NEW YORK — Anthony Joshua came to Madison Square Garden to win over U.S boxing fans they way he had mesmerized the entire United Kingdom.
Or so he thought.
Four knockdowns later, he was an ex-champion and another in a long line of failed British heavyweights, a line only temporarily interrupted by the reign of Lennox Lewis.
It may not have been Buster Douglas upsetting Mike Tyson, but in its own way, Andy Ruiz Jr.’s seventh-round TKO of the previously unbeaten Joshua was every bit as shocking.
A prohibitive underdog and an almost comically rotund physical specimen, Ruiz climbed off the canvas to drop Joshua twice in the third round, and twice more in the seventh. Referee Michael Griffin stopped the scheduled 12-round bout at 1:26 of the round with Joshua leaning against a neutral corner, a sick smile of disbelief on his face.
That smile mirrored the mood of the overwhelmingly pro-Joshua crowd, some 7,000 or so who came over from the U.K. to cheer on their latest boxing idol. For one night, they transformed Madison Square Garden into either a very small soccer stadium or a very large and raucous British pub.
But by the end of the bout, their cheering and singing had devolved into a stunned murmur.
Joshua, a chiseled 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, had been exposed and humiliated by a challenger with the body of Lou Costello.
And when Joshua, still wearing a bemused smirk on his face, spoke into the ringside microphone, he was booed by the crowd that had come to cheer him.
Not only did Joshua lose his title belts and aura of invincibility, but also the prospect of a megabout against Deontay Wilder, his American counterpart.
Joshua’s U.S. debut came in his 23rd professional fight. He was defending his slices of the heavyweight title — Wilder has the other one — and although he gave away more than 20 pounds to the 5-11 Ruiz, he enjoyed massive advantages in height, reach and athleticism.
It was Joshua’s fourth fight since he burst onto the scene in April 2017 with an impressive 11th-round TKO of defending champion Wladimir Klitschko before 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, a fight in which Joshua overcame a sixth-round knockdown to outlast his 40-year-old opponent. Joshua had been decidedly less spectacular in his ensuing three fights — a 10th-round TKO of Carlos Takam in October 2017, a unanimous decision over Joseph Parker in March 2018 and a seventh-round TKO of Alexander Povetkin in his most recent fight last September.
In addition to his unbeaten record and impressive physique, it was Joshua’s ability to sell tickets in the U.K. that made him an especially attractive opponent for Wilder. The Takam and Parker fights drew 80,000 fans to Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, and his defense against Povetkin once again sold out Wembley.
Ruiz was a late substitute, signed for the fight in late April after Joshua’s original opponent, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller was disqualified after failing multiple pre-fight drug tests, Luis Ortiz priced himself out of the bout and Adam Kownacki turned it down.
Ruiz, who had lost a close decision to Parker in 2016 in his only other fight against a ranked heavyweight, jumped at the opportunity to make by far the largest payday of his career, believed to be in the range of $2.5 million.
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