WHEN Anthony Joshua regained his belts from Andy Ruiz Jnr on Saturday night, he noticed a couple of things were missing. The eagle on the IBF strap had lost half a wing, and one of the plates on the WBO belt had fallen out. Ruiz, it seemed, hadn’t taken care of the championships the way a champion should.
That’s a true story, by the way, not some manufactured tale to aid this column.
I was shown the broken belts on Sunday night, atop Riyadh’s Al Faisaliyah Centre, while Joshua addressed the media following his victory. But I must admit, it does fit the theme perfectly.
It was a whirlwind reign for Ruiz from the moment it began. Back in June, after coming in as a substitute for drug cheat Jarrell Miller following an impressive win over Alexander Dimitrenko, the fit and ready outsider ripped through Joshua and made an entire boxing world drop their jaws and rub their eyes in unison. But it wasn’t long before all too familiar stories of drawn-out celebrations started to emerge.
He drove brand new cars to lavish parties where he showed off expensive jewellery to a growing circle of friends. Yet the true cost was his dedication to boxing. We rarely saw Ruiz in the gym, but we’d see him parading the titles – somewhat carelessly it has now emerged – while neglecting the graft required to keep them. Even when his rematch with Joshua had been finalised, Ruiz took his time to get back to work.
“Oh man,” Ruiz said after losing the sequel. “There was always tomorrow to go to the gym. But tomorrow never came.”
Ruiz isn’t the first heavyweight to encounter trouble finding his feet after being skyrocketed from oblivion. James “Buster” Douglas – a bigger outsider against Mike Tyson in 1990 than Ruiz was against Joshua in June – also struggled to find the motivation to regain his old focus when the celebrations stopped. He, like Ruiz, put on 15lbs between winning the world championship and his first defence. For champions in any other weight class, such growth (see also, ill-discipline) would of course not be permitted if they wanted to make more money from defending their titles. More recently, Tyson Fury piled on the pounds and took two-and-a-half years to get over the hangover he endured after stunning Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.
Throughout Ruiz’s six months atop the division, Joshua plotted his revenge. As he explains here, he knew how easy it was to get distracted when wearing the crown. There are temptations at every turn. It’s why Joshua, long since financially secure, should receive immense credit for climbing back to the top and studiously putting in the hours required to do the hardest of sports justice. Only a special few do so when rich beyond their wildest dreams.
The Englishman insists he won’t take his eye off the ball again. The rivalry with Ruiz means he now has a backlog of sanctioning body commitments to attend to with IBF number one contender Kubrat Pulev being lined up for Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May and, should all go to plan, Oleksandr Usyk, the WBO mandatory, after that.
But there was little indication that a fight with WBC boss, Deontay Wilder, is any closer than it was before Ruiz gate-crashed the scene in the summer. ‘It will happen in the future,’ Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn indicated.
Both Pulev and Usyk are worthy contenders but the scope for things to go wrong, for belts to be dropped and championship reigns to break, has become all too apparent. One hopes that Joshua and Wilder – or Fury should he beat the American in February – understand that it is their duty to face each other while they’re still at the top of their games. The sanctioning body belts are worthwhile souvenirs, yet true dominance is the only way to secure lasting legacies.
They shouldn’t be happy to wait. Because as Ruiz himself both explained and exhibited, in the heavyweight division, tomorrow doesn’t always come.