By Michael Rosenthal
Boxing might be the only sport in which you look forward to watching a mismatch.
That seems to be the case this Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where Anthony Joshua will defend his heavyweight titles against late replacement Andy Ruiz. No one outside Ruiz’s immediate circle gives him a realistic chance of upsetting the top heavyweight in the world. On paper, the fight promises to be more a performance by Joshua than a competitive sporting event.
To be fair, the same could’ve been said about Deontay Wilder’s fight against Dominic Breazeale a few weeks ago. We pretty much knew what was going to happen. It was just a matter of when.
Of course, there is a very small chance that Ruiz will shock us all and win the fight, Joshua’s first in the United States. Upsets happen, even big ones. Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and an early version of Wladimir Klitschko suffered stunning knockout losses against second-tier opponents who were given next to no chance of beating them.
There actually is a lot to like about Ruiz. His hand speed and ability to move is remarkable given the extra padding he has on his body. And he knows how to box. He went to New Zealand and gave local hero Joseph Parker hell in a fight for a vacant title in 2016, coming up just short of winning the belt.
He’s a legitimate heavyweight in terms of size, which means he could hurt Joshua – or at least put him down – if a punch or combination lands just right. Crazier things have happened.
And Ruiz appears to be in a good frame of mind given the challenge in front of him. He seems to truly believe in himself, which is at least half the battle entering any fight. If you don’t believe you can win, you generally can’t.
"I've never been knocked out,” he told Sky Sports. “I'm still young, 29, I've never been hurt and I've never been in a big war. This is the hardest fight of my career but I know I will pull off an upset. I believe in my heart that we can win, and we are going to win. It will be one of the biggest upsets in the world. I can be the first one to stop him.
“In America, you have to have a dream, and have the heart to pursue it. I am a family man and a nice guy but, inside the ring, I am an animal. A.J., get ready, get prepared.”
Confident, indeed. The problem is that he has too much going against him.
Joshua is listed at 6 feet, 6 inches, Ruiz at 6-2, but Ruiz looked up at the champ during their first stare down like a tourist gazes up at the Empire State Building. I thought, “How the hell is Ruiz going to get inside Joshua’s long jab so he can unleash those quick hands?” The answer is that he almost certainly won’t.
Plus, a potential strength – a genuine fighting spirit – could work against Ruiz in this fight. When Joshua lands punches – and he WILL land punches – Ruiz’s instinct will be the fight back, to return what Joshua delivers in kind. The thought of him engaging in a fire fight with a puncher like Joshua doesn’t end well in my imagination.
The fact is Joshua is too big, too powerful, too experienced at the highest level of the sport and simply too good for Ruiz, whose best is pretty good but not good enough to beat a monster like Joshua.
Ruiz will come to fight, perhaps have his moments and then, sooner rather than later, he’ll get knocked out in dramatic fashion. The crowd will go nuts, Ruiz will be applauded for his courage and then we’ll turn to Joshua, who will be asked in so many words when he plans to face someone who has a legitimate chance of beating him.
The champ will say what he’s supposed to say, that he wants to fight the best – meaning Wilder or Tyson Fury – but that it takes time and painstaking negotiations to make these fights happen. He might even suggest that his rivals are afraid to fight him in an effort to lure one of them into the ring, which would be part of those negotiations.
All this is predictable … and somehow enjoyable. But what we want is real fights.
Michael Rosenthal was the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades. Follow him at @mrosenthal_box.