Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ruiz-Joshua II: Boxing 101

The circumstances that led to the rematch between unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Andy Ruiz and former champion Anthony Joshua had intrigue from start to finish. It began with Ruiz scoring an improbable upset by stopping the previously unbeaten Joshua in June in Madison Square Garden. An upset alone often warrants a rematch on its own, but the circumstances that led to that first encounter as well as what led to the immediate rematch were as much a part of the story as what took place inside the ring.

Circumstances that saw Ruiz a top contender and former world title challenger step into a world championship fight on limited notice was at the core of the story back in June of this year. The question of how prepared Ruiz would be after taking the fight on limited notice was logical to ask. What did not get much attention prior to that fight was the effect a change of opponent had on Joshua and the stresses the then champion had to endure before facing Ruiz.

First, Joshua was making his United States debut and had  chosen to do so in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden. This alone is enough to elevate an athlete’s stress level, but when one adds the contributing factor of an originally scheduled opponent was pulled from the fight following testing positive for banned substances, it is not hard to understand how a fighter may not be focused after a change in opposition is made.

As most know, it was Andy Ruiz who was able to capitalize on the biggest opportunity of his career in stopping Joshua in seven rounds. Although it was known almost immediately that Joshua would invoke his immediate rematch clause, there was a question as to whether or not that would be the case in part due to Ruiz’ promotional ties being under the banner of the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) brand as well as his initial rejection of the rematch taking place where it ultimately would, Saudi Arabia.

Fortunately for the fans of the sport, the fighters themselves, as well as the intention of exposing Boxing to a new audience, the politics of the sport did not play much of a factor in determining if the rematch would be an immediate one. The second encounter between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua took place on December 7th in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia at the newly opened Diriyah Arena. An outdoor venue that held 15,000 spectators.

Despite consistent rain throughout the evening, it would not have a factor on the fight. This rematch centered on one person in this observer’s eyes, the former champion Anthony Joshua. Those who read the preview of this rematch penned byyours truly in the days before the fight, I stated that it was my view that Joshua needed to fight a tactical fight from start to finish in order to be successful.

While this differed significantly from the norm for Joshua, who had prior to the first fight had scored knockouts in twenty-one of twenty-two professional fights prior to the first fight, it was something I felt was necessary and if it could be executed well would only benefit him in his career going forward. This of course is often easier said than done and the question was if this were Joshua’s strategy this time around, whether he would be able to maintain a disciplined approach for the entire fight.

What was immediately evident was Joshua used more side to side movement than was the case in the first encounter. Although an approach where a fighter chooses to use their physical advantages to their advantage does not always translate into entertaining bouts to watch, Boxing purists likely enjoyed the way Anthony Joshua fought this fight. By understanding the physics of the fight and knowing the if he used his height and reach advantage over the champion, it allowed Joshua to control the combat. Working behind a consistent jab and using lateral movement to avoid being a stationary target, Joshua was able to execute his fight plan extremely well.

An element of this rematch that received significant attention centered on the weight of the champion going into this fight. Ruiz, who weighed in at 268lbs. for the first fight, had said that he intended to come in lighter for the rematch. This was not the case however, as the champion weighed in at 283lbs. fifteen pounds heavier than when he won the title in the first fight.

Although Andy Ruiz has never had the physique that would suggest that he is a top Heavyweight, let alone a world champion, I do not believe that the issue of weight was the overriding factor in his performance in the rematch, which was not similar to the one that we saw in the first encounter. The champion had trouble cutting the ring off and neutralizing Joshua’s movement and despite maintaining a hand speed advantage over the former champion, he simply could not get into a consistent rhythm.

While some have said since the fight took place that this could be attributed strictly to Ruiz’ weight, in this observer’s eyes it has more to do with the difference in Joshua’s performance and strategy as compared to the first fight. Perhaps Ruiz felt that Joshua was not capable of making adjustments for the rematch and may have expected a similar style to be standing across the ring from him as was the case back in June. This obvi,ously is purely speculation, but it would not be the first time that a world champion would make an assumption prior to a rematch.

Despite having moments periodically throughout the twelve round bout, Ruiz was unable to force Joshua to break from his disciplined approach and that is what ultimately led to Anthony Joshua winning the fight with a convincing twelve round unanimous decision to regain his unified World Heavyweight championship and become a two-time world champion in the process.

For his part, Ruiz now the former champion stated almost immediately after the fight that he could have been better prepared and did not make excuses. Although in a world where just about anyone can share their opinion with the world on any given subject and there was no shortage of criticism and/or ridicule directed toward Ruiz following the fight, it was refreshing to see a fighter not make any excuses and accept the defeat with class. The former champion also suggested that he would want to face Joshua for a third time to make the series of fights between them a trilogy.

Some may not believe that a third fight is warranted, but the facts are that each man holds one win each and that alone usually is enough justification for a third fight. Whether or not a third encounter between the two will take place within a relatively short time frame as the first two fights did remains to be seen.

This observer believes it is more likely that Joshua will likely look to make a mandatory title defense to begin his second reign as a unified world champion as undefeated former World Cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk is currently the number one contender in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Heavyweight ratings and per the four world championships Joshua currently holds being unified, Usyk is the next contender in line for a world championship shot. There is also the possibility assuming that Joshua does choose to fulfill his mandatory defense obligations that if he is successful and retains the championship that he will then look to face undefeated WBC world champion Deontay Wilder in a fight to fully unify the Heavyweight division, assuming of course that Wilder retains his portion of the World Heavyweight championship in his upcoming rematch against undefeated former Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury.

For now, Anthony Joshua has answered some of his critics and frankly should take time to enjoy his victory after producing a near flawless Boxing performance. Even in an era where there are five major world championships per weight class and the sport is always subject to criticism/ridicule, it is not an easy task to win a world championship, let alone to do it twice. Where Anthony Joshua ultimately will rank in the book of Boxing history is unknown, but having shown the ability to bounce back from defeat and regain his crown, his stock has definitely gone up as 2020 approaches.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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