SAN DIEGO, Calif., December 6, 2019 – Troubling ethical issues aside, the boxing world awaits Saturday’s rematch from Saudi Arabia between unified heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. of California (33-1, 22 KOs) and Anthony Joshua of Great Britain (22-1, 21 KOs) to see whether lightning can strike twice.
But they’re asking the wrong question. What if lightning didn’t strike the first time at all?
Fans will need to be in their seats early in the U.S. to watch on the streaming service DAZN, starting at 12 noon ET/9 am PT with the undercard fights. The main event is expected shortly after 3 pm ET/12 noon PT.
Weigh-in raises eyebrows and more questions
At Friday’s weigh-in at the Al Faisaliah Hotel in Riyadh, Ruiz Jr. tipped the scales at 283 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than in the first bout with Joshua, and the heaviest of his career. Assuming his sombrero and clothing account for five pounds of it, rumors about Ruiz Jr. “slimming down” were obviously unfounded.
Joshua weighed in at a slimmed-down 237 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than in the first fight. It is his lightest weigh-in since 2014, and only eight pounds over his all-time low (229 pounds in 2013).
Pass the Snickers. The weight report set boxing social media abuzz. Did Ruiz Jr. fail to push himself away from the training table? Is he not taking the fight seriously? Will Joshua’s condition help him avoid his notorious stamina issues?
In 24 hours, we will have our answers.
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Ruiz Jr. looking to repeat his performance in Diriyah
Last June’s improbable upset victory by Ruiz Jr., a last-minute replacement as Joshua’s opponent, made a viral folk hero out of the humble Mexican-American from the desert community of Imperial, California (population 15,000). It crowned him the IBF, WBA, and WBO world champion, the first of Mexican descent, and richer than he ever dreamed possible.
Now Ruiz Jr. must win and make it stick in a rematch set far away from his dusty desert home in another of the world’s great deserts, a very different place from where he grew up learning to box as a chubby Imperial Valley kid.
For the dethroned champion Joshua, his future in boxing rests on this fight. Either he proves he is still a force in a competitive heavyweight division or a good-looking pretender who was more style than substance.
Ruiz Jr. made the rounds of the media, laughing it up with mini-me Guillermo on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and chatting with podcast star Joe Rogan. Joshua mostly retreated and began the climb back to reclaiming his belts and saving his career.
Fight preparations: Joshua needs to adjust his attitude
Both got back in the gym with plenty of preparation time. Ruiz Jr. says he hasn’t changed much about his training. If it ain’t broke, and you know the rest.
“Making some adjustments, but we got all the tools, all the same things, so we’re focused mentally and ready for December 7,” said Ruiz Jr. Whether or not Ruiz Jr. seems physically prepared, he comes in with the psychological advantage and the calm confidence in himself he brought to the first fight.
Ruiz Jr. didn’t appear obviously heavy or slowed down in his open workout in Saudi Arabia earlier in the week. His trademark speed and combinations were on display, impressive for any fighter but especially for a heavyweight.
Contractually, Joshua is still the A-side, with $60 million guaranteed win or lose. But he comes in as the challenger. He appears confident and well prepared, but he always does. He admits Ruiz Jr. has been on his mind.
“He’s been on my mind five weeks prior to June 1, because that’s when he came in as my replacement, and he will be on my mind forever,” said Joshua. “If Andy Ruiz is dedicated to the game, we will see each other a third time down the line as well. This won’t be the last time I see Andy Ruiz in the ring.”
Joshua calls his training camp an evolution. “I shed the skin from last time, re-built myself, and all I’m doing is going to win, that’s what I’m focused on.” He looked it on the scales in Riyadh.
Ruiz Jr. warns Joshua he could beat him “even faster” than the seven-round stoppage at Madison Square Garden. He says he expects a cautious approach from the beaten Brit. “But if he wants to bang, it’s better for me,” said Ruiz Jr. “I love to bang, because that’s the fighter that I am. December 7, we have to pressure, work the body, break him down, especially his mentality.
“We’ve got to see where he’s at because all the pressure is on him. The pressure isn’t on me because I followed my dream, made my dreams come true,” said Ruiz Jr.
Repeat or revenge in Diriyah? Look to heavyweight boxing history
If you look to historical rematches in the heavyweight division, the record is on the side of Ruiz Jr. repeating his victory over Joshua. When fighters meet in a rematch without a tune-up, most of the original victors win. Rocky Marciano over Jersey Joe Walcott; Floyd Patterson over Ingemar Johansson; Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston; Michael Spinks over Larry Holmes; Evander Holyfield over Riddick Bowe. Original winner Michael Dokes scored a draw in his second fight with Mike Weaver to deny his ultimate revenge.
But Lennox Lewis turned the tables on Hasim Rahman, and Ali got his revenge over Leon Spinks. The tempting comparison to Ruiz Jr. is the improbable Buster Douglas. While he never got the chance to fight Mike Tyson again, Evander Holyfield put Douglas in his place. Holyfield and Tyson don’t provide the model; in their rematch, Holyfield was getting the better of Tyson again when Iron Mike lost his senses and bit Holyfield twice, nearly taking off his ear.
Once you’ve beaten your foe, you drink from the cup of confidence. Ruiz Jr. chugged it down and he’s got that edge going into Saturday.
All fights are won or lost in the mind first, not the ring
Joshua didn’t go down swinging. Joshua said, “no mas” to Ruiz Jr. Fights are always won or lost in the mind. Joshua can make all the excuses he chooses about Ruiz Jr. being a last-minute replacement, or not coming in prepared against the chubby underdog.
Both Joshua and Ruiz Jr. must avoid feeling too comfortable – the most destructive force in boxing. Both need to struggle against leaving behind their roots as poor immigrant kids.
If Ruiz Jr. stays connected to his roots and retains the same determination to keep the titles, Joshua will fold. If Joshua feels his back against the wall and fears his legacy going up in flames, he’ll be fired up to do what it takes.
Joshua’s best approach is to use his height and reach to turn Saturday’s fight into a dull technical dance, rolling up boring rounds on the scorecard. But he has to stay busy, and Joshua has been criticized for lacking stamina. With ten pounds shaved off, it could help.
Ruiz Jr. has the gift of thinking quickly in the ring, and reacting, aided by his hand speed and combination punching. He has proven himself willing to crowd his opponents, and he proved he has a good chin after getting up from the third round knockdown by Joshua in the first fight. Joshua’s slow reaction time makes him a poor counterpuncher.
Carrying more weight into the ring won’t slow down Ruiz Jr.’s hands, but it could slow down Ruiz Jr.’s feet. He is a classic Mexican pressure fighter. Is this a tactic to present a block of granite to Joshua and smother him while bracing himself to take punches? Or did he enjoy the good life a little too much between fights?
“People haven’t seen me cut off the ring,” Ruiz Jr warned. “I actually break them down even faster when they try to box me around. We all have a plan until we get hit, like Mike Tyson would say. I’m pretty sure he will want to box me around.
Ruiz Jr. still retains an edge over a rattled Joshua
Ruiz Jr.’s fluid style makes him a danger to Joshua, no matter how many rounds he rolls up. He isn’t likely to deliver a one-punch KO in the style of Deontay Wilder, but a single misstep by Joshua will result in a loss just the same.
Joshua’s dealbreaker is whether he recovered mentally and emotionally from being defeated in what was supposed to be a sure thing. If he loses, he becomes an example of a guy who got too comfortable and lost his will to put in the work to stay at the top. It’s hard to imagine him ever coming back from another loss.
If Ruiz Jr. loses, he joins the ranks of the underdogs who had their day but didn’t have the drive to make it stick. If he wins, he turns the entire heavyweight division upside down. All the heavyweight titles end up under the banner of a single promoter, Premier Boxing Champions, with only Top Rank’s Tyson Fury remaining as a key challenger for now as he looks forward to a February 2020 fight with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.‘’
Our prediction: Ruiz Jr. repeats in six rounds
Anthony Joshua suffered a serious blow to his ego and his reputation in June. The pressure is all on him to find a new path to victory. But without so much as a tune-up fight to test his mettle, he’s made his job harder. It’s difficult for any fighter to reinvent himself in such a short time. When the going gets tough, you revert to your instincts. Joshua’s instincts didn’t serve him well the first time.
Joshua thinks too much in the ring, and it slows his reaction time. Ruiz Jr. has a magic combination of muscle memory (call it instinct) plus fast hands and the ability of so many Mexican style boxers who are outstanding counterpunchers. (See: HOF Class of 2019 Juan Manuel Marquez).
Don’t mistake Ruiz Jr.’s victory over Joshua for an anomaly. Joshua has enough power to threaten Ruiz Jr., but he isn’t as mentally strong. Ruiz Jr. has the single-minded focus of a linear thinker, and in this case, it’s a strength. He can block out all the distractions and rely on a champion’s confidence.
Ruiz Jr. needs to come right out of the gate at Joshua, effectively starting at Round 8. He also can’t let Joshua off the hook if he hurts him. Ruiz Jr. needs to avoid a game-changing mistake early – which he says he’s steeled for.
Even at his weight, we favor the faster, more adaptable combination punching of Ruiz Jr. But he has to go in quickly, or Joshua will roll up rounds on the scorecards and steal the win. We call for Ruiz Jr. to repeat his win with a sixth-round attrition type TKO win.
Millions of dollars in future income and entire careers are at stake. Sadly, it’s not the fight the world hoped for, obscured by the sandstorm of controversy due to the choice of Saudi Arabia as a venue, many inconvenient time zones away from American and British fans. It will compete with NCAA football games and Premier League Soccer. Few American or British fans will be in the seats.
Could this be Eddie Hearn’s objective? Is he protecting Joshua from being trashed over a second ego-bruising loss? If Joshua loses, at least it won’t be right in front of thousands of angry British boxing fans. He can safely fade into the protection of the desert, as so many people have through history.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on social media at @PRProSanDiego.
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