By Michael Rosenthal
The stunning result of the weekend has sunk in, as much as it ever will. Andy Ruiz Jr. knocked out Anthony Joshua in the seventh round to become unified heavyweight champion of the world.
I have to admit I gave Ruiz almost no chance of beating Joshua. The Mexican-American has been a good fighter all along but I didn’t think he had the tools – including the size – to topple the No. 1 figure in the sport.
I (along with millions of others) couldn’t have been more wrong. Ruiz got up from a knockdown to put Joshua down in the same round and then methodically chop down the bigger man and make history.
Here are 10 questions – and answers – in the wake of the upset.
Was Ruiz lucky? No way. The stoppage wasn’t the result of one wild haymaker, which happens in boxing. Ruiz hurt Joshua badly with a left hook that landed above the ear and another right as he was going down in the third round, which was the turning point of the fight. Joshua was able to get up but went down again in the final seconds of the round. The champ was in big trouble. Ruiz didn’t lose his head, though, he didn’t attack Joshua recklessly in an attempt to finish the job. He maintained his composure, waiting patiently for openings before letting his fists fly. And fly they did. Joshua went down twice more in the seventh, leading to the stoppage, and new king was crowned.
Did Joshua quit? I don’t think so but I can’t be certain. Joshua meekly told referee Michael Griffin after the final knockdown that he could continue but his body language said the opposite, which prompted Griffin to stop the fight and raised legitimate questions about Joshua’s willingness to continue. We’ll never know what Joshua was thinking. I suspect he was still concussed by the blows he took in third round, the suggestion being that he was confused and not 100 percent aware of what was happening at the moment. The fact he slowly walked to his corner after the final knockdown – as if there was a break in the action – tells me he was out of it, not necessarily in surrender mode.
Was it a bad stoppage? No. As I mentioned above, Joshua strangely sauntered to his corner after rising from the last knockdown at the count of eight. Griffin yelled as Joshua turned his back to him, “Turn around. This is not a break. Let’s go.” And then, “are you ready to box?” Joshua nodded and told the referee that he wanted to continue but everything else about him said he was finished. Griffin signaled for him to get back to fighting and Joshua barely reacted, prompting Griffin to end the fight. It seemed clear that Joshua either was in no condition to continue or didn’t want to go on. Good stoppage.
Was Joshua overrated? That’s not a fair assessment after one setback. Joe Louis was brutally knocked out by Max Schmeling when he was 22 but bounced back to stop Schmeling and become an all-time great. Lennox Lewis was stopped by two marginal opponents but stopped them both in rematches and regained his status as the best heavyweight of his era. The point here? We’ll get a better idea of whether Joshua was overrated in the rematch with Ruiz, which is expected to happen late this year. If he goes the way of Louis and Lewis – if he beats Ruiz convincingly – he will have regained much of the status he left in the ring this past Saturday. If he loses again, all the hype will have added up to little.
Does Joshua have a weak chin? I doubt it. Joshua has hit the canvas a number of times but he hasn’t stayed there, even against Ruiz. I think fatigue played a role in his sixth-round knockdown against Wladimir Klitschko, who was stopped by Joshua in the 11th. And I think the left hook by Ruiz did so much damage because of where it landed, near the temple. I’ve seen a hundred fighters – even durable ones – have their brains scrambled by such a punch. Still, Joshua, as discombobulated as he was, was able to get to his feet after each of his four knockdowns against Ruiz. That’s a sign that he actually has a pretty good chin, although we’ll see how he absorbs punches in the future.
Who wins the rematch? I tend to think that Joshua, with proper guidance, will regroup and beat Ruiz in the rematch for the reasons so many thought he’d win their first fight. I’m far from certain, though. Ruiz didn’t just defeat Joshua, he beat him up. The new champion proved beyond doubt that he has the tools – both mental and physical – necessary to beat Joshua or any other heavyweight. And now HE knows beyond doubt he can do it. His confidence will be high. Meanwhile, Joshua will have to overcome the psychological damage that results from such a devastating setback. Not every fighter who endures what he endured – an ass whooping – can bounce back and become dominating again. We’ll see what Joshua is made of.
How much can Ruiz accomplish? A lot. If he can beat Joshua in the rematch – and, again, that idea is hardly farfetched – he could end up fighting the winner of the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight, which should take place early next year. I think Ruiz is a tough style matchup for Wilder and Fury. I can see Ruiz outboxing the limited Wilder and doing enough damage to be competitive if he can survive Widler’s punching power. And Ruiz is skillful enough to box with a good technician like Fury, although the height difference in that matchup – at least seven inches – would make Ruiz’s mission difficult. I don’t know whether I’d pick Ruiz to beat either guy, but if he did, he’d be undisputed heavyweight champion. It’s possible.
How did Joshua handle the loss? Well. Joshua showed a lot of class by congratulating Ruiz for a job well done immediately after the fight. And he didn’t make excuses or panic in any way after that. He posted a video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ohuf1yRror0 – on YouTube in which he says, in so many words, that the better man won that night and that he would do better in the rematch. That’s exactly what he’s supposed to say. And he made it clear that he had no plans to break up his team in the wake of the setback, which would’ve been a mistake. Rob McCracken and Co. helped make him a star. You don’t dump them after one disappointment.
What about the rumors? I’m dubious. One rumor: Journeyman Joey Dawejko, who is built like Ruiz, knocked out Joshua in sparring during in the lead-up to the fight. The implication is that Joshua was damaged when he stepped into the ring to face Ruiz. Of course, anything is possible. However, things happen in training all the time. A guy gets cracked, even hurt. It happens. He recovers and gets back to work. I wouldn’t think twice about that rumor. Another rumor: Joshua suffered food poisoning. C’mon. Ruiz deserves all the credit in the world for an incredible accomplishment, not excuses or explanations from those who can’t accept what happened.
Was it the biggest upset ever? No. Mike Tyson was a much bigger star than Joshua and was seen as unbeatable when he fought Buster Douglas almost 30 years ago in Tokyo. Iron Mike had never shown significant vulnerability. And he was a 42-1 favorite. So when Douglas stopped Tyson, to borrow a phrase from Muhammad Ali, it “shook up the world.” Joshua, as much as 14-1 favorite, was the No. 1 heavyweight but HAD shown vulnerability; he struggled to beat 41-year-old Wladimir Klitschko. All that said, Ruiz’s victory certainly ranks with James Braddock-Max Baer, Ali-Sonny Liston I, Leon Spinks-Ali I and Evander Holyfield-Tyson I, as well as the upsets Lewis and Klitschko suffered.