By Neil Leverett
- Anthony Joshua faces Andy Ruiz Jr. for the unified World Heavyweight crown on Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Briton utilises rematch clause after shock loss to Mexican-American in New York back in June
- Winner this weekend could book super fight with Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder next summer
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – As Anthony Joshua faces his unified World Heavyweight crown rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr, can the Briton gain revenge in Riyadh on Saturday?
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Crunch time for Joshua
Anthony Joshua will on Saturday evening look to erase the memories of his shock loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. back in June, as the two battle once more in the rematch for the unified World Heavyweight crown in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Despite suffering just a single loss in his professional career after winning Olympic Gold in London, Joshua already stands at a crossroads in Saudi Arabia where a second successive defeat in his rematch this weekend, could leave the Briton in the sporting wilderness.
As the poster boy for boxing since beating Wladimir Klitschko to become the unanimous World champion in April 2017, Joshua’s position as the one to beat in the division was rocked after defeat to Ruiz Jr. six months ago at Madison Square Garden in New York.
This weekend then presents the Watford fighter with the chance to take back his throne, however with Deontay Wilder‘s latest and stunning knockout of Luis Ortiz a fortnight ago and with Tyson Fury and the American set for their own rematch early next year, the pressure is on Joshua to make an emphatic bounce back and prove June’s loss was a one-off.
Loss that shook boxing
Winding the clock back to that fateful night in the Big Apple on June 1st, defeat was unthinkable in Joshua’s fourth unified title defence against a man who was brought in a late replacement for Jarrell Miller who again tested positive for a banned substance.
But all was not right with the Briton. Perhaps taking his eye off his game with the bright lights of Broadway and what was meant to be the beginning of an American odyssey, Joshua was caught off guard by the amiable Ruiz, who became the first fighter of Mexican lineage to be world heavyweight champion.
After being floored in the third at MSG, Joshua went in for his customary kill but had not reckoned on Ruiz’s heritage of fast hands and speed – in spite of his 19-plus stone, diminutive figure – and was caught by a hard left to the side of his head that could have stopped the Briton within seconds.
Clinging on until Round seven, Joshua looked to be clawing back his way into the fight before Ruiz again proved the quicker man and sent Joshua to the canvas twice more, as the referee waved the fight off via TKO, with Joshua showing signs of concussion.
As a stunned Garden watched on amazement, the result stunned the world of boxing and went down as one of the biggest shocks in the sport’s history and further scrambled the picture of an already top-heavy division.
Tables turn on underdog
For Ruiz this weekend, as a man who was 33/1 to become champion in June, the tables now turn on the former underdog, with the 30-year-old Californian now set for his first title defence. Whilst the pressure is undoubtedly again on his opponent, the Mexican-American must now handle his own expectations as defending champion.
As a man who only eight months ago had dismantled one of Joshua’s former victims in Dominic Breazeale – then handed the fortune of a fight with the Briton – Ruiz must now shoulder the burden of ‘champion’ tag. As he walks to the ring this Saturday night, the Mexican blood will be coursing through Ruiz’s veins but so too will a very different feel to proceedings.
Indeed, from a British perspective, the champion must buck a trend of fights against heavyweight champions who were dealt the hand of fate by the unpredictability of boxing.
As Lennox Lewis knows all too well having been stunned by both heavy underdogs Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, on both occasions did the Brit have his vengeance in respective rematches in brutal manner.
There is no doubt that Joshua still has that in his arsenal, and as anticipation grows as the hours creep toward the opening bell, what last time was something of a free hit for Ruiz, this second time around will have a very different feel for the defending champion – no matter how cool his exterior.
Super fight in pipeline
As the eyes of the sporting fraternity home in on Saudi, the dangling carrot remains hanging of the chance to finally unite WBC, IBF, IBO, WBO titles in a looming super fight next summer.
Now almost three years in the making, the public clamouring to see both Wilder and Joshua face off remains as fervent as ever, however since Ruiz Jr’s win in New York, a further fiery ingredient has been added to the mix.
With Fury-Wilder II set for a likely date of February 22 next year – with an announcement possible during Friday’s weigh-in in Riyadh – all four men could each face another once more n varying scenarios, and should Joshua regain his belts this weekend, a third and decisive Joshua-Ruiz fight is possible.
Even if that should transpire and despite the recent splitting of television rights between DAZN and Bob Arum Productions, 2020 does finally look like the year the best in the world will be finally crowned – settling a dispute held now for almost five years.
All the pieces are in place then for a blockbuster 12 months for the sweet science, but just who and how and where said players will fall into place is yet to be determined. Saturday night in the Middle East is not just massive for Joshua and Ruiz, but for boxing as a whole.
Anthony faces Andy Ruiz Jr. in a rematch for the unified World Heavyweight crown on Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with ring walks at approximately 20:45 UK time.
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