IN the mouth of the U-shaped Al Faisaliah – the big fight hotel here in Saudi Arabia – Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua tested the sturdiness of the makeshift stage that was grateful to be stood upon spongy green grass. Ruiz, the champion, hit the scales at a whopping 283lbs, his heaviest since his second professional fight way back in 2009, while Joshua – officially four inches taller than Ruiz at 6ft 6ins – came in at a trim 237lbs, his lightest since he defeated Denis Bakhtov in 2014.
Much, often too much, can be drawn from weigh-ins. Logic should tell us that Ruiz, if the scales were right and he hadn’t tucked a small child eating a Big Mac under the sombrero he was wearing, has not trained as hard as he should have. But logic and boxing rarely mix – as the outcome of the first fight highlighted. Back then, Ruiz hit the scales at 268lbs and many suggested he hadn’t taken things seriously because he was six pounds heavier than when he defeated Alexander Dimitrenko two months before. Nobody questioned his dedication after he bludgeoned Joshua into defeat.
It should also be noted that, as well as the hat, Ruiz was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a vest and chunky trainers. By way of investigation – and this is how crazy I’m going out here in Saudi Arabia – I stepped on the scales in my hotel room just now without my Dr Marten boots before gaining an extra four pounds when putting them on. To be clear, and in all seriousness, it was not Ruiz’s intention to make his opponent believe that he’s in prime condition. This is the man who has spent much of the last six months playing on his puppy dog exterior and fat kid physique. He lulled Joshua into a false sense of superiority ahead of fight one and there is every possibility that he’s attempting to do the same here. Indeed, there is already evidence from the build-up to this contest that Ruiz – not as dim or as innocent as he wants you to believe – is quickly turning into the master of the boxing mind game.
Ruiz will not care one jot that he is now officially the second heaviest world boxing titlist (behind man mountain, Nikolay Valuev). Nor that his height to weight ratio is borderline ludicrous for a professional athlete. Nor that the rumours continue to swirl that he’s missed more than the odd training session.
Further nuggets to consider before concluding Joshua is on the brink of a historic victory: British Board of Control inspectors told Boxing News that when Ruiz was initially called to the scales he was finishing off a meal; the Mexican’s trainer – Manny Robles – insisted that the heavyweight champion’s real weight (minus hat, burger-eating child, vest, tracksuit bottoms and trainers) is in fact a mere 273lbs, a somewhat more realistic weight for a fighter who has been training to use his weight to his advantage; within one-hour of weighing in, Ruiz was fast asleep, el sparko, without a care in the world.
One last thing on this: Even if the scales did not lie, and Ruiz has indeed added 15lbs (a little over a stone in old money), are we to believe that it will cripple his effectiveness? Though it’s the same amount of weight that Buster Douglas amassed between shocking Mike Tyson to being blown away by Evander Holyfield in 1990, Ruiz – given he’s used to carrying around more weight than most – may not be unduly bothered by the extra mass.
Joshua has made no secret of his plans to increase his mobility for the sequel. His weight – nine-and-a-quarter pounds lighter than six months ago – is unquestionably designed for greater speed. His reaction to Ruiz’s hefty weight was one of obvious amusement yet it could be a grave mistake to believe the fight is already won, particularly considering Ruiz has based his entire preparation around Joshua boxing and moving.
What shouldn’t be up for debate is that Joshua has put in some serious work for this return. Whatever the story of the scales, the Englishman’s body and mind has been impressive to witness here in Riyadh this week.
The difference between his mood here in Saudi Arabia and his mood during fight week in New York is like night and day. His studiousness has reappeared, and his dedication reinvigorated by defeat. And while cynics will now say he’s too light, those same cynics have been saying he’s been too heavy for years. At 237lbs, Joshua has not exactly wasted away.
The issue of analysing weight, particularly heavyweight weight, is perhaps best left until the conclusion of the fight – or, even better, not analysed at all. Because the best-case scenario is that what we saw today, as the sun set on the Middle East and approximately 150 Anthony Joshua fans sang loud and at last created some semblance of a big fight atmosphere, has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome. It would be a great shame if Joshua, should he win, does not get the credit he deserves for overturning such a crushing defeat so quickly.
But there can be no denying that speculation has been the theme of this promotion. The bookies have done a marvellous job of monetising the madness and were even offering odds on what the fighters would weigh (Joshua, by the way, was 4/6 to come in between 230 and 239.9lbs with Ruiz 6/1 to be over 280).
From the controversial location – via a weird fight week and even weirder weigh-in – to the outcome of this beyond intriguing rematch, few bouts in heavyweight history have spawned more questions and conspiracy theories than this one.