A saying that is overused throughout all of sports is the cliché that anything can happen. In regard to combat sports, it is especially true that no matter what one may think might happen when two fighters square off, you can never truly discount the possibility of something unexpected happening. One of the biggest stories of 2019 in the sport of Boxing took place in June of this year when undefeated unified IBF/WBA/IBO/WBO Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua made his United States debut in “The Mecca Of Boxing” Madison Square Garden. A debut that was highly anticipated, but one that saw a significant change.
As most Boxing fans know, Anthony Joshua was to defend his unified world championship against undefeated Heavyweight contender Jarrell Miller, who at the time was rated number one in the world in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Heavyweight ratings. This however, would change in the weeks leading up to the fight as Miller tested positive for several banned substances resulting in his removal from the bout and subsequent suspension. Enter top contender and former world title challenger Andy Ruiz.
Despite having only been defeated once in his career prior to agreeing to step in and face Joshua, Ruiz was treated with little regard, particularly among casual Boxing fans. In his previous world title shot prior to taking the Joshua fight, Ruiz lost a close twelve round split decision to Joseph Parker in a fight that frankly could have gone either way. Most of the criticism from the casual Boxing fan of Ruiz as the opposition stemmed from Ruiz’ physique, which does not give the appearance of an athlete much less what one would think of when they think of a top contender.
Those within the sport and knowledgeable fans however, knew the credentials that Andy Ruiz brought with him into the ring and knew that this was not a pushover for the champion. It was nevertheless a difficult task to step into a world championship fight on limited notice to prepare and it was appropriate to ask just how prepared Ruiz would be come fight night. The night came on June 1st and as much as it was a difficult task for the challenger stepping in on short notice, it was also difficult for the champion in having to adjust to a different opponent with the same limited time to prepare.
Although this observer does not want to completely rehash my coverage of that fight, I do want to touch upon some of the key elements of it. The primary thing that stood out in my eyes that worked to Joshua’s advantage was when he was able to use his height and reach to control distance between himself and Ruiz. It appeared as though if Joshua were able to maintain a distance where the physics of the fight were in his favor that he could theoretically box his way to victory.
As most know however, the ebb and flow changed significantly in the third round. Joshua scored a knockdown of Ruiz with a left hook to the head. Though this was a clear knockdown, Joshua was reckless in his follow up attack following the knockdown and was hit by a left hook on his temple by Ruiz, which sent him down to the canvas. Ruiz was able to score a second knockdown of Joshua before the end of the round. By this point in the fight, the dynamics had completely shifted.
Joshua never seemed to fully recover from the initial shot to the temple in round three and even though he seemed to win the fifth round in my estimation, his ability to absorb punches from Ruiz was compromised and following two additional knockdowns in round seven the fight was stopped giving Ruiz the victory in what some have called one of the biggest upsets in the Heavyweight divisions in many years. Although it is not uncommon to see a world champion like Joshua opt to take some time to both recover physically and mentally from a knockout loss loss like the one he suffered at the hands of Andy Ruiz and then look to gradually rebuild before seeking a rematch, Joshua instead opted to invoke his immediate rematch clause. The second encounter between Ruiz and Joshua will take place on Saturday in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia in a custom built outdoor stadium that was constructed specifically for this fight.
What can we expect from the rematch? The main story going into this fight is Anthony Joshua and more specifically what effect the knockout loss had on him. It is understandable how some might question the wisdom to have the immediate rematch only six months removed from the first fight given the severity of the knockout Joshua suffered. There is one specific similarity that does come to the mind of yours truly and coincidentally brings back memories of two World Heavyweight championship fights I covered back in 2001. I am referring to the two encounters between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman.
In April of that year, Rahman scored an upset of Lewis, knocking the then two-time Heavyweight world champion out in the fifth round in South Africa. Although the business elements of the sport emerged in the months following that fight and for the purposes of this column will not be touched upon, the two met in an immediate rematch seven months later in November of 2001. In the rematch in Las Vegas, NV, it was Lewis who scored a knockout of Rahman in the fourth round to regain his unified world championship and became part of a select group of fighters to have won portions of the World Heavyweight championship on three separate occasions.
Even though this should not be viewed as a direct comparison, it does show that sometimes there is wisdom in getting a rematch after suffering a knockout loss sooner rather than later. How can Joshua flip the script the second time around? In my mind, he made one critical mistake in the first fight that led to his downfall and that was the reckless way in which he went after Ruiz after Ruiz had gotten up from the knockdown in round three.
Joshua must fight a disciplined fight from start to finish if he wants to be successful this time around. One of the main obstacles that the former champion must deal with in addition to attempting not to be reckless in his approach should he hurt Ruiz as he did in the first fight will be the champion’s hand speed. Part of the reason why Joshua got caught shortly after knocking Ruiz down was Ruiz’ ability to remain calm and look for an opening as Joshua pressed forward in an attempt to finish the fight.
Even though there is nothing that will draw the attention of both the Boxing enthusiasts as well as the casual fan like a knockout, Joshua must not allow the idea of wanting to be entertaining to influence his approach in this fight. Simply put, the challenger must be tactical and do what he has to do to win. Whether that means Boxing from start to finish in a not so crowd pleasing fashion remains to be seen, but if he approaches this fight in a similar way as he did the first time he faced Ruiz, the rematch could well have a similar outcome.
As for the champion, the challenge will be for him not to become complacent in this fight. It is important to remember that Ruiz showed in the first fight that not only could he get up from a knockdown at the hands of Joshua, but he also dropped the previously undefeated champion four times to win the championship. For Ruiz now as the champion must keep in mind that his victory in the first fight is now in the past and it is crucial in my eyes that he not approach this rematch with the mentality of looking to steamroll past Joshua.
What worked to the champion’s advantage in the first fight could also play into the strategy for the champion in what will be his first title defense. Ruiz is a first class counter puncher and if Joshua intends to play the role of a tactical boxer this time Ruiz must find a way to close the distance between himself and the challenger and wait for Joshua to leave openings to exploit.
While Joshua may still be regarded as having an advantage in terms of power, despite what happened in the first fight, Ruiz has a clear advantage when it comes to hand speed and even though the punch that turned the momentum in the first fight came shortly after Ruiz was knocked down, if he can time Joshua this time around, the champion does have the skill set to win a fight by executing his offense in short compact spurts. It may come down to whether or not Joshua can control distance that ultimately could determine who wins this rematch.
Although Ruiz was viewed as a significant underdog the first time around, I believe part of the reason for that was both the champion’s physical appearance as well as the fact that Ruiz took the fight on limited notice. This time there are no circumstances that should negatively impact either fighter in terms of preparation and barring something controversial, there should be no excuses.
In regard to who the favorite is in this rematch, you are likely to see a wide range of opinions from both fans as well as those involved in various capacities in the sport. As for the exact odds as this fight approaches it appears that Joshua is favored to regain the championship.
While it's likely that Anthony Joshua boxes somewhat conservatively in his rematch with Ruiz, keeping the champion at a distance with his 8-inch reach advantage, the best prop bet for this fight is Joshua to win by (T)KO. Joshua to win outright is -227; Joshua to win by stoppage is -111. To take advantage of these unique prop bets be sure to check out MyTopSportsbooks.com , that have a list of sites peer reviewed for all your betting needs. In their first bout Joshua showed he has the power to put Ruiz on the mat, The pair have exactly two 12-round decisions between them, and both came against the durable Joseph Parker. Whether or not the odds hold true once the fighters are inside the ring remains to be seen.
In addition to the intrigue this rematch has, it has been a fight that has also seen some criticism from both fans and some within the sport due to the decision to stage the rematch in Saudi Arabia. While some may choose to focus on the negative, this observer will focus on the good that will come from that decision. Much like Muhammad Ali’s battles with George Foreman and Joe Frazier in 1974 and 1975 respectively, which took place in Zaire, Africa and Manila, Philippines respectively, this fight could represent much more than determining who will emerge as the unified Heavyweight world champion.
Both of those battles that featured Muhammad Ali, first regaining the championship from George Foreman then defending the title the following year against Joe Frazier in their third and final encounter will forever be known by their promotional monikers “The Rumble In The Jungle” and “The Thrilla In Manila.” Two legendary battles that will forever be etched in the history of Boxing. The two fights also exposed the sport to new eyes and arguably helped grow both interest and participation in Boxing by staging those bouts in previously not sought after locations. Much like this fight, both of those bouts faced criticism beforehand due to the locations where they took place.
Boxing is a sport that much like all sports, is constantly looking to expand its audience and constantly looking to grow. It is unclear whether this rematch titled “Clash On The Dunes” will be as regarded as “The Rumble In The Jungle” and “The Thrilla In Manila”, but if it helps grow the sport by opening it to new eyes, it should be viewed as a win for Boxing.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Ruiz vs. Joshua II takes place on Saturday, December 7th in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. The fight as well as it’s full undercard can be seen in the United States and several international countries on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning at 12PM ET/9AM PT (U.S. Time.) For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the card can be seen on Sky Sports Box Office Pay-Per-View for £24.95. The card will begin at 5PM (Local UK Time.) For more information, availability in your area, and to order please visit: https://www.sky.com/boxoffice. Check your local listings internationally.
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