Anthony Joshua fails to impress in lackluster win over an overweight Andy Ruiz Jr.

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

Ask yourself a question: Were you all that impressed by Anthony Joshua on Saturday? Depending on the judge, he won either 10 or 11 of the 12 rounds in his heavyweight title bout with Andy Ruiz Jr. in rainy Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.

Even so, did you look at him and think, man, this guy is the best in the world? He could beat anyone. Did he remind you of Muhammad Ali? Of Lennox Lewis? Hell, did he even remind you of the 1992 version of Riddick Bowe?

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In my view, he did not.

I get it: Joshua was never in danger, not even for a millisecond. He controlled the fight from start to finish with his jab and with his legs. Joshua used his reach to stay on the outside and pop a woefully prepared and badly overweight champion in the face over and over, then he’d dance away to avoid a fight.

This was most decidedly not a fight. This was Joshua using strategy, his own physical gifts and Ruiz’s devastating lack of interest in training against him. Ruiz embarrassed himself by barely training and then not having the energy to force Joshua to stand and fight.

This is what is odd about it, though: Nearly everyone who saw the fight believes Joshua won 10 or 11 of the 12 rounds. Judges Glenn Feldman and Benoit Rousel gave Joshua 10 of 12, the same as I did, scoring it 118-110. Judge Steve Gray had Joshua winning 119-109, giving him all but one.

And yet, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t working for Joshua or who isn’t an avid fan raving about his performance.

Anthony Joshua celebrates defeating Andy Ruiz Jr. (not pictured) in their heavyweight title fight at the Diriyah Arena. (Photo by Oliver Weiken/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Anthony Joshua celebrates defeating Andy Ruiz Jr. (not pictured) in their heavyweight title fight at the Diriyah Arena. (Photo by Oliver Weiken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

There are times when a boxer boxes and he looks sharp and dynamic and in control. This is one time when that wasn’t the case. Yes, Joshua was in command, but was it because he seized control of the fight or is it because Ruiz was nowhere ready to fight? You saw how slow Ruiz looked. You saw the lack of combinations. You saw him repeatedly fail to cut off the ring.

There were a few times where Joshua seemed like he’d get into that groove where he was dictating the action with his boxing, but whenever Ruiz would throw a combination he looked like a hungry kid who heard his mother calling him for dinner.

If he were so wary of Ruiz’s punching power, what would he do if he were facing WBC champion Deontay Wilder, who has rocket launchers attached to the end of his arms? Wilder is one of the hardest punchers to ever have lived, and he doesn’t need combinations and rounds of connecting to knock someone out.

As he proved last month against Luis Ortiz, one good shot on the chin is all it takes for Wilder.

And if he ever fought Joshua, there are two guarantees: Wilder would know that and so would Joshua.

If the Joshua we saw on Saturday were boxing Tyson Fury, how would he have been able to deal with that hard, long jab that Fury repeatedly throws?

Despite regaining the titles, this wasn’t the greatest of nights for Anthony Joshua. He did nothing but prove he could beat an overweight guy who hadn’t trained much with that effort.

Afterward, he didn’t give much hope for a mid- or late-2020 unification bout with the winner of the Feb. 22 bout in Las Vegas between Wilder and Fury. I would have loved to have heard him make an impassioned case for a bout against the winner, to let the world know how badly he wants it.

Instead, he made it seem as if he’s content to have a parallel career and not dare to find out if he’s the greatest heavyweight of this era.

Joshua is a massively talented guy. He’s a physical specimen who is fast and strong and has good legs and an understanding of what it takes at the highest level.

But he never made us feel his passion for the game, not in the way he fought over 12 lackluster rounds or in his post-fight interview.

“I have been speaking about these guys a long time,” Joshua said in the ring. “You see this time, when I had the opportunity to just focus solely on Andy,  my head is in the right place. When Wilder, Fury, [Luis] Ortiz and Usyk are really ready, they will make the call. Until then, I respect them. I won’t continue to call them out. I am making my own lane and if they want to be a part of that, they will call. Ruiz did it and created a legacy. If those guys want to do it, they can create a legacy too. Look at all I have done. Come on. When I call them out and do all of that, I lose focus.”

The biggest loser, as is often the case in the boxing, were the fans. They didn’t get the great fight Saturday they’d hoped to see. Oh, Joshua fought a smart bout, knowing his easiest path to victory was to jab and use his legs to stay out of danger, but there was little excitement in that ring despite the enormous hype that preceded it and all the threats of violence.

Worse, it got us no closer to having, as Wilder so frequently says, one face, one name, one champion in the division. The hope was that whoever emerged from this bout would be available to fight the Wilder-Fury winner later in 2020.

The sanctioning bodies, as they so often do, have pretty much ruined that plan.

WBO president Paco Valcarcel already ordered Joshua to fight No. 1 contender Oleksandr Usyk within 180 days. Kubrat Pulev is the mandatory in the IBF and while it hasn’t made an order yet, it should do so soon. Promoter Eddie Hearn didn’t want to talk about the future yet, so it’s not certain which route Joshua will go, but the titles will be split up.

I get that the belts don’t really matter here. The public knows that Wilder, Fury and Joshua are 1-2-3 in the heavyweight division, and if Joshua would simply fight the winner of the Feb. 22 bout, that man would be a unified and lineal champion.

Neither Joshua nor Hearn seem all that interested, though.

This isn’t the Joshua who got up off the deck and stopped Wladimir Klitschko in a rousing battle two years ago. This is a more measured, cautious guy who looks a lot like Klitschko did after having lost bouts he was supposed to win against Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. The late Emanuel Steward eventually turned Klitschko around, but there is no one in sight running to Joshua’s rescue.

There is an old saying in boxing that goes, win this one and look good in the next one. Joshua heeded that advice well. He fought exactly the fight he needed to do in order to regain his belts.

He didn’t, though, make anyone desperate to see him. He didn’t leave you wanting more.

If there’s a way to lose when winning going away, Anthony Joshua managed to do it on Saturday.

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