Anthony Joshua finally fights Andy Ruiz Jr on Saturday after almost a decade of the two very nearly crossing paths.
The IBF, WBA, IBO and WBO heavyweight champion makes the latest defence of his titles on the occasion of his US debut, when he fights his Mexican challenger at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Ruiz Jr, like Joshua aged 29, was only installed as Joshua’s challenger when Jarrell Miller’s six-month suspension ruled the champion’s first-choice opponent out.
The two fought at the same world championships in 2011, a year before Joshua excelled in winning Olympic gold, and narrowly missed each other again when Ruiz Jr suffered his only professional defeat to Joseph Parker, who Joshua consequently ended up fighting instead.
Both Joshua and his challenger also took similar paths through life, their focus for boxing rescuing them from the troubled avenues they had been pursuing as teenagers, and the champion is therefore aware of the threat Ruiz Jr poses when interest surrounds Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury and what is to come next.
“We were at the world championships in Baku in 2011,” Joshua said. “He knows a lot about me and I do him. He turned pro a year after when I started boxing so he has been around a long time and knows his craft. I know a lot about Ruiz.
“People speak about being fully focused on June 1. I am, but you can’t not look at the bigger picture. I’m sure he is doing it himself, you naturally look at the bigger picture. I don’t put blinkers on about seeing the potential (of fights with rival heavyweights Wilder and Fury).
“You had Wilder-(Dominic) Breazeale, you’ve got the Fury-(Tom) Schwarz fight after; you’ve got me in the middle. It’s all about what’s next.