IT isn’t quite like The Beatles in 1964 but the buzz that surrounds Anthony Joshua is getting louder and louder as he prepares to make his USA debut against Andy Ruiz Jnr. But this is very much a one-man show.
Long before he arrived in New York from his high-tech pop up gym in Miami, Joshua’s image was all over the city. Madison Square Garden, where Saturday night’s fight takes place, is decorated with soaring posters of the Briton in fight mode while billboards of the other “AJ” – the square-jawed heartthrob who could make almost anything look like an essential bit of kit – can be seen adorning all manner of shops that lead from the famous fight venue into Times Square.
Joshua greeted the British media on Monday night on the 15th floor of a hotel on Park Avenue, looking every inch the global superstar he has become since he turned professional in 2013. Back then Joshua was young, naïve and eager to please. Today, he is the owner of three out of the four major belts in the sport’s banner division and exudes all the qualities you’d expect from a world heavyweight champion. There’s the muscles, the charm and the desire to fight, yet there’s newfound wisdom that only comes from sitting at the top of one’s trade.
This is a different Joshua to the one who fielded questions ahead of his 2017 showdown with Wladimir Klitschko. Gone is the wide-eyed excitement about the journey he’s on, replaced instead by a new understanding of exactly what’s required to complete it. He spoke of employing a sports psychologist after an admission that the training camps were getting harder and harder. Money and fame will do that, but Joshua, rather than cutting corners, insists he is going out of his way to ensure his career, particularly now it has landed in America, is a long one. Even so, there did appear to be a semblance of frustration about who he’s facing.
If Joshua was a highly impressive figure, the same could not be said about his challenger. While the champion showed off his physique in a grey t-shirt, Ruiz, markedly shorter and chubbier than Joshua, kept his covered beneath an oversized blazer that was at odds with the oppressive city heat. A huge underdog, Ruiz – like a kid on a day out – entered the media room with his mother and father and several members of his team.
He said all the right things, of course. That he’s going to shock the world and win the titles for his family and his country, he more than once uttered that familiar willingness to die in the ring such was his desire to give this chance of a lifetime literally everything he has. There was talk of exposing Joshua’s perceived weaknesses, throwing the hook in close, particularly to the body, and never once standing off to allow the champion to get full leverage and power. But Ruiz, to the uneducated eye, does not appear to have a chance. While he should not be written off – rotund heavyweights of the past like Tony Galento, Buster Mathis, Greg Page and Tony Tubbs all belied their bellies and Ruiz is talented – there can be no denying that Joshua is here to put on a show and strengthen the AJ brand even further. And though Joshua won’t admit it, or perhaps even feel it, there is extra pressure to match the performance of the man he would have been fighting this weekend if ideal worlds existed in boxing.
Deontay Wilder knocked out Dominic Breazeale in emphatic fashion two weeks ago, finding the finishing blow inside the opening three minutes against another overmatched challenger. Yet the WBC champion’s behaviour in the build up was atrocious, insisting he wanted to kill his opponent.
Already, Joshua has proven himself to be the better man outside the ring by the respectful way he spoke of Ruiz. Joshua must now summon the kind of focus Wilder exhibited inside the ring against Breazeale and turn in a performance that makes demand for that showdown irresistible. The heavyweight division is depending on it.