DISASTER struck for Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden, as Andy Ruiz Jnr pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing to become the unified WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion.
In what was expected to be a Stateside showcase for the previously undefeated Joshua on his US debut, the unheralded Ruiz completely flipped the script by knocking the defending titlist down four times to secure a quite incredible victory.
An estimated 8,000 expectant British fans had made the trip across the Atlantic to support Joshua in his first professional bout outside of the UK, and you would have been hard-pressed to find a single one who envisaged anything other than a Joshua win. Little did they know, but history was set to be made in New York.
The first round was a quiet one, with Joshua – significantly taller but considerably outweighed by the portly Ruiz – patiently searching for opportunities to land jabs on his cagily advancing foe. However, the Brit’s attempted follow-ups were wide of the target.
Joshua pawed out his jab at the start of the second, as Ruiz continued to trundle forward, bobbing his head from side to side. The only notable shots of the round were both landed by Joshua – a solid right hand, quickly followed by a stiff left.
If the first two sessions were rather tepid, the third was anything but. In possibly the most dramatic round in heavyweight history, both protagonists hit the deck – Ruiz once and Joshua twice. A big left cross wobbled Ruiz, before a forceful right dropped him. Then, unbelievably, what looked like being a predictably early victory for Joshua transformed into a nightmare for the Englishman.
A powerful left hook staggered Joshua badly. A pair of punches unsettled him further, before a brace of rights sent him to the mat. The champion rose to his feet on unsteady legs, but found himself under pressure again almost immediately. Looking exhausted and leaden-footed, Joshua shipped clean left and right hands from Ruiz, forcing him down once more, just before the bell to conclude the round. In the end, it was the bell that saved him.
Ruiz tagged the body at the beginning of the fourth, which turned out to be a far calmer session. This was surprising, as Joshua seemed to still be feeling the effects of his two trips to the canvas in the previous frame. It looked like a missed opportunity for the Californian challenger.
The slower pace continued in the fifth – a round which featured little action until a strong left hook struck the mark from Joshua. Despite landing this strike, he finished the stanza with blood trickling from his nose.
In the sixth, a swiping left connected from Ruiz, though he had to swallow a jab soon after. Ruiz rebounded with a two-fisted burst, leaving Joshua looking weary at the conclusion of the round. Things were soon to get even worse for the favourite.
Round seven saw a clumping right hook cause Joshua to teeter. Rights and lefts soon rained in from Ruiz, leading Joshua to crumple to the floor. Once back on his feet, Joshua scored with a firm jab, but was nonetheless still noticeably unstable. Ruiz swarmed all over his celebrated foe again, catching him high on the head and compelling him to collapse to the ground for what turned out to be the final time.
Drowsily slumped in the corner, leaning on the ring post to keep himself upright, Joshua – nose bloodied – appeared completely spent. This proved to be the case, as after the referee went over to him and had a long look, the official decided to halt proceedings at 1-27, leaving a jubilant Ruiz to toast the most unlikeliest of triumphs.
Afterwards, the new champion declared exultantly: “This is what I’ve been dreaming about and working hard for. I can’t believe my dream has come true. I just made history for Mexico [by becoming the first-ever world heavyweight title-holder of Mexican descent].
“Being knocked down for the first time in my career [in the third round] made me stronger and made me want it more.”
Joshua, meanwhile, was commendably sportsmanlike, despite suffering a devastating defeat. “Let’s have a round of applause for Andy Ruiz,” he said. “I’m sorry I’ve let my fans down, but this is boxing.”
Fortunately for Joshua, it looks like he will get an immediate chance at redemption, as a rematch clause means that the fellow 29-year-olds are set to meet again later this year.
“There’s going to be a big rematch in the UK,” Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, stated post-fight. “Ruiz deserved it tonight. Joshua looked flat at times. This is a massive blow for him, but he’ll be back. Maybe this is what he needs. The rematch is a must-win fight now.”