FOLLOWING Anthony Joshua’s dominant rematch victory over Andy Ruiz Jr the inevitable question emerged above all others. Who is next?
Joshua can now rightly claim the shocking defeat to Ruiz in June provided crucial education and not, as had been suggested, a sign that the end was nigh. This week in Saudi, “AJ” regularly spoke of his renewed love for the sport before providing ample evidence that the best is yet to come from the 2012 Olympic champion.
“I can knock people out when I want to and I can box when I want to,” Joshua said after scoring a clear and deserved unanimous points victory over Ruiz. “I know I can do more at times but sometimes simplicity is genius. I took it back to the 1970s and the sweet science of hitting and not getting hit.”
Joshua was trim, fluid and elusive. Gone, at least for this outing, was the seek and destroy mentality that seduced fans from all over the world. Though Joshua is a natural predator inside the ring – an instinct he fought hard to temper at times against Ruiz – his newfound maturity, greatly assisted by his trainer Robert McCracken, won the day. Such versatility could prove crucial when he seeks out his biggest rivals because that ability to adapt at the highest level is a rare talent reserved only for the very best.
The nuances of Joshua’s transformation seem to have been lost on plenty of fans who expect him to enter every bout with all guns blazing. Such is life for the boxing champion – winning is never enough to please everyone.
Yet Joshua has surely reached a point in his career where winning is the priority above all else. The bump against Ruiz has been ironed out and now, at 30 years old, the issue of his legacy is his forefront priority. With that in mind, who is next for Anthony Joshua?
More than anything, what the fans want remains the same as what they’ve wanted for years: A showdown with WBC champion Deontay Wilder. Yet the obstacles that have stood in the way of that bout occurring remain sturdier than ever. The different pockets within boxing, the broadcasters, the promoters and the sanctioning bodies, do not make the process of unification an easy one – so much so, in fact, one wonders how the WBO, WBA, IBF and WBC have remained such important organisations when their desire to operate as standalone regulatory bodies has damaged the sport immeasurably.
Indeed, that process of unification seems significantly further away than it was before Joshua lost to Ruiz. For fans who wanted an undisputed champion above all else, their hopes rested on the Mexican repeating his victory over Joshua and entering negotiations with promotional stablemate, Wilder.
Joshua wasn’t keen to even entertain a conversation about his long-time nemesis after his win over Ruiz such is his obvious frustration with the eternal speculation and futility surrounding the fight. Wilder – now that Ruiz brings nothing to the table – looks almost certain to rematch Tyson Fury in early 2020. It’s a rivalry that could keep both fighters, without question the most appealing and lucrative opponents for Joshua, busy for the next 12 months.
The showdown that would be the biggest in British boxing history was not even discussed at the post-fight press conference last night, largely due to reasons mentioned above. They’re the same reasons why boxing continues to take out a revolver and fire bullets into its own feet. Progress may have been made in recent years, but the failure to make the most obvious and appealing matchups – due to promoter wars, broadcasting rivalries and inflated egos – will forever prevent boxing from being the sport it should be.
Bottom line for now: Fury is focused on a rematch with Wilder. He is not in a mandatory position with any of the belts Joshua holds. Joshua-Fury, we fear, will not happen in the foreseeable future.
Usyk is the WBO mandatory and, being as though he’s promoted by Eddie Hearn, it would be an easy fight to make for Joshua. The WBO have given Joshua 180 days to negotiate a defence against Usyk should the Ukrainian demand his shot.
“No problem,” Joshua said last night when it was put to him that Usyk is waiting in line. “Let’s rock and roll.”
There should be no doubt that Joshua would relish the chance to fight Usyk, a renowned fighting master. There is also some logic to “AJ” fighting him now, too: Usyk remains new to the division so Team Joshua may want to tackle the former cruiserweight king before he’s found his feet.
For that reason, however, Usyk may prefer to wait. Expect him to take on Dereck Chisora or Joseph Parker instead while Joshua busies himself elsewhere.
ANDY RUIZ JNR
RUIZ seemed convinced that a third fight with Joshua would be next. He promised with all his might to get in shape and be good next time.
The bout would do solid business on the trilogy angle alone and for Joshua, a proud man who does not welcome any questions about his superiority, winning a rivalry that currently stands at 1-1 will hold significant appeal. Throw in the criticism that Ruiz was woefully out of shape so was therefore a diminished force, “AJ” insisting throughout fight week that a third encounter was in the offing, and Joshua-Ruiz III would seem a logical next step.
However, though a rubber match shouldn’t be ruled out further down the line, it seems unlikely to be next. His team will want no part of the pesky little Mexican for the time being, he brings only risk to Joshua’s legacy and a third bout would see the champion forfeit at least one of his world belts. Not only that, Ruiz did little merit another shot last night.
Expect Ruiz, should he decide to take the sport seriously, to instead reappear in an eliminator of sorts as he seeks to salvage what only days ago was a strong reputation. One hopes he has some success, because a fit and ready Ruiz is a welcome addition to the heavyweight division.
The wildest of wildcards, Majidov is 33 years old and has only two professional fights to his name. Yet his 2011 amateur victory over Joshua means he remains relevant in the British superstar’s mind.
“Would I fight Majidov?” Joshua said five days before fighting Ruiz again. “Yeah! I’ll fight him next!” Anthony’s comments were only slightly tongue in cheek. For the same reason that he demanded an immediate return with Ruiz, Joshua would welcome settling the score with a fighter who has beaten him in the past.
However, even in boxing where spin doctors can sell even the most insane matchups, this bout would be met with intense criticism – and rightly so. Majidov has done nothing yet to suggest he would stand even the slightest chance with Joshua. For “AJ”, bar soothing his ego, there is nothing whatsoever to gain for this contest. However, with Majidov likely to be moved quickly, he seems a realistic future foe for Joshua.
Whyte – after working himself into position for a shot – infamously turned down a challenge to Joshua that eventually fell to Ruiz in June. It’s been a nightmarish six months since for Whyte.
He defeated Mariusz Wach over 10 lacklustre rounds on the Saudi undercard and though he didn’t look anything like his best, he can now move into 2020 with his hopes high. Due to their amateur background (Whyte beat a novice Joshua) and their wild 2015 battle, Joshua-Whyte II remains a lucrative contest for as long as Dillian remains relevant.
However, he will admit himself he needs time to regain his top form and the demand for a bout is significantly less than it was earlier this year. That could all change quickly, but Whyte looks exceptionally unlikely to be Joshua’s next opponent.
The Bulgarian is unlikely to be anyone’s top choice for Joshua bar the IBF, with whom Pulev has been mandatory for a long time. If “AJ” doesn’t fight the veteran next, he will lose his IBF belt.
The pair were supposed to clash in 2017 but injury allowed Carlos Takam to take Pulev’s place.
Joshua-Pulev – even taking into account AJ’s huge appeal – is unlikely to fill out Wembley or Cardiff yet Pulev appears to be the likeliest next opponent. A smaller arena, perhaps the O2 or the Manchester Arena, might play host as Joshua ticks off one of his mandatory commitments during a homecoming scrap in April or May.