IF I’d told my friends at the start of the year that, come Christmas time, a rematch being staged in Saudi Arabia featuring Andy Ruiz Jr would be the most anticipated event on the boxing calendar, they’d have phoned my wife, told her to come quick, and instructed the barman not to serve me another drop.
But here we are about to enter this bizarre reality where underdogs are top dogs and the planet’s most enticing bout is being staged in one of the least enticing fight locations upon it. As the rest of the world readies itself for the season to be jolly, that time of merriment and goodwill, unlikely challenger Anthony Joshua and even unlikelier champion Ruiz Jr will soberly unwrap their reputations and lay them bare in the Middle East. And it’s not only reputations and legacies that are on the line inside a purpose-built arena in Diriyah: Three heavyweight titles are up for grabs and, topping the fighters’ Christmas lists, pole position in the richest division in boxing.
Should the vanquished be Ruiz, as the bookies expect, then it will likely be a case of as you were before this astonishing tale began. A mere blot on the landscape, some valuable lessons banked, and Joshua jumping back into the sticky quagmire of sanctioning body commitments and negotiations with Deontay Wilder and/or Tyson Fury. But if it’s the Brit who loses again – a highly plausible scenario – then the division might take a very different turn indeed. For that reason, the neutral may find a repeat victory the favourable outcome because, thanks to Ruiz’s links with Wilder’s all-conquering advisor Al Haymon, a unification showdown for all the marbles would be markedly easier to make for him than for the Matchroom-promoted Joshua. That’s right, Andy Ruiz Jr, the same Andy Ruiz Jr who not so long ago was being ditched by trainers and promoters for being undisciplined, might only be a few punches away from becoming undisputed.