By Jake Donovan
Politically, there isn’t anything to prevent Andy Ruiz Jr. from entering his rematch with Anthony Joshua later this year.
The recently crowned unified heavyweight titlist was cleared by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) to enter a voluntary title defense in lieu of an immediate mandatory title defense versus Kubrat Pulev.
The approval comes on a few conditions, however.
“The winner of the (rematch between) Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua must take place on or before Dec. 7,” IBF spokesperson Jeanette Salazar confirmed to BoxingScene.com on Tuesday. “The winner of that fight must then agree in writing to face number-one contender Kubrat Pulev (with the bout to take place) on or before May 31, 2020.”
ESPN.com senior writer Dan Rafael was the first to report the ruling.
The decision made by the IBF comes three weeks after an exception was filed by promoter Tom Brown of TGB Promotions on behalf of Ruiz Jr. One week later came an official objection to such a request, as filed by Epic Sports, Pulev’s promoter (along with Top Rank with whom Pulev signed a co-promotional agreement last December).
The matter was put to a vote by the IBF board on Moday, approving Ruiz’s request for a voluntary title defense.
Several inquiries to Epic Sports’ John Wirt as well as Ivaylo Gotzev, Pulev’s manager, placed by BoxingScene.com seeking comment went unreturned as this goes to publish.
The noting of the fight taking place on or before Dec. 7 is in direct response to Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter notifying the IBF and all other involved sanctioning bodies of the date and location for Ruiz-Joshua II. The bout is due to take place at a yet-to-be-erected venue in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, which has been passed along to all sanctioning bodies as to avoid any ordered mandatory title defenses disrupting such plans.
Ruiz also holds the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organization (WBO) and International Boxing Organization (IBO) heavyweight titles.
All were earned in his major upset knockout win over Joshua this past June at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. The feat earned his place in history, becoming the first-ever Mexican boxer to claim a piece of the heavyweight throne.
It also came at a price, however. In agreeing to face Joshua in place of Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller, Ruiz Jr. contractually conceded control to the British heavyweight and his team regarding when and where an immediate rematch would take place.
Early whispers had the fight heading back to MSG, until Hearn declared in July that the rematch wouldn’t take place anywhere in the U.S.
The bold stance led to Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales emerging as the frontrunner. Joshua headlined at the venue twice before, drawing more than 150,000 fans combined for wins over Carlos Takam and Joseph Parker.
However, Ruiz Jr. grew weary of fighting anywhere in the United Kingdom once word got out of a drug testing scandal involving Hearn-promoted Dillian Whyte. A drug test taken one month prior to his July 20 win over Oscar Rivas showed adverse findings of a banned substance, with United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) informing Whyte and his team three days prior to fight night. Rivas and his handlers were never notified of the development, learning about it only after reading it on this very site four days after the fight.
Whether it was enough to legitimately spook Ruiz Jr. or merely a loophole to stall such talks, it prompted Hearn and Joshua to search for a neutral venue.
One was announced last Friday, although neither Ruiz Jr. nor anyone at Premier Boxing Champions (PBC)—adviser Al Haymon’s founded conglomerate with whom he signed earlier this year—have yet to publicly confirm their being on board.
A decision to not enter the rematch—under present conditions or otherwise—could create a legal mess for California’s Ruiz. In the event he honors the terms of the original contract, it would appear that not only is his next fight in place, but one more for the winner.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox