Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Andy Ruiz Seizes Opportunity

A not so uncommon scenario that occurs in the sport of Boxing is one that sees a fighter face what amounts to a substitute opponent that takes a fight on short notice. While the circumstances that lead to such a scenario can vary, the fighter who steps into a fight with limited time to prepare is almost always viewed as someone with little chance of success against the established fighter with name recognition.

The fight between undefeated IBF/WBA/IBO/WBO Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua and top contender Andy Ruiz was one such encounter that was not treated with much thought by many Boxing fans. This was due to both Joshua’s previous dominance in successfully unifying four of five recognized world championships in the division as well as his having scored knockouts in twenty of his twenty-one professional fights. There was also a misconception of Ruiz based not only on his taking the fight on short notice, but also his physique, which does not necessarily suggest to someone not in the know that he is a fighter that is in shape to fight for a world championship.

In previewing this fight, this observer stated, despite Ruiz’ misleading physique that he had good hand speed for a Heavyweight and could throw punches in several variations of combination. I also stated that the primary obstacle that Ruiz would face had to do with physics in facing an opponent with a four-inch height advantage and an eight-inch reach advantage. As is the case in virtually all fights that have a scenario of a physically shorter fighter going against a naturally bigger fighter, the primary task is to close the distance where the reach disadvantage does not necessarily work against the physically shorter fighter.

Despite not so favorable circumstances, some criticism from fans, and some treating this fight as a mere afterthought, Joshua and Ruiz finally faced off on June 1st at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY with Joshua’s four portions of the World Heavyweight championship at stake, A question I had as this fight approached on the day it took place was how Joshua would approach his offense in the bout. What I mean by that is Ruiz was after all a substitute opponent and, despite his impressive resume was not given much chance by some. When one also factors into the equation that the fight was treated almost as a showcase for Joshua in his U.S. debut and the fact that he was a twenty to one favorite to retain his crown, the question of whether the champion would approach the fight looking for a quick/impressive knockout and not show his opponent respect was appropriate to wonder.

At the same time, I also wondered what role if any the atmosphere of fighting in Madison Square Garden would have on both fighters. Although Anthony Joshua has proven to be a significant big draw in routinely drawing massive crowds in stadiums in the United Kingdom between 70,000-and 90,000, this was his first time fighting in Madison Square Garden and I wondered what effect that might have on him. Andy Ruiz meanwhile was also fighting in Madison Square Garden for the first time, but had been catapulted into a major fight after original opponent Jarrell Miller failed multiple tests for banned substances under randomized testing under the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) testing protocols. Even though Ruiz had more experience than the champion and had fought once for a world championship in his career prior to this fight, one may have been justified to question whether or not Ruiz would freeze with such a spotlight on him.

What surprised me was to see a somewhat tactical battle from the outset. Joshua throwing jabs and moving, Ruiz walking the champion down and looking to exploit openings to land counter punches. One thing that I noticed almost immediately about Joshua’s approach was, despite his using the jab, he did not control the distance and make use of his reach advantage. By the champion not successfully keeping Ruiz at a distance where it would have been to Joshua’s advantage, it allowed the challenger to close the distance and find openings to land offense.

A tactical chess match in the early rounds where both fighters had their moments became an afterthought during what can only be described as a chaotic round three. An uppercut/hook combination to the head sent Ruiz down early in the round. Although it was a clear knockdown, Ruiz appeared calm and not visibly hurt. As the champion appeared to move in, in an attempt to finish the fight, the challenger would answer back stunning the champion with a left hook that appeared to land on the temple followed by a short right hand that put Joshua down on the canvas.

In contrast to the knockdown that he had scored moments earlier in sending the challenger down, the champion appeared hurt and in trouble. This was confirmed when Ruiz scored a second knockdown of Joshua late in the round. At this point in the fight, I began to get the feeling that history might be on the verge of being made.

When one covers Boxing and by extension combat sports for as long as yours truly has there are two things to always keep in the back of your mind. “Always expect the unexpected “, and as I have often said over the years “Anything can happen at any given time.” While I personally dealt with several folks in the days leading up to the fight who felt that Ruiz had no chance and even went as far as to verbalize insults based on his physique, I never felt that way. The main reason is that I cover the sport and knew Ruiz’ credentials and what he could do if the opportunity presented itself. Although I wasn’t prepared to start writing a column just yet after the challenger scored two knockdowns of Joshua, if nothing else, I knew that those who hurled insults prior to this fight would realize that Ruiz was not a pushover, even if said people would not want to admit it publicly.

To the champion’s credit, he was able to get out of the round, but it was clear that this would be a significant test for Joshua. The first since his fight against Wladimir Klitschko back in 2017 where he also suffered a knockdown. This was the first time however, where I felt Joshua was in danger of being the victim of a knockout loss.

Rounds four through six appeared to have a similar ebb and flow as the first two rounds, a tactical pace where both fighters were able to have periods of effectiveness. Despite this, Joshua appeared wary and not fully recovered from what had happened in round three.

The seventh round proved to be where a new champion would be crowned. Ruiz landed a left hook that set off a barrage of punches that sent the champion down for the third time. This would be followed by a fourth knockdown seconds later as a result of what appeared to be a glancing hook to the head of Joshua. As he had done the previous three times he was knocked down, Joshua showing his mettle got to his feet once again. Although the champion after briefly looking to his corner told Referee Michael Griffin that he wanted to continue, he did not appear to have control of his body resulting in the fight being stopped. Andy Ruiz had taken Joshua’s portions of the World Heavyweight championship and in the process created what is likely to be one of the more significant stories of 2019.

There are times after a fight where this observer will take a few days to collect my thoughts and really digest what has taken place. It is after all customary to see a lot of hysteria and expression of shock and surprise when a dominant world champion loses their crown to a significant underdog in the classic example of what is referred to as “An Upset.” I personally spent several hours after this fight answering texts and other forms of communication across various social media platforms from people who expressed shock over the outcome and/or hurled insults at the new champion and former champion.

Joshua for his part was very classy in defeat in congratulating the new champion and saying it wasn’t his night. Ruiz was also humble in victory having made the most of an opportunity that was placed before him.

Although I have earned a reputation over the years as someone who is hard on fans when I see the types of insults that I, unfortunately, saw after this fight, a lesson can be learned here from both Joshua and Ruiz in regard to the classy manner in which they conducted themselves after the fight. While I do not want to spend time here discussing the insults I saw after the fight as I feel it would be a waste of not only my time, but more importantly, the readers of The Boxing Truth®️ and of this particular column, I do not condone some of the rhetoric that I came across and consider such insults and vulgarity to be “Classless.” Even though those who chose to insult both the new champion and former champion by resorting to such conduct, fans are entitled to their opinion. In my experience however, such opinions and vulgarity tend to come in the form of those who have biases that influence their point of view and/or do not understand the sport and all the aspects that can go into it. It also shows a disrespect in my view for the fighters in what they risk to ultimately in various forms entertain those who watch a fight.

As others expressed their shock over Ruiz knocking Joshua out to win four of five recognized versions of the World Heavyweight championship, I found myself not necessarily feeling shocked. It is important to remember that despite physical appearances, Andy Ruiz was prior to this fight a top-five rated contender in the Heavyweight division, who’s only loss came in a close majority decision that was for a vacant world championship. Ruiz had the credentials that should have been viewed as someone that could provide Joshua a difficult fight, despite taking the fight on limited notice. I wasn’t necessarily shocked as much as I immediately began thinking of what this could mean for the rest of the Heavyweight division.

As much as the Boxing world has anticipated the full unification of the division for some time, that will be put on hold at least for the immediate future. The reason for this is undefeated WBC world champion Deontay Wilder will have a rematch against top contender Luis Ortiz in the fall. As for Andy Ruiz, the first Mexican World Heavyweight champion will face Joshua later this year in a contracted mandatory rematch per the former champion choosing to exercise his rematch clause. When one also factors into the equation that there are other contenders who have earned world title shots at championships held by Ruiz and Wilder, the prospect of full unification of the Heavyweight division becomes one that may be at least a few years away.

What the outcome of this fight should prove not only to anyone involved in the sport but also fans who tend to dismiss a fighter’s chances is as yours truly has often said over the years, “Anything Can Happen At Any Given Time And That Is What Makes Boxing So Great.” There are thousands of fighters throughout the entire sport that may not be known to many and may not even be on the radar of the respective sanctioning organizations rankings, but all of whom are simply awaiting their opportunity to compete on the world level. Andy Ruiz was able to seize his opportunity, now the task ahead will be defending his crown. We will see what happens when Ruiz and Joshua meet again later this year.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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