WITH the opening bell mere seconds away, Andy Ruiz Jnr took off his white t-shirt and his stomach spilled down his shorts like custard over an apple pie. It was among the most depressing reveals in boxing history. In that moment, as Ruiz’s rampant disregard for both his body and the prestigious business of being world heavyweight king were exposed, the anticipation surrounding his rematch with Anthony Joshua threatened to disappear completely.
That anticipation – the kind breathless expectation you only get at the biggest of fights – had been intense. The scene in Saudi Arabia was set as the fighters made their way to the ring through puddles of rain in a sodden makeshift stadium hounded by the threat of a desert storm, and ringsiders sat in ponchos that had been delivered from Dubai the day before.
It was impossible not to feel that something truly memorable, something historical, would soon follow. Hours before, as the media were transferred from their hotels in coaches to the fringes of the fight site, the clouds in the sandy skyline opened. We went through gates where security officers soberly checked our bags, pockets and clothing before we were led to creaking minibuses that took us through barren land to the evening’s battleground. Night swallowed day as workers applying finishing touches to sand sculptures and signage raced against time. We queued to be checked by security once again before trooping into a huge media tent approximately 50 metres from the centre of the open air 15,000-seater stadium. The sound of the rain pelting the roof echoed around us.