“Got on a lucky one. Came in eighteen to one...”
Andy Ruiz Jr’s price to become unified heavyweight champion of the world this weekend may not have quite been 18/1 — and by no means was it a “lucky one” — but The Pogues’ 1987 hit “Fairytale of New York” embodies the scale of the shockwaves that the 29-year-old fighting under the Mexican flag has sent rippling around the boxing world.
In one of the real “pinch me” moments of recent heavyweight boxing history, Anthony Joshua becomes the latest casualty to suffer an unthinkable defeat against an unlikely opponent: heavyweight truth has once again proved stranger than a fictitious fairytale.
Andy Ruiz’s fairytale proved to be Anthony Joshua’s nightmare. Making his American debut inside the historic Madison Square Garden was seen as another notch on the belt of one of boxing’s biggest stars; a commercial giant looking to expand his reach and fellowship across the pond.
His dance partner didn’t read the script. Drafted in at five weeks notice to merely become a footnote on the aggressively promoted #RoadToUndisputed that “AJ” was travelling on, Ruiz has forced a detour of epic proportions — the hard work starts now for Joshua and his team, as the Brit looks to rebuild the machine that took him to the top of the heavyweight division.
In a thrilling fire-fight with little time to catch a breath, Joshua tasted the canvas four times before referee Mike Griffin was forced to stop the contest in the seventh round. Unable to cope with Ruiz’s aggressive flurries and rapid hand speed, the Briton failed to recover from a blow to the temple in the third round — a round that saw both men dropped (Joshua twice) in a certain Round of the Year contender — with confusion in the corner punctuating the discomfort that Joshua found himself experiencing at the halfway point.
“Why am I feeling like this?” Joshua asked his coach Robert McCracken at the end of the sixth round, with the end in sight for the former WBA, WBO, IBF heavyweight champion of the world just half a round later.
Make no mistake about it: Andy Ruiz Jr was overlooked by almost everyone inside the Garden. Hand-picked by Eddie Hearn following the juice-inspired-withdrawal of Jarrell Miller from the original bout, Ruiz was being sold to us as the “hungriest” of potential replacements. They wanted a challenger who believed he could win, a challenger that wasn’t just looking for a quick money-grab, but most importantly, a challenger that had minimal chances of causing a seismic upset.
We knew Andy Ruiz could fight. A recent win over Alexander Dimitrenko and a disputed 12-round defeat to Joseph Parker in 2016 was enough to outline how Ruiz could get success in the fight, but when it came to getting the win, it was a near-impossible job to envisage how the “Destroyer” was going to trouble the champion for a sustained period.
Fast hands were to be negated by a long Joshua jab keeping the distance; six-punch combinations were to be countered by Joshua’s devastating uppercut; Ruiz “wanting it more” was to be overshadowed by Joshua “needing it more” — sometimes boxing fails to read the consensus of the script.
A wave of the arms from Mike Griffin was followed by a gallon of ice cold water being poured all over a potential Joshua-Wilder showdown. Regardless of the “Bronze Bomber” confirming his next two defences would come in rematches against Luis Ortiz this fall and Tyson Fury next spring, there was still an overriding belief that the two belt holders in the division would eventually meet. It’s been brewing for over three years, with mind-numbing negotiation disputes filling more column inches than their respective efforts inside the ring. Saturday night’s result proves a lesson to all parties involved: no fight is bigger than the sport. This prolonged marination of a fight that should have already taken place has demoted the spectacle that it would have been.
It’s a slightly hypocritical standpoint. I have always stressed the need to place less importance on fighters with undefeated records, with this culture of protecting your “0” responsible for the best avoiding the best up and down the divisions. However, the mystique of having three undefeated heavyweights on the verge of locking horns was, arguably, an exception to the rule.
The rematch between Ruiz and Joshua looks likely to land in November or December of this year, with Eddie Hearn already stating his intent to bring the unified champion to British shores — most likely to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
“There is a rematch clause,” Hearn stated after the fight. “Andy will fancy the rematch. He’s just stopped Anthony Joshua, so it’s not a situation where he’s thinking he can’t win the rematch.”
“If he wins that rematch, he puts himself in position as the golden goose of the division. Anthony, of course, has got to accept that rematch. Knowing him, I’m certain he will want to do that. He gave Andy the opportunity, it’s part of the agreement and I believe Andy will believe he can do it again. It’s going to be a thrilling fight.”
Joshua acted as a champion in defeat. Reluctant to cite any injuries or troubles in the lead up to the fight, “AJ” allowed an overjoyed Ruiz to have his moment in the sun, as a stunned Garden witnessed the latest boxing chapter being etched onto the walls of the historic venue. The champion will fancy his chances in the rematch. Ruiz lands as a 5/2 underdog for part II, with serious changes needed in Joshua’s approach to a stylistically awkward foe.
Ruiz has fast-tracked his way to the summit of our sport. Being the subject of internet memes, fat jokes and cartoon character comparisons for the last fortnight, the Mexican-American has well and truly had the last laugh in the Big Apple.
In terms of shocks, it’s not quite on the scale of Buster Douglas or even Hasim Rahman, but boy it’s up there.
“An old man said to me, won’t see another one” – the third line in “Fairytale of New York.” The thing is, we will see another one. That’s why we fall in love with boxing over, and over, again.