By Jonah Dylan
Andy Ruiz absolutely shocked the world on Saturday night. Sure, people had laid out “paths to victory” for Ruiz, but they’d done the exact same thing for Dominic Breazeale before Deontay Wilder brutally knocked him out in the first round two weeks ago. The moment can’t be understated – it was one of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history, and it won’t soon be forgotten.
Aside from the mammoth that was Joshua-Ruiz, we had a number of title fights on the undercard from Madison Square Garden. Here are my five takeaways from the weekend.
1. Like it or not, Joshua’s loss probably hurts boxing as a whole
There’s no question a matchup between Anthony Joshua and Wilder was the biggest fight in boxing coming into Saturday night. Even accepting that it wasn’t likely to happen until late 2020 at the earliest, Joshua-Wilder was the extremely rare event that would’ve crossed over from boxing fans to mainstream sports fans. Two undefeated champions in their prime, both with clear vulnerabilities, for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. The fight sold itself (that is, if Eddie Hearn and Al Haymon were actually willing to sell it).
Joshua-Wilder could still happen, and it’s still a fight a lot of people would like to see. Wilder would now be expected to win, because he’s a bigger puncher than Ruiz (and everyone) and Joshua’s chin was exposed once again. Now, though, Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) versus Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) is the fight people want to see, and if all goes according to plan we’ll get it in early 2020. It’s a great rematch, but it won’t have anything close to the demand of Joshua-Wilder before Saturday.
Even if the fight does get made eventually, it won’t attract as many casual sports fans as it would’ve if both guys were undefeated. To be honest, I’d rather see Terence Crawford-Errol Spence, another fight that seems unlikely to happen. The difference there is that neither guy seems particularly vulnerable, and it’s hard to see anyone beating Crawford or Spence except for the other guy. That fight can marinate and marinate.
Even if Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) beats Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) in their immediate rematch, he’ll have a harder time selling the fight, and Wilder now has more leverage in their negotiations. Less people will watch Wilder-Joshua than they would’ve before Saturday, and that’s bad for the sport as a whole.
And one more thing: we have no idea what sanctioning bodies will do, but remember what happened after Fury beat Wladimir Klitschko to win these three belts in November 2015? When Klitschko exercised his right to an immediate rematch, the IBF still ordered Fury to make a mandatory defense, and he had no choice but to vacate the belt. I would not be surprised if the IBF orders Ruiz to fight Kubrat Pulev (27-1, 14 KOs), knowing full well he has to fight Joshua next. This might crush the chance of seeing an undisputed heavyweight champion for a long, long time.
2. Andy Ruiz deserves way more credit than he’s getting
For all the talk about Joshua’s shortcomings, can we recognize the unified heavyweight champion of the world for a second? Ruiz is fun because he doesn’t look like an athlete, and a lot of people will never get over that. But he came in with an excellent gameplan and executed it to perfection. He used his impressive work rate to frustrate Joshua and moved enough to avoid getting tagged with Joshua’s looping punches.
He also exposed Joshua more than anyone else had. He wasn’t worried about Joshua’s jab, which could have been a major weapon against a much shorter opponent. He knew Joshua would go for the kill after the knockdown, and he didn’t let up when he had Joshua hurt (the mistake that cost Klitschko so dearly). I’d like to how he’d approach fights against Fury or Wilder, or even Dillian Whyte.
And let’s just restate it, because it is really pretty unbelievable. In a hostile environment where almost everyone was on Joshua’s side, Ruiz got up off the canvas in the third round and immediately staggered the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world. Then, he stayed calm and waited for his moment to get the finish and earned three world title belts, leaving jaws dropped across the world.
3. Callum Smith is the man at super middleweight, and it’s hard to even make an argument against him
I’m not saying Hassan N’dam is a top-level opponent, but the way in which Smith (26-0, 19 KOs) demolished him over three rounds in the Joshua-Ruiz co-feature was something to behold. Smith is absolutely massive at 168 and looks much, much bigger than everyone he gets in the ring with. He hadn’t fought since he sent George Groves into retirement in September, so let’s hope for more activity over the next year.
What Smith desperately wants and arguably needs is a fight against Canelo Alvarez, but it makes more sense for everybody if Alvarez first fights a trilogy with Gennady Golovkin. Promotional issues aside, I don’t think there’s anyone at 168 Smith wouldn’t knock out. The other champions are Billy Joe Saunders (28-0, 13 KOs), Andre Dirrell (26-3, 16 KOs) and Caleb Plant (18-0, 10 KOs). Smith-Saunders would be an interesting fight stylistically, but I think Smith would eventually catch Saunders with a big shot and put him away. It’s also very unlikely because Saunders is with Frank Warren and Smith is with Hearn.
There’s been some chatter that Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs) wants to move down to 168, and he’d be a solid fight for Smith. David Benavidez (21-0, 18 KOs) will first want a crack at Dirrell and the WBC belt, but he could at least put up some resistance against Smith. Still, there’s nothing besides the Canelo fight that excites me for Smith.
So he’ll continue to be in a kind of dead zone unless he moves up to 175, but let’s hope Smith finds himself in an interesting fight sooner rather than later.