By: Sean Crose
What has turned out to be the most anticipated fight of the year is set to go down this Saturday in Saudi Arabia, at a sparkling new arena designed specifically for the event and set to seat a full 15,00 fans. It’s a unique location (some are arguing it’s sinister due to Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a human right violator) for a matchup no one could have imagined just a year ago. Yet here we are, with the – Andy Ruiz set to defend the WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles against the man he won them from in stunning fashion last June – the 22-1 Anthony Joshua.
Joshua was considered a star’s star up until the point where Ruiz stopped him in the seventh round at Madison Square Garden on June 1st of last spring. He had the power, the record, the physique and the personality of someone who might actually go from sport’s celebrity to household name. Yet the unassuming, pudgy Ruiz proved to be the all around better fighter that night. What’s more, some – many perhaps – think the Californian will prove to be the better fighter again this weekend. That’s what makes this matchup so interesting – no one is quite sure how it will go down.
The defending champion, at 6’2 is actually rather small in this era of super heavyweights. He’s also rather, well, heavy, with trainer Manny Robles assuming his man will enter the ring at around 268 pounds. Don’t let the size fool anyone, though, the Mexican American can box extremely well and has serious power. Perhaps most importantly, Ruiz has proven he can be cool under fire, a fact he demonstrated after being dropped by Joshua in the third round of their first go round. Getting himself together, Ruiz got to his feet, composed himself, then knocked Joshua down a total of four times on his way to the shocking 7th round win.
As for Joshua – fans may see a different fighter than they did the last time the man was in the ring. Much taller than Ruiz, the 6’6 Englishman still undoubtedly has power for days, but after what happened in June, it’s easy to imagine him trying to avoid Ruiz all night. In a strange sense, Joshua may make this fight like Leonard-Hearns 2, where the power punching Hearns boxed smart and played it safe. It’s also worth noting that Wladimir Klitschko, that safest of all heavyweight champions, has been giving Joshua advice leading up to his second battle with Ruiz.
Saturday’s card will also feature the 18-1 heavyweight Michael Hunter, as he hopes to make his name by earning a win over well known and regarded contender Alexander Povetkin, 35-2. Hunter has won six in a row since being bested as cruiserweight by Oleksandr Usyk back in 2017. Povetkin, on the other hand, can count Joshua and Klitschko as the only two men who have bested him in the ring. Povetkin won a unanimous decision over Hughie Fury (Tyson’s cousin) last August and is looking to keep on the comeback trail.
Dillan Whyte, whose single loss came at the gloved fists of Joshua almost a full four years ago, will also be on the card, hoping to improve his record to 27-1 as he faces the 35-5 Mariusz Wach in another heavyweight throwdown. Whyte, who has gone on to win 10 in a row since being stopped by Joshua, has been hanging tough in the heavyweight division for a while now, hoping for another chance at glory (which he deserves). Frankly, Wach shouldn’t prove much of a challenge, as he’s previously lost to the likes of Martin Bakole, Artur Szpilka, Jarrell Miller, Klitschko, and Povetkin. This being boxing, however, anything is possible.
The DAZN streaming service will air the card starting at 12 noon Eastern Time on Saturday. The main event is expected to go down around 4 PM Eastern Time.