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What’s next for Anthony Joshua after rematch win over Andy Ruiz Jr? Will trilogy fight happen?

Anthony Joshua had his way on Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Is a third Joshua-Ruiz fight coming, or will AJ move on?

British boxer Anthony Joshua wins back his world heavyweight titles in Saudi Arabia Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Anthony Joshua dominated Andy Ruiz Jr over 12 rounds on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, taking back the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles that he stunningly lost to the portly Mexican-American on June 1 in New York.

Now the question, of course, is what’s next for AJ? The British star will have options, so let’s look at a few.

Third fight with Andy Ruiz Jr

Both Joshua (23-1, 21 KO) and Ruiz (33-2, 22 KO) expressed a desire for a trilogy bout after all was said and done on Saturday, but early reception to the idea is lukewarm at best.

On Joshua’s side, why wouldn’t he want it? He made mistakes with Ruiz the first time around and he got caught and stopped. He went back to work and clearly came in with the right plan and the right mental attitude for the rematch, and he made it look easy. Ruiz couldn’t do a damn thing with Joshua’s long jab and movement on Saturday. Of course Joshua would love to cash another massive check to do that for another 36 minutes, and he’s surely confident that Ruiz won’t be able to do a damn thing against that plan next time, either.

Ruiz, of course, wants the fight because, frankly, he laid an egg on Saturday. Six months after the Cinderella win at MSG, Ruiz came in officially too fat on Friday, which some of us were willing to wait until Saturday to truly confirm was too fat. After all, he was no Adonis when he won the belt, maybe it wouldn’t matter.

But it mattered. Saturday’s over. He was too fat. I know this is a blunt way to put it, but it is what it is. You saw him. If you want to argue it didn’t play a role in the fight, that’s fine, I guess, but even Ruiz said he was too heavy on Saturday.

That, though, is part of the problem with selling a third fight. One of the worst things a boxer can do after a big bout where people paid money to see a much-hyped fight — either through DAZN in the US or pay-per-view in the UK — is say after it’s over that you didn’t train hard and didn’t put in proper effort. You basically are telling people you didn’t give a crap and that you took their money and ran.

British boxer Anthony Joshua wins back his world heavyweight titles in Saudi Arabia Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

I’m sure Ruiz cares that he lost. But I’m not sure he cares enough to come back in “the best fuckin’ shape of his life,” as he promised he would if he gets another shot at Joshua. For years now we’ve heard various stories of Andy Ruiz getting serious, finally, and he’ll be in great shape, he’s losing weight, etc. It never really happens to any substantial degree.

Keep in mind, I’m not trying to dismiss Ruiz here. Ruiz can fight at 265 or so, he’s proven that. And I personally, myself, couldn’t really care less what he does physique-wise. But he didn’t give himself the honest chance this time, didn’t take his camp seriously, and I’m taking the words he said himself to make that statement. And by admitting that, he is in a way insulting everyone who paid for the fight. That’s tough for boxing fans to swallow. Why would people want to see him again at this level right away in another DAZN and UK pay-per-view fight?

Is there a time for a Joshua-Ruiz III? Sure, there very well might be. But I’m not sure that time is right now.

Kubrat Pulev or Oleksandr Usyk

Now we get into the mandatory challengers.

Pulev (28-1, 14 KO) has been sitting on an IBF mandatory since beating Hughie Fury in Oct. 2018, biding his time with wins over Bogdan Dinu and Rydell Booker since then. The 38-year-old Bulgarian is promoted by Top Rank, but Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn have worked together for fights like this that had to happen, so there’s no reason to think they can’t again.

Obviously, Pulev would be going to DAZN, not Joshua going to an ESPN network. Joshua’s the clear A-side here, and Pulev isn’t worth so much to Top Rank or its platform that they’d be likely to balk. There’s only so much time to take the swing with Pulev, anyway, and there’s still a vulnerability to Joshua that Pulev and Top Rank might really like. And that’s a big thing, too — it took Wladimir Klitschko a good, long time to shake the idea that he was chinny and easily beatable. He eventually did it, but AJ isn’t going to shake that suspicion after one good performance.

Oleksandr Usyk v Chazz Witherspoon Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Usyk (17-0, 13 KO), meanwhile, is the WBO mandatory challenger, a designation he received before even taking a fight at heavyweight. The former undisputed cruiserweight champion is promoted by Matchroom, so a fight with Joshua should be easy to make, and we know Usyk and his team do want it sooner than later. They’ve repeatedly stated they didn’t move up to take their time and wait, they came to get more belts.

The 32-year-old Usyk won comfortably in his heavyweight debut against Chazz Witherspoon in October, but he didn’t exactly look incredible, either. He’s small for the division, but he does have terrific skills. It’s doubtful that Joshua and Co. would employ the same tactics they did against Ruiz when facing Usyk, because that would give Usyk a great chance to outbox AJ. That’d be a fight where they might look to get back to more power. But it’d be interesting — two Olympic gold medalists, two guys who have proven themselves as pros.

Dillian Whyte

Whyte (27-1, 18 KO) doesn’t seem to be in the Joshua running at this point, but it’s not something I’d count out. He’s still working with Matchroom, he still has some grudge with AJ dating back to their 2015 fight, which is Whyte’s only loss, and Whyte may simply get tired of waiting for the WBC to order that title shot he’s been trying to get forever. At last update, they were thinking early 2021. That’s a long wait to go.

Whyte has had his controversies this year, but like it or not it’s swept under the rug now, UKAD have cleared him of wrongdoing and that’s just the way it is. So he’s an option for big fights. I wouldn’t expect this, but I wanted to throw in another name and his seemed worth mentioning more than most given the political alignments of the sport and all that.

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