The moment referee Michael Griffin waved his arms over his head on Saturday and stopped the bout in the seventh round, Andy Ruiz Jr. forever shed his cloak of anonymity.
The new IBF-WBA-WBO heavyweight champion, who knocked Anthony Joshua down four times at Madison Square Garden in New York and stopped him in one of the greatest upsets in the sport’s history, has much ahead of him.
Most of it has to do with personal appearances.
He’ll appear on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Tuesday. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has invited him for a visit. The Mexican national soccer team wants him to lead it out for its next match. Media from all over the world have reached out for interviews.
Ruiz’s stunning victory means he’ll also see Joshua again before the end of the year, likely at Wembley Stadium in London in a contract stipulated rematch.
His victory added spice to a division that, while intriguing, was quickly getting frustrating. A month ago, most of the discussion about the heavyweights was about fights that weren’t happening.
While fans longed to see a showdown between unbeaten WBC champion Deontay Wilder and Joshua, they were exchanging insults instead of punches.
Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, who fought to an exciting split draw with Wilder in December, signed with Top Rank in February and bypassed a rematch, opting instead to fight unheralded Tom Schwarz on June 15 in Las Vegas.
Late last year, there was the potential of a round robin between those three heavyweights who at the time had a combined record of 89-0 with 79 knockouts. All had a legitimate claim to the heavyweight belt.
That’s why there was so much angst each time one rejected a contract offer from the other side to fight each other. Potentially, this could have been like a return to the early 1990s, when the division had so much talent and depth.
Joshua’s unexpected loss did not kill interest in potential fights with either Fury or Wilder. In the long run, they could still make out the same financially.
But it robbed the sport of that dramatic moment of having two unbeaten men with legitimate claims to the title squaring off in the ring for supremacy. That’s sort of what made the March 8, 1971, match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier so intriguing. People recognized that they were among the best heavyweights who ever lived, and Ali had a larger-than-life personality. But both were unbeaten and both could claim they deserved to be called, “Champ.”
Mike Tyson had the majority of his most significant bouts after he lost to Buster Douglas. Post-Douglas, Tyson fought Holyfield and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock twice each, as well as Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno.
Joshua clearly shouldn’t be written off. He’s a legitimate talent, though he’s one who hasn’t fully developed. Ruiz was a late replacement for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who was yanked from the bout after failing multiple drug tests.
Joshua’s critical error vs. Ruiz Jr.
Ruiz was always going to be a tougher test for Joshua than Miller. Miller was big — 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds and looked the part of an intimidating foe far more than Ruiz — but he didn’t punch nearly as hard as Ruiz, didn’t have his boxing skills and his hands aren’t close to as fast.
Ruiz was brilliant and walked Joshua down from the early moments of the fight. Joshua had every physical advantage, but he ceded ground to the wiser and more determined challenger, and let Ruiz build his confidence.
When Ruiz went down in the third, there was a moment reminiscent of when Tyson dropped Douglas in their fight. Douglas banged a fist on the canvas when he was down, angry at him1self, and looked to the corner to tell them he was all right.
Ruiz looked to his corner and nodded, letting them know he was OK.
Joshua didn’t use his jab, which he clearly needed to do. He should have taken the center of the ring and then forced Ruiz to pay a dear price to get inside by thumping him in the face with a jab.
When the legendary George Foreman was in the second act of his career in the 1990s that culminated with a title-winning knockout of Michael Moorer, he relied heavily on a slow but powerful jab.
Ruiz, though, was able to work his way inside without having to eat many jabs, a critical error by Joshua.
Hearn announces Ruiz-Joshua rematch
On Tuesday, promoter Eddie Hearn announced that Joshua had opted to exercise his right to a rematch, and he reiterated it would be in either November or December.
If Joshua doesn’t bring a jab with him, he’ll be beaten again by Ruiz and will be relegated to a secondary figure. Ruiz is going to have massive fan appeal because of his everyman persona and the amazing feat he pulled off, though if the fight is held in London, as expected, most of Ruiz’s fans will be watching on television and not in the venue.
But it wouldn’t be a shock if the bout landed in Las Vegas, where Brits can travel to support Joshua and promoters could tap into Ruiz’s suddenly burgeoning fan base. As the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage — he was born in California, but fought for Mexico in the 2008 Beijing Olympics — Ruiz will bring a massive army of fans to see him.
It could be the mega-fight no one saw coming.
Boxing’s history provides great evidence that Joshua’s loss could only be a temporary setback.
It will delay a fight with Wilder, which was at the top of the list of fights fans most wanted to see. Wilder announced he’s going to rematch Luis Ortiz in September and then Fury sometime next year.
Joshua has to take care of business with Ruiz in the late fall. On top of that, any number of rising contenders, like Joe Joyce, Daniel DuBois or Efe Ajagba, among others, could rise into position to demand a big fight.
The big fight is gone for now, but it isn’t necessarily gone forever.
And who knows, maybe the real big fight won’t be Wilder versus Joshua but rather Wilder versus Ruiz?
That unpredictability is what makes boxing so great.
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