ANTHONY JOSHUA regained his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles when he revenged Andy Ruiz Jr over 12 rounds at a lively, albeit rain-drenched, Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia.
Both fighters were cut in the early going but only one man looked like the winner as Joshua – exorcising his demons from six months ago – controlled the pace, the distance and the fight.
Joshua danced at times, he jabbed well and on more than one occasion his punching power threatened to take Ruiz out. Majestic when boxing to a plan, but there was evidence of his wild side too, as he lost his shape when trying too hard to close the show.
Credit to his coach, Robert McCracken, for keeping him in check and crafting the plan required to nullify Ruiz. Both he and Joshua should get only credit for the manner of victory.
“I wanted to show the world the two sides to this beautiful sport – there’s hitting and there’s not getting hit,” a euphoric Joshua said after being named the unanimous decision winner via scores of 119-109 and 118-110 (twice).
“Life is a rollercoaster,” Joshua said in reference to being stopped in seven rounds by Ruiz in a June jaw-dropper in New York. “What did you expect me to do, retire?”
Ruiz, it must be said, was disappointing. Though there were flashes of hope for him and his team – namely from that potent left hook of his – he was widely outpointed and his heaving stomach had no business in a ring where world heavyweight titles were being contested.
“Give me a third fight and I’ll get in the shape of my life,” Ruiz said afterwards as regret threatened to overpower him.
Following the national anthems, Joshua violently shadowboxed, firing a left hook into the air that underlined his frame of mind. He was pumped up and eager to put some wrongs right. Ruiz, typically, was relaxed.
Ruiz nodded as the crowd booed him loudly during his introduction. Joshua eyeballed his opponent at the final instructions. Ruiz nodded again, happy to be there.
Then followed the tense but largely uneventful opening minute – where the main talking point was the state of Ruiz’s wobbly white gut. Yet the drama unfurled. Joshua’s right hand cannoned into Ruiz, rocking his head back and slicing his left eyebrow open.
In the second, Joshua increased his pressure. A big right hurt Ruiz but the champion responded with two left jabs that pushed Joshua back. Now Joshua was cut over the left eye.
The challenger took the third session. Boxing smartly – but using plenty of energy – he deployed his jab to good effect and threw a four-punch combination that concluded with a left to the stomach.
Ruiz had a good fourth, particularly in the final 30 seconds. Ruiz burst inside, in much the same way as he did in the first fight, and stunned Joshua with a right and left. The American seemed to be warming into the bout.
In the fifth, Ruiz ate jab after jab but he was still trying to close the gap. Still Joshua treated him with respect, staying on his toes, refusing to be drawn into dangerous ground.
The favourite, who was outweighed by 46lbs, bossed the sixth, too. Though Ruiz threatened with that left hook of his, Joshua scored with one of his own that rocked Ruiz. It was a beautiful lead shot.
Joshua threatened to lose control in the seventh. A right designed to flatten his opponent missed. Thankfully for “AJ” so too did Ruiz’s left hook that followed. By the end of the round, Joshua held on. But he was boxing well.
Ruiz scored with two shots to the body in the eighth, doing as he promised he would before the fight. Luis Pabon needlessly warned the fighters for holding.
Joshua then walked into problems. A right slammed into the side of his head but the trailing whizzed past his jaw. Joshua momentarily attempted to exchange before stifling his desire for a war. He smiled, but no one was convinced he had anything to be happy about. Ruiz was coming on.
Into the ninth round and Joshua regained his composure. A sweet right followed by a left uppercut sent Ruiz’s head flying back and, typically, awoke the devil within. He came swinging back violently, reminded Joshua how dangerous he was. Even so, Joshua was seven rounds to two up.
The 10th was close. Little happened but Joshua, boxing so intelligently, kept things long and exposed claims that Ruiz was the superior boxer. More of the same came in the 11th and it was hard not to be impressed by Joshua’s speed of foot. Also fair that Ruiz was running out of ideas.
Joshua controlled every moment of the final three minutes. A right through the middle was his best shot, again he seemed to fight against urges to go for the knockout. If he had have done, that would have been Ruiz’s only chance. With 10 seconds remaining, after having all the effectiveness drained from him, he asked Joshua to stand still and fight. It was a sorry plea.
It was a mature and exceptionally intelligent performance from Joshua, one that many doubted he could produce. Ruiz should feel disappointed – he was in grotesque shape – but take nothing away from “AJ” tonight. He proved so many people wrong with the manner of his victory.
MICHAEL HUNTER [above, right] started liked greased lightning against veteran contender, Alexander Povetkin and rarely took his foot off the gas but was held to a contentious draw. The scores were 115-113 for each and one of 114-114.
“I’ve got to go back to the drawing board and keep working,” said Hunter. Truth is, it’s perhaps Povetkin who should consider his future.
A right hand rocketed over Povetkin’s lazy lead in the opening seconds and the Russian, stunned more than hurt, stumbled back. The same shot – that rasping right hand – had the same effect later in the first round.
Yet again the shot landed in the second as Hunter, markedly quicker, looked on the brink of a sensational early win. But Povetkin, nothing if not made of stern stuff, fought back and hurt the American with a meaty right of his own.
The crowd seemed to be amusing themselves as chants of ‘Let’s Go Saudi’ could be heard from one side of the arena – which was filling up as the rain that threatened earlier the event subsided.
Inside the ring, Povetkin was working his way back. A savage left to the body briefly slowed Hunter in the third before a right hand reminded the younger man to respect his elders. The Russian had further success in the next, his educated weaponry firing through the American’s guard.
The pressure increased. Hunter fell against the ropes in the fifth, seemingly from a punch, but the referee Steve Gray didn’t call a standing count. At the end of the session both exchanged but it was Povetkin whose shots seemed to carry the greater power though Hunter remained the busier.
The pace slowed but only slightly. In the sixth they landed simultaneously as Hunter doggedly refused to hand control over to his opponent.
A short right uppercut from Hunter in the ninth rocked Povetkin but as their arms burned and grew ever more tired, the two heavyweights inevitably fell into a clinch. At the end of the round, both mistakenly went to the wrong corners.
In the 10th they exchanged again – this time taking it turns to swing blows into the ribs of each other. But it seemed that Povetkin was tiring.
Hunter scored with that right hand in the 11th and Povetkin’s eyes rolled. Hunter smothered his own work at the wrong moment and Alexander just about survived. Povetkin rallied in the 12th but Hunter seemed to finish the bout just like he started it – in control.
DILLIAN WHYTE was understandably sluggish as he outscored perennial fringe contender, Mariusz Wach over 10 rounds. The Englishman was forced to endure some hairy moments towards the end as his energy levels drained and Wach grew confident.
Out of the ring since July, and yesterday given the all clear from UKAD following a long and winding case following victory over Oscar Rivas, Whyte was breathing heavily by the end of the first round.
Yet he was bossing the exchanges on the inside and landing the eye-catching shots from range.
Wach tried to take advantage but Whyte’s looping shots powered into Wach. Yet as the bout progressed, Wach improved. His jab, though pawing, was getting through as Whyte’s counters grew ragged.
By the end of the seventh, the skin surrounding Whyte’s right eye was starting to swell as the strain of only having three weeks’ notice for the bout started to tell.
Wach had a strong ninth before they both exchanged in the 10th. Whyte, showing his incredible tenacity and guts, wobbled the Pole in the final minute with a series of right hands.
The scores were 98-93, 97-93 (twice) for Whyte.
AS the rain pummelled the stadium and everyone in it, Eric Molina could not find any shelter in the ring – despite it being the only dry spot in the whole place. Filip Hrgovic rained punches on the former world title challenger, several of which were blatantly illegal as he regularly took aim at the back of Molina’s skull.
The American, after being outboxed and out-rabbit-punched by the promising Croat (and don’t blame him for bending the rules, referee Ian John Lewis should have a word with him when he first started launching them in the first round), was clumped to the canvas with another blast behind the head in the third.
Molina, who was dumped on the floor in the opener, complained but the referee stopped the bout at 2-03. Hrgovic – who dried his feet on a towel before entering the ring after walking in a puddle on his way to it – did have to take a hefty right hand from “The Drummer Boy” before the end. But Molina’s attempts to replicate his success grew increasingly wild as he bowled his power arm over like a cheap Wasim Akram tribute act.
Before the bout Molina spoke of testing the waters at a good level to see how much he had left. But against fighters like Hrgovic, the answer is not a lot.
Tom “Not So” Little promised to shock Mahammadrasul Majidov – who famously beat Joshua as an amateur – but he was outgunned before being dropped and stopped at 1-57 of the second round.
He was in a corner when the Russian, who fights out of Azerbaijan, scored with a cracking right hand that stole the Hatfield fighter’s equilibrium. Little was clearly dazed yet referee Steve Gray, after taking a close look, allowed him to continue. The Brit fired back in desperation but the blows were too clumsy and telegraphed to do anything other than invite Majidov to do his worst. Majidov wasted nothing, lefts and rights scored before Gray stepped in at 1-57 of the session.
Zuhayr Al Qahtani, fighting out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and based in Mitcham, was cheered by the smattering of local fans in the stadium when he was introduced at approximately 7pm. And again towards the end of the first round when a right, fired in close, rocked Kuwait’s Omar Dusary. Al Qahtani continued to stalk the Blackburn-based fighter and looked several levels above, as Dusary’s wide open guard was exposed time and again.
With no stoppages on his record prior to this eight-rounder for the WBC’s (unsurprisingly) vacant Middle East lightweight strap, it seemed only a matter of time before Dusary became his first stoppage victim. But despite having his head rocked back from right hands on countless occasions, Dusary dug in to last the course. Three scores of 80-72 were in Al Qahtani’s favour. Massimo Barrovecchio was the referee.
Yet there were real concerns, just 90 minutes before, as the rain lashed down, the wind increased, and lightning was spotted in the distance that the event was in danger. Contingency plans, that included losing two fights from the undercard, losing the entire undercard and even the entire event, were discussed. After all, the stadium, which was non-existent as recently as October, was designed for the desert and not conditions more akin to Cardiff, which was in the running to host, where they have a stadium with a roof.
The problem was not the rain, Boxing News understands, it was the gusty wind. As it lashed through the stadium organisers were told that if it rose above 72 knots, the huge screens that were above the ring were in danger of crashing down. Flag poles in the corners of the stadium were removed as a precaution. Yet the gods were smiling down and, as the forecast promised, the wind eased before 7pm and the fight card could begin in its entirety.
Opening proceedings was Dubai’s Majid Al Naqbi, a 23-year-old lightweight prospect, who dominated Georgia’s plucky but outclassed Ilia Beruashvili. Al Naqbi began somewhat tentatively before stinging his rival with a counter right at the end of the opening round. The pressure increased steadily in the second before Beruashvili was visibly hurt in the third. Against the ropes and obviously out of his depth, referee Ian John Lewis made the right call to step in at 2-57 of the session.