Days before Anthony Joshua stepped in to the ring against Andy Ruiz Jr on June 1, one of Joshua’s “commercial partners” (a well-known brand you’ve no doubt seen emblazoned across his clothing on many occasions) were busy boasting in a press release about the new boot they’d created for their standard bearer. Designed to absorb shock, improve performance, and other marvellous things, they probably weren’t expecting fans to be seeing quite so much of the soles.
When Julius Francis fought Mike Tyson in Manchester, 2000, it was widely expected that he would be knocked pretty quickly, so British newspaper the Daily Mirror infamously sponsored the bottom of his boots. Tyson dropped the axe early, Francis folded in the second, the Mirror got their branding splashed across the media.
In the aftermath, while AJ’s team were concerning themselves with how the likes of Lucozade and Lynx would respond to his first loss, Ruiz was busy tapping up confectionary outlets for his own sponsorship options. Putting aside Ruiz’s rather ungainly appearance, the 29-year-old has undoubtedly shaken up the heavyweight landscape. Trainer Manny Robles deserves credit for his work in the winner’s corner. Boxing is a fickle sport, and many were swift to write off Robles after a couple of high profile names left his stable. Both Oscar Valdez and Michael Conlan (who left for Eddy Reynoso and Adam Booth respectively) had their reasons, as many fighters do when they switch coaches.
That does not make Robles a bad trainer overnight. Robles’ words were calm and clear; instructing Ruiz to get inside and throw, or step back so far that the bigger man could not reach in and inflict significant damage. Manny knew that standing in a halfway house was detrimental to the shorter fighter, who would be picked off all night. Well, theoretically speaking, he would be. This diminished version of Joshua did not seem in the mood to pick anyone off, as he neglected the jab, instead opting to load up on heavier shots.
The situation was crying out for Emanuel Steward in the corner, calmly talking Joshua through the rounds, imploring him to jab and grab. Win ugly, win at all costs – just win the fight and worry about the rest later. When Wladimir Klitschko lost to Lamon Brewster in 2005, he left the ring a shell of a man. Exhausted, out on his feet, mumbling later about possibly being drugged in the lead-up, Klitschko’s body was weak, and his energy reserves diminished. Steward rebuilt him; took him back to basics. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
Klitschko later went in with the “Nigerian Nightmare”, Sam Peter, a crude but strong puncher. The old version of Klitschko would’ve folded under the persistent Peter onslaughts that dropped him three times during a tense brawl. Wlad held on -clung on for dear life at times- but managed to do enough in the rounds he wasn’t knocked down in and escaped with a unanimous decision victory (114-111 across the board in his favour) against a 24-0 opponent who would go on to win the WBC heavyweight title. The regeneration process had begun, and Klitschko remained unbeaten until he met Tyson Fury 10 years later.
Joshua will need a regeneration process of his own after Saturday night. Both the man himself and promoter Eddie Hearn have dismissed any suggestions of illness or panic attacks in fight week. Undoubtedly Deontay Wilder’s stunning first-round KO of Dominic Breazeale had set the tone for his heavyweight rivals to follow. Tyson Fury boxes Tom Schwarz on June 15, while Oleksandr Usyk was supposed to make him own heavyweight debut on May 25 only to suffer an injury.
Joshua was sandwiched in and around the middle; his need to deliver the goods increased with every passing day. Wilder placed his name on everyone’s lips in fight week by announcing a rematch with Luis Ortiz, consistently retaining relevance while his most significant rival planned a great American debut.
A thudding third-round knockdown aside, likeable Ruiz did an excellent job early on of making himself a small target. Joshua seemed to be leaning forward slightly, hunching his shoulders, having issues working out the smaller man. The smaller, fatter competitor did not look the part, but he could undoubtedly fight. Ruiz’s fast hands, decent engine, ring experience and patience made him a dangerous proposition. It’s easy to see these things in hindsight. Ninety-nine per cent were sleeping on the threat posed by Jarrell Miller’s replacement. No sensible future opponent will sleep on Ruiz’s capabilities again.