By Neil Leverett
- Anthony Joshua defeats Andy Ruiz Jr. in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to regain unified World Heavyweight crown
- Briton erases memories of shock New York defeat in June, via unanimous points decision over Mexican-American champion
- Joshua could now face mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk or potential super-fight with Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – After regaining his World Heavyweight crown, Anthony Joshua’s route to domination is back on track but how did the Briton win in Saudi Arabia?
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Joshua bounces back
On a tense night in the sweltering heat of Saudi Arabia, Anthony Joshua once again was restored to his throne as unified World Heavyweight champion, bringing to an end six months of soul-searching and above all the will to get back his titles that were taken from him.
Defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. at Madison Square Garden in New York all of a sudden now seems a distant memory after an emphatic and perhaps surprising unanimous points decision, and in doing so Joshua put on a show of composure, discipline and sheer concentration many thought out of ball park of the London 2012 Gold medalist.
The Briton now is firmly back on his path to becoming undisputed champion – silencing many of his growing number of critics – so how did ‘Josh’ become two-time WBF, IBF, WBO and IBO champion?
Back to basics
A huge part of the Briton’s win in Riyadh was as a result of going back to the drawing board after June’s defeat. Whilst it is true to say that Joshua could have avoided the rigmarole of rematches and talk of being ‘finished’ after initially putting Ruiz Jr down in the third Round of their first fight, but his preceding defeat four Rounds later was down to Joshua’s make-up as perhaps the most explosive puncher in boxing.
In making the mistake of going in for the kill in New York, Joshua was caught out by his own bloody-minded determination and confidence – rocked in defeat. In victory this weekend, it was evident to see Joshua returning to the very basics he learnt from his amateur days.
Making early in-roads through the champion’s defence, the power was still there but the Briton this time opted to remain cautious in knowing that he could stop Ruiz Jr, but that the risks involved would be too great on this night.
Indeed, Joshua showed his boxing brain for the first time as champion, staying behind the jab and working his opponent from a distance full aware of the trouble he could get into should he be coaxed to attack.
The more constant aggressor, Joshua was rarely troubled and remained watchful for the same shots to the side of the head he had fallen victim to in the past, and as the minutes ticked away, Ruiz Jr. was unable to assert his 20-plus stone authority.
As the final bell rang as Ruiz Jr. beckoned Joshua forward the result was in no doubt, and winning all three judges over 118-10, 118-110, 119-109, Joshua had his four-tiered crown returned to him, but the victory was more than a win; It was a show of superb calculation and patience.
Pitfalls of fame
For his opponent however, the difficulties of the heavyweight division came to light, as the 30-year-old Californian was unable to carry his lustiest weight to date and use it to his advantage as he did six months ago. Indeed, his ploy backfired.
A full four stone heavier than the Briton, Joshua’s powers of athleticism were on show, and as Mexico’s first heavyweight champion looked to again prove and unmovable object, his short-lived reign as the toast of Central America – and its rewards – came home to roost.
The journey for Ruiz. Jr. since stunning the sporting world would have brought a very flavour to life for the defending champion, but as he juggled the onus of title defender, the perils of fame caught up to the champion at an alarming rate in Riyadh.
With no rematch clause for Ruiz Jr, his rather forlorn efforts at grabbing the mic and baying for a trilogy would have likely fallen on deaf ears in front of the many thousands of Saudi benfactors in attendance. As the lights went out on the fallen champion, Ruiz Jr. had become a victim of his own downfall – but far from the first.
Joshua stated that if he beat Ruiz Jr, he would come out and explain what happened back in June, and after Saturday night’s victory, the Briton has stuck to his word revealing he was unwell on fight night at MSG six months ago.
The Watford fighter has been the subject of much conjecture since his shock defeat, with rumours of conspiracy having surfaced in the build up to last weekend’s bout. However, it now appears that Joshua was suffering from illness on that weekend in the Big Apple.
Careful observers would have witnessed Joshua’s nervous appearance during MSG’s ring-walks, an ailment could explain his lack of positive energy and a rather concerning pre-fight body language.
Joshua would have been keen not use any excuse for his first professional defeat, but as he told BBC Sport, stated that he was nevertheless dealing with a health issue that would have contributed to his showing against Ruiz Jr. the first time around.
“I had some issue with my health which I was going through for a long time…”
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I felt so tired and drained and thought it must be down to training. In the changing room before the fight I got a bucket of ice and was putting my head in it thinking ‘why do I feel so tired?’
The responsibilities of being world champion are difficult. All that stuff, feeling so tired, dealing with obligations.”
Usyk, Pulev or Whyte?
Whilst Joshua’s win has brought closer the chance of a long-awaited clash with Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder, for the time being the Briton will have likely have to make his first defence as two-time champion, with the target back on Joshua’s chest.
WBO mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk looks to be the favourite for many, and as the fifth-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion will give Joshua a tought assignment despite having only fought once at this weight – victory against Chazz Witherspoon in October.
Option two is Kubrat Pulev who was set to be Joshua’s opponent for his first unified title defence back in 2017, before Carlos Takam stepped in as the Bulgarian sustained an injury, however it now appears Dillian Whyte could get his first title shot against his former foe.
Touted for the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – as per the BBC – an all British clash would be a money-spinning marquee event potentially next spring, but it is yet to be determined if Joshua has the taste to silence his old amateur rival once more.
Deontay Wilder is set to defend his WBC World Heavyweight title against Tyson Fury in Las Vegas, on February 22 2020.
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