By Jake Donovan
As far as backup plans go, Eddie Hearn couldn’t be more pleased with this weekend’s headlining act.
The veteran promoter from England has for months applied the finishing touches on the long awaited United States debut of unbeaten heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. The moment arrives this Saturday at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden, but with a different name on the other side of the marquee than at the start of the promotion as he takes on California’s Andy Ruiz whom accepted the fight on roughly five weeks’ notice.
“What we’ve got is a very proud moment for AJ, for me selfishly and for our (Matchroom Boxing),” Hearn told BoxingScene.com’s Rahim Davies in a recent video interview at the start of fight week in New York City. “We get to do the dream job for the week, which is to promote the heavyweight champion of the world at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s one of those moments you look back and say that it’s a big tick off the list.”
Joshua (22-0, 21KOs) was originally due to face Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller, who had plenty to say well before the fight was finalized as well as during their two-city press tour to formally announce the forthcoming DAZN-streamed event. The unbeaten contender was pulled, however, after coming up dirty in three separate random drug tests in March.
Several replacement candidates were sought until Joshua and Hearn landed on Ruiz (32-1, 21KOs), a former title challenger from California who was just days removed from his 5th round knockout of Alexander Dimitrenko when he first entered talks for the fight. A deal was quickly struck, with the Top 10(-ish) contender brimming with confidence ever since.
“What we need now is one of his flagship performances against Andy Ruiz who is very tough,” insists Hearn. “What I love about this, he does not give a f***. He’s like, ‘I’m gonna go in there and knock Joshua out. I’m gonna let my hands go and I’m not gonna stop.’
“He doesn’t realize how big this moment is for him. He’s fighting for the unified heavyweight championship at MSG. He just can’t wait and that’s dangerous in itself. Everyone is like, “Is Wilder next?” We’ve got to think about this weekend first and foremost.”
Joshua will attempt the seventh defense of at least one heavyweight title over the course of a reign extending back to his 2nd round knockout of Charles Martin in April 2016. The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist is coming off of a 7th round stoppage of Alexander Povetkin—who captured Olympic Gold for Russia in 2004—last September in DAZN’s maiden voyage into the U.S. market.
Ruiz attempts his second crack at becoming the first-ever heavyweight of Mexican descent to win a major title. He came up just short in a 12-round majority decision defeat to Joseph Parker in their Dec. 2016 vacant title fight in Parker’s native New Zealand.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox