By: Hans Themistode
Anthony Joshua always kept a straight face. The current unified heavyweight champion heard the praise that was rained upon him from his fans but he heard the critics even louder.
Not long ago, the 30-year-old British product was accused of avoiding a unification showdown with former WBC belt holder Deontay Wilder. No matter who he faced in the ring, the questions would always revert and center around what seemed to be his reluctance to face Wilder.
No matter how long he kept his poker face on and ignored his critics, their disparaging words would eat at him day after day.
“Back then it was easy to live in my head rent free,” said Joshua to Chris Mannix during a recent interview. “They would tell me that I was ducking Deontay and I tried to back it up.”
For Joshua, the naysayers were easier to avoid in his palatial estate across the pound in England. With that being said, they were impossible to steer clear of once he stepped foot on American soil.
In June of 2019, Joshua made the long trek half way across the world to make his US debut. Waiting to dethrone him was what many believed to be a minimal threat in Andy Ruiz Jr. A win over his opponent was all but guaranteed, so much so that the topic of the conversation was once again shifted in the direction of Deontay Wilder. With Joshua finally beginning his British Invasion, the thought was that the two would meet if not in late 2019 then at the very least, early 2020.
Everything was seemingly figured out. Jump into the ring with Ruiz Jr., beat him down and move on to the real fight. That of course, didn’t happen as Joshua suffered a shocking seventh-round loss on the night.
Excuses were never used on Joshua’s behalf. He simply placed a towel over his head, shook Ruiz Jr.’s hand and sauntered out of the ring. The near 25-1 underdog had won fair and square but with all of the talk revolving around a mega showdown between himself and Wilder, it was difficult for the British product to keep his eye on the prize.
“Last year was difficult when I was about to fight Ruiz. Remember I was that guy who was ducking everyone. I didn’t want to fight Deontay Wilder. I was going on different sports shows in America and they would say why are you ducking Deontay Wilder? I’m trying to explain myself but I’m fighting Ruiz in the background but no one cares about Ruiz. When I’m in the corner you can see I’m not even interested in this fight. Why am I even here?”
Even with his attention diverted, Joshua nearly walked out of Madison Square Garden with his undefeated record intact. In the third round, Joshua floored his man. From there, the women in attendance began grabbing their purses and the men reached for their jackets as the contest was presumed over. That of course, was far from the truth as Ruiz Jr. not only rose to his feet but dropped Joshua twice in the very same round before ultimately ending things in the seventh.
The win for Ruiz Jr. turned him into a superstar. He was given all of the credit in the world as he made daily appearances on television shows around the globe. A defeated Joshua noticed the attention that his man was given. He wasn’t envious of it, but he is firmly under the belief that if he were to handle business on the night, the response in return would’ve been ho-hum.
“There’s no respect or admiration for facing these guys. But when I lose their all saying that Ruiz is the new Rocky and he’s this and that but why wouldn’t you give me that love for beating him?”
Even with Joshua winning their immediate rematch six months later, fast forward roughly one year later, and he finds himself in almost an identical situation. In just a few more days Joshua will make his lone ring appearance as he takes on IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev. Much like his first showdown against Ruiz Jr., Pulev, 39, isn’t viewed as much of a threat. Instead, much of the buzz has been centered around a possible matchup with fellow heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
In the past, those thoughts would have distracted him. Now, after learning the hard way, he won’t allow that to happen again.
“I learned to focus on myself. I realize that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”