This Saturday night on DAZN from Madison Square Garden, Anthony Joshua returns to defend his three heavyweight belts against Andy Ruiz Jr. Here’s a look at the fighters and their matchup.
What’s at stake?
Joshua will be defending the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles against underdog Ruiz, who looks to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion. Joshua is also defending his spot as arguably the No. 1 heavyweight in the sport, and no lower than No. 3, depending on how you rank the Joshua-Fury-Wilder trio, which in some ways may as well be 1A, 1B, and 1C, with everyone else chasing them. And it’s Joshua’s debut on US soil, which he doesn’t necessarily need in today’s boxing world, but if he can become a star in the States, it only means more money and glory for him.
How did Anthony Joshua get here?
Born in Watford, England, Joshua took up boxing at age 18 in 2007. He won the senior ABA Championships in 2010, and turned down early offers to go pro, focusing instead on his amateur career, which turned out quite well.
He won the Great Britain Amateur Boxing Championships in 2010, won silver at the 2011 Worlds in Baku (losing to Azerbaijan’s Magomedrasul Majidov on a score of 22-21), defeating Italy’s Roberto Cammarelle, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, in the quarterfinals. From the minute he defeated Cammarelle, it was clear that Joshua was a serious talent on the rise.
At the London 2012 Olympics, Joshua got a tough first round draw, matched against Cuba’s Erislandy Savon. In what was maybe the best fight of the entire super heavyweight tournament that year, Joshua edged Savon, 17-16. He then beat China’s Zhang Zhilei (2008 Olympic gold medalist) and Kazakhstan’s Ivan Dychko before beating Cammarelle on countback in the gold medal match.
Joshua could easily have lost that matchup to Savon or the final to Cammarelle, but it was London. Joshua initially said he would be back to go after gold again at Rio 2016, but eventually he signed with Matchroom to go pro in 2013. He made his highly-anticipated professional debut at London’s O2 Arena, stopping Emanuele Leo in the opening round, and declared intentions to win a world title within four years.
Early on, Joshua was matched as most prospects are, showcased while still learning the finer points. In his seventh fight in 2014, he stopped 47-year-old former European, British, and Commonwealth champion Matt Skelton in the second round. Veterans Konstantin Airich, Denis Bakhtov, Michael Sprott, Jason Gavern, Raphael Zumbano, and Kevin Johnson followed, Joshua passing each test with flying colors.
In 2015, he was matched with unbeaten Scotsman Gary Cornish, and I distinctly remember there being some calls that Cornish was going to really give this overhyped Joshua fraud a real test. He did not, as Joshua stopped him in 97 seconds. Former amateur rival Dillian Whyte followed three months later, and Whyte did OK before being stopped in the seventh round.
Finally, in April 2016, about two-and-a-half years after going pro, Joshua got his first world title shot against Charles Martin, the IBF’s paper titleholder of the moment. Martin had won the vacant belt in January against Vyacheslav Glazkov when Glazkov injured his right knee. The belt had most recently legitimately been held by Tyson Fury, then was immediately stripped from Fury. It would have been foolish to not get Joshua a fight with Charles Martin, basically.
Joshua overpowered Martin in two rounds and was able to call himself world champion. He defended against Dominic Breazeale (TKO-7) and Eric Molina (TKO-3) in 2016, then faced Wladimir Klitschko in April 2017.
Joshua-Klitschko went down an instant classic. While Wladimir was certainly past his best days, he was still skilled and experienced. Klitschko went down in the fifth, but came back to drop Joshua in the next frame. Joshua showed heart and determination, finally flooring Wladimir twice in the 11th round to secure the victory.
Since beating Klitschko, Joshua has defended against Carlos Takam, Joseph Parker, and Alexander Povetkin. Along the way, he’s unified the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles and become one of boxing’s biggest stars.
How did Andy Ruiz Jr get here?
Well, Andy Ruiz Jr got here because Jarrell Miller failed three (3) VADA drug tests for a variety of banned substances in maybe the most over-the-top situation of a fighter getting caught cheating. Eddie Hearn went on a search for an opponent, got turned down by first choice Luis Ortiz, and eventually Ruiz wound up landing the gig.
But as for his greater journey, there’s plenty to talk about. He was a pretty good amateur, going a reported 105-5, but he didn’t make any big impact, either. He fought for Mexico in tournaments, including attempting to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, losing to Cuba’s Robert Alfonso and Colombia’s Oscar Rivas and failing to make it to Beijing.
Ruiz turned pro back in 2009, weighing in at 297½ pounds for his first fight in Tijuana. Three months later, he was down to 292½, then didn’t fight for eight months, and got his weight down to 250 for his third outing. Then he was back up to 271½ a month later.
Weight has always been a focus for people trying to figure out the upside of Ruiz. He’s not one of these modern, giant heavyweights. He’s 6’2”. After those first four fights, he’s weighed anywhere between 246 (2013) and 272¾ (2014).
For most of his career, Ruiz was with Top Rank, and his career didn’t move a whole lot. The company was never particularly invested in the heavyweight division while he was with them, being fair, but after he’d scored some OK-ish wins for level for a while, he got a shot at the vacant WBO heavyweight title against Joseph Parker in Dec. 2016.
Ruiz had to go to New Zealand for that fight, where it was worth the most money. Parker won a narrow majority decision on scores of 114-114, 115-113, and 115-113. It was a competitive fight where Ruiz showed he could hang at at least the second tier of the division. If that fight had been in California, it may well have gone his way.
After the loss to Parker, Ruiz didn’t fight again for 15 months, returning in March 2018 to knock out Devin Vargas in 98 seconds. Four months later, he beat veteran Kevin Johnson, the heavyweight division’s human NyQuil.
And that was Ruiz’s last fight with Top Rank. He made his way to PBC, where a possible eventual shot at Deontay Wilder could be in the cards at the very least. He debuted for PBC on April 20, beating faded vet Alexander Dimitrenko via stoppage after five rounds. Ruiz still looked like Ruiz at a glance, but a deeper look revealed he still looked like Ruiz in good ways — good hand speed for the division, nice combinations, some skills that surpass what you might expect just looking at a still photo of him.
How do the fighters match up?
Physically, it’s no contest, and I don’t even mean just that Joshua is a big, muscular specimen and Ruiz is a chubster. Just the height and reach situations heavily favor Joshua, too. Joshua is 6’6” with an 82-inch reach, whereas Ruiz is at 6’2” with a 74-inch reach. On paper, Ruiz absolutely has to get inside and bang away, but he’ll be available for Joshua’s dangerous uppercuts from close range, too.
As for their records, Joshua’s 22-0 (21 KO) is just stronger than Ruiz’s 32-1 (21 KO). Joshua has wins over Dillian Whyte, Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale, Eric Molina, Wladimir Klitschko, Carlos Takam, Joseph Parker, and Alexander Povetkin, and he’s stopped all those guys except for Parker. It’s not exactly Muhammad Ali’s résumé, but it’s been a good run to stardom.
Ruiz, meanwhile, lost a narrow decision to Parker in his biggest fight to date. Otherwise, Andy has spent his career as sort of an eternal prospect, as if everyone had been waiting for him to suddenly be a slim and cut 220. What are his best wins? Alexander Dimitrenko, Tor Hamer, Joe Hanks, Siarhei Liakhovich, Ray Austin, Kevin Johnson? When you watch Ruiz, if you can get around his portly build, you see skills, but he’s only been matched genuinely tough once, and while I had his fight with Parker even, Ruiz lost on the cards. He wasn’t by any means blown away, he could compete with Parker — but Parker isn’t Joshua, either. This is a big step for Ruiz. After a decade in the pro ranks, this is it, his chance to prove he belongs or doesn’t.
Who’s the favorite?
As of this writing, Joshua is favored between -2000 to -3333, so he’s a huge favorite, with Ruiz at +900 to +1650. These odds seem about fair; a Ruiz win would be an absolutely massive, sport-changing upset.
Who will win?
Check back on Friday at Noon ET for our staff picks!