By: Oliver McManus
There’s an American legend that tells of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Library in San Diego; an apparently perfect piece of manmade design. Except when it was being designed the architect forgot to allow for the weight of the books, leaving the third floor completely empty as cracks began to appear, literally, in the foundations – at least that’s the fantasised version: in reality it’s just an open forum. The expertly chiselled physique of Anthony Joshua, the last known gift from the Greek gods as they seek to atone for that pesky wooden horse, begins to echo the fable of the library as his status slowly sinks – meticulous design let down by a blip of the mind.
Reflecting on the seismic surprise from the weekend is an arduous task as you seek to strike the right balance between telling the ‘headline’ – Anthony Joshua losing his world titles in unprecedented circumstances – and telling the ‘story’ – Andy Ruiz’ rise from an impoverished background to unified champion of the world. Everyone was a critic when the fight was announced, myself included, for varying reasons. For me it was the ongoing saga that started with “AJ commit(ing) his future to Wembley” and ended up with a, seemingly, uninspiring opponent on just a few weeks notice all the while sitting behind pay-per-view. For others it was the aesthetics of Andy Ruiz that provided a few easy potshots.
Ruiz who should, by rights and record, be viewed as an established heavyweight in a dwindling throng of contenders was denigrated by an age where Twitter opinions read like a gravestone. It was easy to get taken in by the swamp of people who were writing Ruiz off – after all why should he have stood a chance against the immortalised powers of Anthony Joshua? It seemed an absolute eternity since Ruiz went hammer and tong at Joseph Parker and, since then, he had bubbled under the radar thanks to a dispute with Top Rank.
Yet Andy Ruiz had the perfect style to inflict Joshua’s first defeat; Eddie Hearn’s cash cow has always looked most vulnerable when he’s been met with fire, ironic given those flaming ‘AJ’s’ that get rolled out at every opportunity. Alexander Povetkin and, to an extent, Dillian Whyte laid down the blueprint for beating Joshua; hit him first and don’t back off. There was a feeling that Joshua was fighting with Deontay Wilder’s knockout of Dominic Breazeale lingering somewhere in the alleys of his mind – looking to outgun his fiercest rival. It was working, too, until he got that knockdown in the third round – a knockdown that many anticipated would result in the crumbling of Ruiz after a gutsy three rounds; that is, after all, how the script usually goes.
Quite the opposite, however, as Joshua began to look complacent and comfortable within himself whilst Ruiz rallied and set about swarming the champion with shot after shot with energy and aggression reminiscent of a puppy dog chasing after a laser beam. From the moment of that knockdown, Ruiz was first to the punch each and every time and he refused to let Joshua have the time to think about plotting any explosive finish. As Ruiz began to land with increasing accuracy and frequency, the urgency of Joshua flatlined. He was apathetic each time he was forced to take a knee – on all four occasions – fighting with indifference despite the fact his empirical reign was visibly shattering before him.
The fight was beaten out of him and his mind seemed to escape him at some point between the third and fourth round: from there it was only a matter of time before the body followed and, so it proved, that after four rounds of being broken down – piece by piece – the referee had seen enough with just over half the seventh round to go. That’s perhaps the most alarming thing of the defeat, this wasn’t a lucky shot or an explosive one-punch knockout but a comprehensive, sustained breakdown of Joshua’s fighting spirit. This was not brutal, bloodied or concussive but the dejected defeat of a man.
In many ways this could be worse, in the long run, than getting sparked suddenly.
All that being said, this does not make Anthony Joshua a bad fighter overnight. Nor does it mean he was ‘exposed’, let’s be clear on that. We’ve got to be cautious not to forget the merits on which Joshua became champion whilst also not shy away from the fact he was beaten hands down. Given his record of unifying titles, successfully defending belts on six occasions and becoming world champion in his 16th fight, it defies logic to see so many people looking now to derail the achievements of Joshua. He has got things to work on, big gaps in his armory, but he’s also achieved more than any other heavyweight during the last three years.
The bubble has been burst, though, and the blueprint that we knew existed has been successfully put into action. Ruiz is very unlikely to change his approach for any such rematch because he executes that swarming style of pressure so well and the onus is on Joshua to prove he is as good as we all thought and is capable of adapting and learning – even if he is a relatively ‘old dog’ at this stage in the professional game.
Should we be looking for excuses for Anthony Joshua, should be wanting answers as to why he looked so underwhelming or does that only serve to discredit the achievements of Ruiz? Naturally we’re all curious as to what could possibly have happened, if anything at all, but the never-ending spiel from social media ‘insiders’ as to the shading of his skin, depth of breathing, you name it, just reeks of desperation that you’d never see from Joshua. We can say what we want of him but there’s one thing that has always been abundantly clear, amid all the hype and hyperbole, and that’s that Joshua is a gentleman and would never seek to make excuses so we shouldn’t do on his behalf.
Ruiz was simply the better man and a Joshua win in the rematch is certainly far from clear-cut simply because of the adaptations he needs to make; either he needs to be first to the punch or needs to adjust to fighting on the back foot under that pressure from Ruiz. Flick back to the ‘Ali ages’ as opposed to the ‘Mayweather era’ where losses were commonplace and this could be the best thing that happens in Joshua’s career – a kick up the jacksie to remind him that this is heavyweight boxing and you don’t have it all your own way. That or it could begin the collapse of Joshua’s princely spell at the top of the heavyweight division.