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Anthony Joshua is on dangerous ground

Andy Ruiz vs Anthony Joshua
The mental dimension to this fight is fascinating Action Images/Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
The lessons of heavyweight history tell Matt Christie that Anthony Joshua has got a mountain to climb in the rematch with Andy Ruiz Jnr

ANTHONY JOSHUA’S decision to go straight into a rematch with Andy Ruiz Jnr is a brave one, particularly considering the nature of his humbling defeat in their first fight in June. After all, it was not a one-punch knockout that can be written off as a fluke, nor was it a close decision that could have gone either way. There was not a shred of controversy or doubt about Ruiz’s superiority at the fight’s end. It was a punishing seven-round beatdown that dug up all of the previously undefeated superstar’s shortcomings and showcased them to the world.

In that regard, and irrespective of the numerous conspiracy theories that ran amok in the aftermath, the odds – at least in the books of heavyweight history – are very much against Joshua gaining revenge in an immediate return.

Take a trip back, through the banner division’s rich timelines, and it’s difficult to find a loss like Joshua’s that was reversed in the next outing. We can’t really count Lennox Lewis taking Hasim Rahman lightly in 2001, getting clocked by one punch and putting things right a few months later, because the mistakes that Lewis made were far easier to rectify than those of Joshua. No, Joshua’s loss was drawn out, it was revealing, it was mentally damaging, in much the same way that Joe Louis’ 1936 defeat to Max Schmeling was. Worth keeping in mind, then, that the “Brown Bomber” scored 11 wins after losing to the great German before engaging in a sequel two years later (which he won in the first round).

More recently, Wladimir Klitschko was badly exposed by Lamon Brewster in 2004. By the conclusion of that fifth-round defeat his career was in tatters. Joshua can take comfort from Klitschko defeating Brewster conclusively in the return. However, Klitschko took his time to find his feet again – to the tune of six wins and three years – before embarking on part II of the rivalry. Important to note that Brewster went into the Klitschko rematch on the back of a loss – not exactly the launch pad that Ruiz happily sits atop as he prepares for Joshua again.

Anthony Joshua
Anthony Joshua is dropped to the deck Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

One example that should inspire the Englishman can be traced back to 1960 and the scene of the first fighter ever regaining the world heavyweight championship. The year before, at New York’s Yankee Stadium, Floyd Patterson struggled to get to grips with Swedish poster boy Ingemar Johansson before being dropped seven times and stopped in the third. As losses go, it was about as damning as they come. In their immediate rematch, at the Polo Grounds, Patterson shook off a hefty blow in round two, quickly gained confidence, and volleyed Johansson to sleep in the fifth.

But Patterson would fall foul when he tried to repeat the trick after losing the title to Sonny Liston in 1962. A devastating one round defeat to Liston was quickly followed by another. In turn, Liston fared badly after losing the title to Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in 1964 when he was stopped inside a round in the follow-up, albeit under mysterious circumstances.

Fourteen years later, Ali would regain the title for a second time in an immediate rematch. But, again, on the surface, there’s not many parallels with Ali’s upset points loss to Leon Spinks in 1978 (which he reversed in the same year) and Joshua’s devastating defeat to Ruiz. At 36, it could be argued Ali had nothing to lose by taking on Spinks again and, even while showing obvious signs of decline, he wasn’t too far behind the younger man in the prequel.

If it wasn’t someone of Joshua’s standing and reputation who Ruiz had defeated in June, it’s likely the Mexican-American would be an overwhelming favourite to win again. Indeed, if you examine the fight and the fight alone, if you watch Ruiz’s hand speed, his fearlessness inside and his superior boxing brain, it’s hard to make the case that Joshua can win.

“I know Joshua personally, he’s very competitive and he’ll want to right them wrongs,” heavyweight contender Joe Joyce told Boxing News. “But maybe Ruiz is his kryptonite because he’s small, he’s fast and he’s technically good. When Joshua was throwing punches, he [Ruiz] can move, slip, take them on the gloves and then come back with his own stuff.”

Amir Khan, adept at bouncing back from defeat, expressed similar concerns to Joyce.

“When I heard he was jumping back into a rematch I thought it was the worst mistake he could make,” Khan said. “First of all Ruiz is going to be full of confidence going into this fight. You’ve got Joshua who is going to be a little bit on the edge and on his back foot, knowing that he can be hurt and put down. So I just think it’s a very bad fight to take back-to-back, I can’t believe that [promoter] Eddie [Hearn] is putting him straightaway in the mix with him. I think what he needs is a nice easy knockout win, maybe two, then get the fight back again.”

Of course, in boxing, especially heavyweight boxing, ‘getting the fight back again’ would not have been easy if Joshua decided to go a different route. The only way he can truly vanquish the demons of Andy Ruiz Jnr is to defeat Andy Ruiz Jnr convincingly in his next fight. Before someone else gets a chance to beat him and before the doubts that currently surround Joshua close in further. A victory against someone like Trevor Bryan or Manuel Charr, for example, will do nothing to remove the uncertainty about Joshua’s future.

The fighter himself, who is now no doubt consumed by Ruiz, will be more aware of that than anyone. And we must offer nothing but considerable credit to him for heading straight back into battle with the man who turned his life upside down. Behind the scenes it’s likely his team have questioned his decision. But in a nod to his exceptional strength of mind, Joshua – who has never once shirked a challenge – is willing to put his entire career on the line. And make no mistake, his career is what this fight comes down to. A loss wouldn’t necessarily mean it’s all over, but it would be make it almost impossible for him to regain the momentum and transcendent standing he not so long ago enjoyed.

So what can change? How does Joshua win?

While there have been suggestions that he was knocked out in sparring they have been rubbished by the man himself and his team. There is no proof whatsoever to suggest his training did not go as planned, so we shouldn’t use that as evidence that he will be better next time. And those ludicrous claims that Joshua was concussed or experiencing a panic attack when he got into the ring are surely exposed by the supreme two-punch combination he used to deck Ruiz in round three. All that said, none of this would appear to work in Joshua’s behaviour because, if nothing went wrong last time, how can it possibly go right this time?

However, there was ample evidence in fight week that Joshua lost all respect for Ruiz the moment he set eyes upon his significantly shorter and chubbier foe. So even if he was physically ready, at some point between the Monday before the fight and the fight itself, his focus started to wane. Repeatedly he was asked about Deontay Wilder. Not once, at least by the media, was he encouraged to accept that Ruiz was any kind of threat. In turn, that newfound intelligence he exhibited in bouts that followed his thriller with Wladimir Klitschko disappeared. He returned to the old seek-and-destroy slugger who very nearly lost to Dillian Whyte in 2015.

There is also the misconception that Ruiz only had five weeks’ notice and will therefore be even stronger this time. But we should also remember that Ruiz barely had a break after toppling Alexander Dimitrenko in April and as such, was flying high on the back of several months’ worth of preparation. It remains to be seen what effect being world heavyweight champion has on Ruiz, a self-confessed lover of junk food. We can expect to see a more measured Joshua, one who will look to use his reach advantage and work economically behind the jab. One who will listen intently to his trainer Robert McCracken’s game plan. By the time he enters the ring this time, with fear and respect that he can use to his advantage, he will likely be very confident that he can win. How “AJ” copes when Ruiz inevitably steps inside and presents the same old problems will be where the fight is won and lost.

3 Comments

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  • Joshua’s two punch combo that dropped Ruiz Jr doesn’t discount injury, illness, nor even an anxiety attack prior to the fight. Matt Christie continual focus on that one combination and his ignoring of AJ’s strange pre-fight behaviour is just as unreasonable as those suspecting a concussion. That one combination proves nor disproves just about nothing.

    Rather than look at unrelated heavyweight fights from the past to tell us something about the Ruiz Jr vs Joshua rematch maybe it would be more logical to look at Joshua’s prior fights and compare them to the Ruiz Jr fight if Matt wants to say anything cogent about the first fight or the rematch. IMO AJ has no choice but to take an immediate rematch if he wants those belts back ENDOF.

    • Totally agree mate, I’m assuming mr Christie has never been concussed. I used to play rugby and got knocked clean out by a knee and for 2 weeks after I was concussed, anytime anything even lightly touched my head it swam like I was half a bottle of tequila down on a Friday night. Any wrong movement resulted in the same. It’s a serious thing!! Joshua and Hearn are never going to admit it because that would mean Eddie sent a concussed fighter into a fight. Sorry mr Christie he was concussed

    • Cheers for reading, Ozzy, and for taking the time to comment on the articles. Your feedback is always welcome and your support massively appreciated.

      On the night, I did not get the impression Joshua was concussed (prior to round three) and, at the time, I didn’t think he looked uncomfortable before the bout. I was aware he was behaving differently, however. I thought he looked relaxed, too relaxed, and I explained that in detail in my original ringside report. Admittedly, upon watching the footage afterwards, it does paint a curious picture.

      It’s my belief that he was not concussed after being close to him, and listening to him, several times in the days leading up to the fight. Nor do I believe he was having a panic attack. Our subsequent efforts to find evidence to the contrary have done nothing to change that opinion. Of course, I could be wrong because I very often am wrong!

      I too believe that he has to take the rematch and I offer him nothing but credit for taking the fight.

      I was merely pointing out it’s going to be a difficult assignment for him and, as for the lessons from history, I have found them to be just as valuable as conspiracy theories when analysing our crazy, unpredictable sport.

      Kind regards,
      Matt

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