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Ruiz vs Joshua 2: Ifs, buts, and maybes in Diriyah

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Where will Saturday’s rematch be won and lost?

BOXING-HEAVYWEIGHT-RUIZ-JOSHUA Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

Fight week is complete as the stars begin to descend onto the dunes for one of the biggest fights of the year. As the first bell draws closer, what will decide the destination of three-quarters of the heavyweight puzzle?

Lord of the Ring

Weighing in at 237 pounds, Joshua is relying on control of the ring that will see him negate the pressure that Ruiz implemented successfully in New York. The challenger hasn’t been lighter since fighting Denis Bakhtov in 2014 and will be banking on finding that second wind in the championship rounds without an excess of muscle draining his oxygen.

Keeping his distance, using his long, accurate jab, expect “AJ” to box-and-move for the first half of the fight as he attempts to lure the champion into walking onto a right hand. Ruiz – even at 283 pounds – doesn’t look overly susceptible to gassing out in the contest with that come-forward punches-in-bunches style looking comfortable over the distance, but will his frustrations allow for a slip in concentration? Ruiz did get dropped hard in the third round of the opener, although his eyes remained crystal clear upon clambering back to his feet.

Mike Goodall – who, along with his team, has built the ring inside the Diriyah Arena – claims it’s one of the biggest he’s completed at 22 square ft. This extra room will play into the hands of the challenger as he avoids another fire-fight with the “Destroyer” in the early exchanges.

Interestingly, a member of the Saudi royal family has requested the ring is to be rebuilt in his home following Saturday night, with the blood, sweat and tear-stained canvas of this heavyweight bill allowed to fester for years to come.

Inside the Phonebox

Ruiz will try and drag this fight into the phonebox and close Joshua’s distance as effectively as possible. To execute this, the champion will have to be strong in their exchanges and keep his positioning set, in order to throw back after Joshua’s jab has attempted to keep Ruiz at bay.

If Ruiz can keep his left guard away from his head, it will act as a cushion if he can catch Joshua’s jab, allowing his feet to stay planted ready to turn into a counter. Once he’s in the pocket, Ruiz can throw his rapid combinations at will in the hope that one or two land and change the course of the fight. The gaps Ruiz will then leave in his defence is a measured risk he’ll be willing to take.

Joshua’s susceptibility to a left hook is no secret anymore, with Ruiz aiming for the temple of the taller man once again. With the help of Angel Fernandez in camp, Joshua will be looking to hold more in this fight if it’s required – another measure to nullify the strength on the inside that Ruiz possesses. Referee Luis Pabon’s role in this contest then becomes vital.

Size Matters

Ruiz is up 15 pounds to 283 and Joshua is down 10.8 pounds to 237 – there have been myriad question marks over Ruiz’s decision to pile on the timber when he had such success in the opener.

Has the 31-year-old looked to add that bit of bulk to avoid sending the fight the way of Saudi’s three judges? Ruiz will believe that the dice are loaded in favour of Joshua in the desert; if he can pack more of a punch over the scheduled 36 minutes, Ruiz will believe his destiny is in his own fists.

There is the chance the Mexican-American has gone full Buster Douglas, indulging in the new life his world championship titles have facilitated. Following his 1990 upset of Mike Tyson, Douglas put on 14.5 pounds in the same year before being stopped in emphatic style against Evander Holyfield in this next outing.

Beware of the Bogeyman

It might transpire that Ruiz simply has Joshua’s number. Every fighter has a bogeyman hidden somewhere in the depths of their division, but whether they stumble across them in their career is often a case of fate and matchmaking.

Joshua’s upright, stiff GB Amateur Boxing style looks tailor-made for Ruiz to exploit once again. The challenger’s camp will have had a strong focus around sparring, hip and head movement, and utilising speed to get out of range when Ruiz decides to attack with flurries. Joshua has had his problems with shorter heavyweights in the past, so it’s no real surprise that a 6’ 2” fighter disarmed him in such emphatic style.

Will Andy Ruiz be to Joshua what Vernon Forrest was to Shane Mosely?! Like Ricardo Mayorga was, in turn, to Vernon Forrest?!

Styles make fights and maybe, just maybe, Joshua was made for Ruiz.

”You’re not you when you’re not hungry!”

”I already won, I accomplished my dreams and what I wanted to do in life,” Ruiz uttered to the Sky Sports cameras this week with a trademark smile plastered across his face. Has Ruiz really got the hunger to go on and achieve even more in the division?

Ruiz has had a real taste of fame over the last six months, with distraction after distraction causing a case of wandering eyes away from his three shiny new belts. Whether Ruiz will arrive in Diriyah with the same hunger that saw him achieve his Fairytale of New York is a question only he can answer.

Joshua, on the contrary, looks hungrier than ever – physically as well as mentally. The Briton has engaged his “challenger mindset” and has fallen back in love with the sport which has handed him a second chance in life.

“Ever since I walked into boxing I have been dominating,” Joshua said post weigh-in. “Championships, bosh! Turn pro, bosh! World champion, bosh! And then you never really understand what it is until it’s taken.”

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” sang Joni Mitchell in Big Yellow Taxi. Joshua can relate, but I don’t think she was singing about the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight straps. I could be wrong.

Into the Unknown

The well-publicised and perpetually-criticised location for this rematch raises questions for both camps. “Rowdy in Saudi” was a name favoured by many for this event; however, rowdiness is expected to be at a minimum inside the purpose-built Diriyah Arena.

Joshua has relied on dragging his opponents into the Lion’s Den in previous wins on home soil, feeding off a rippled frenzy around the stadium or arena he has single-handedly sold out. The support will be split on the night, with a diverse crowd in attendance watching out of curiosity rather than in partisan fandom.

The temperature is expected to drop to 18 degrees Celcius (64°F) as the first bell chimes. Much has been made of the heat favouring Ruiz, but there will be a distinct chill in the air as both men lock horns for a second time.

From New York to Diriyah the sub-plots and talking points have felt limitless. At midnight, local time, under the Middle Eastern stars, the talking stops; questions become answers.