing now was seen as a hype job, finally exposed by a fat, little Mexican man from Nowhere. Anthony Joshua, the man built like Adonis, seemed for the first time in his career to be vulnerable and to nobody’s surprise, the vultures pounced.

Andy Ruiz on the other hand, was finally treated to a taste of the stardom and riches that accompanies a successful prizefighter. He was on seemingly every show in America, met the president of Mexico, and bought a Rolls Royce. He was placed on a pedestal that he once could only dream of and loving every second of it. He may have been a meme to some, but he was a champion and he carried all of that modesty and joy with aplomb because he knew that he had finally made it.

Anthony Joshua went from the top of the mountain all the way down to its bottom in less than an hour’s time. What once appeared to be an unbreakable suit of armor now seemed to have more holes than Swiss cheese. Many analysts wondered about his ability to adjust his rigid style, with its lack of head movement matching up terribly with Ruiz’s heavy pressure and fast hands. Will Joshua continue to hunt for the knockout and risk getting into further dangerous exchanges or will he play it safe and fight from a distance? Is Ruiz’s chin and style too dangerous of a matchup no matter what he does? 

The most compelling part of this rematch is both fighter’s abilities to handle the mental burden of the first fight. How will Anthony Joshua bounce back from his enormous fall from grace? Will this, his first taste of genuine adversity, be too much to overcome? Would a second loss to Andy Ruiz mean the end of Anthony Joshua on the Heavyweight title scene? How will Andy Ruiz adjust from being the scrappy underdog his entire career to the talk of the town? Marvin Hagler once famously said that “it’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.” How will Ruiz’s training change when his motivators go from providing for his family to improving his legacy? How much harder will it be stay focused when you’re appearing on Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Simmons’ podcast, and The Joe Rogan Experience? 

Forget about the fight location, the start time, and the outrageous amount of noise surrounding this fight for just a second. This fight is everything that makes boxing great. It is everything that made us fall in love with this sport to begin with. These are two hungry, motivated champions at the peak of their careers, coming together to prove to the world that they have what it takes to beat the other. The stakes are as high as they could possibly be. All that’s left to do is ring the bell.