Three of the four recognized heavyweight titles will be at stake on Saturday when Andy Ruiz Jr. looks for a second straight upset of former unified champion Anthony Joshua.
Eight months after Ruiz’s epic knockout at New York’s Madison Square Garden in Joshua’s U.S. debut, the stage shifts to Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, and the makeshift outdoor Diriyah Arena as the British superstar looks to regain his WBA, IBF and WBO titles (DAZN, 12 p.m. ET). The 30-year-old Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), a native of California, became the first heavyweight champion in boxing history of Mexican descent when he floored Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs), 30, three times en route to a seventh-round TKO in April.
With so much at stake in this lucrative rematch, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering the fight.
1. Where exactly is Joshua’s head at?: Undoubtedly, this is the defining question entering the rematch. Joshua, a global superstar, unraveled in shocking fashion following a single left hook to the ear in Round 3 against Ruiz that rattled his equilibrium. Despite showing guts while hanging in for four additional rounds, he was never the same. Once rumors began to swirl that AJ had been knocked out in sparring ahead of the fight and wasn’t himself from the standpoint of confidence (if not health), critics began to question whether Joshua had lost his invincibility. Whether Joshua returns as “damaged goods” will invariably go down as the single most important decider in who wins. Did Ruiz land the perfect punch to begin Joshua’s slow exit or did a vulnerable star find his true Kryptonite? That question can only be decided in the ring.
2. What role will the neutral site play?: If reports are to be believed, Joshua had upwards of 75 million ($) reasons to be happy that promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport was able to strike a deal with Saudi Arabia in the middle of the desert. Although the decision seems more financially motivated than anything else — especially since it forces DAZN to broadcast the fight at an inopportune time opposite the SEC Championship Game on CBS — the remote nature of the location could prove to be a plus for Joshua’s psyche. The former champion has largely isolated himself from the media on both sides of the pond to focus on training. Even though AJ has a history of selling out soccer stadiums in excess of 90,000 fans for his biggest fights, along with that comes extra pressure. This is anything but MSG and “the world’s most famous arena” as Joshua and Ruiz will touch gloves inside a 15,000-seat venue which was custom-built for this fight.
3. Ruiz and the ghost of James “Buster” Douglas: The immediate comparisons of Ruiz’s upset to that of Mike Tyson’s stunning 1990 loss to Douglas was an easy one to swallow for casual and mainstream fans. With a rotund belly, Ruiz fit the role of everyman like he was plucked out of central casting. But like Douglas, who gained weight and looked sluggish in a knockout loss to Evander Holyfield in his next fight after beating Tyson, Ruiz will need to prove in the rematch that he’s as good and complete as the highlights of him stopping Joshua suggest. Yes, Ruiz has long been a respected name and former title contender who has quick hands and arguably the best combination punching in the division. He has also spent most of his career battling weight issues and seemed to be a project that former promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank gave up on which led to their mutual parting. Ruiz showed plenty of heart to get off the deck and finish Joshua in a fight that played out like a perfect storm once AJ got hurt. Now it’s time for Ruiz to prove it was anything but a fluke.
4. A second Joshua loss would be very bad news for DAZN: Although Joshua doesn’t have an exclusive deal with the all-sports streaming app that launched in September 2018 with AJ’s knockout of Alexander Povetkin, the 6-foot-6 slugger quickly joined Canelo Alvarez as the network’s face. Ruiz, meanwhile, fights under the Premier Boxing Champions banner after taking the first fight as a late replacement on three weeks’ notice. Should Ruiz defend his trio of belts and take them with him back to Fox and Showtime, where PBC holds broadcasting deals, it would be a substantial blow to DAZN’s future in making big heavyweight fights. Boxing remains very territorial from the standpoint of huge stars crossing the political street to do business. While it makes sense for Fox and ESPN to share pay-per-view profits in February when PBC’s Deontay Wilder defends his WBC title in a rematch with lineal champion Tyson Fury (co-promoted by Top Rank), it remains much difficult for DAZN to take part in such a deal given their monthly subscription model isn’t compliant with PPV. Should both Wilder and Ruiz win over the next few months, PBC founder Al Haymon could find himself in possession of all four world titles and the possibility of an undisputed champion.
5. A win could make Joshua even more beloved than before: Outside of the record crowds and enormous purses his fights have created, Joshua has done well to prove himself as much more of a blue-collar fighter than his hulking physique might suggest. He got up off the canvas to stop Wladimir Klitschko, and has fought through hairy moments while overcoming his vulnerabilities. While his glossy, unbeaten record will never be again, his road to immortality — particularly within his native England where he won gold in the 2012 Olympic games — could begin by knocking out Ruiz. Fans love winners, but even more they love second chances and perseverance. Joshua’s countryman Lennox Lewis built his career on such a thing by twice defeating (by knockout) the only two men who stopped and defeated him. It may sound dramatic to say the future of Joshua’s career is at stake in this rematch, but it very much is true. Nothing can erase an upset loss quite like coming back to make an even bigger statement.
Source: Brian Campbell