There was plenty to take note of about Anthony Joshua’s rematch, revenge victory over Andy Ruiz in 2019.
For the now 31-year old Joshua (23-1, 21 KO), there was his willingness to just win and correct his ship. Joshua boxed a disciplined, safe twelve rounds and won almost all of them.
There was the extra fifteen pounds Ruiz carted into the ring on his frame that might have made it easier for Joshua to keep the fight at range.
Perhaps the most interesting, notable element of the fight for Joshua revealed itself on the scale the day before the fight.
That was how many pounds Joshua weighed for what for now rates as his most significant fight.
It wasn’t his biggest night to date. That remains his epic win over Wladimir Klitschko, one of the great heavyweight scraps of the 21st century.
But for Joshua, rebounding from his lone defeat has to stand out for career significance. One of the best promoted fighters in recent years, a stadium filling brand, Joshua took a hit in the loss to Ruiz but consecutive losses would have done immense damage to bigger goals. The Ruiz loss leaves lingering questions but if Joshua can win Saturday (DAZN, 5 PM EST) against 39-year old challenger Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KO), he’ll get to answer many of those questions in as big a fight as boxing can make.
There may yet be obstacles, including any legal rights to a rubber match for one Mr. Deontay Wilder, but all signs point to a showdown in 2021 between Joshua and lineal heavyweight king Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KO).
With all that riding on this weekend, the same number keeps coming to mind.
It was his lightest weight since 2014. If the Ruiz rematch signalled the beginning of a more cerebral, selective Joshua, that number could be a harbinger.
It was impossible to miss as Joshua rose through the ranks that he steadily seemed to be adding bulk. Pictures of Joshua doing things like powerlifting gave hints as to the sort of workouts he was doing between sparring sessions. It looked great on a poster and certainly made him stand out in ads but was it the best for his boxing career?
There can be a case made that Joshua’s biggest night remains his best as well. At a heavy 250, he survived some rough moments against Klitschko where he seemed for several rounds to be hanging on by a thread before he found his second wind. In the fights that followed, he got as high as 254 for Carlos Takam in an underwhelming outing and as low as 242 for Joseph Parker in a dominant if also underwhelming performance. At 245 and change, he looked to be struggling early with the speed of Alexander Povetkin before he physically overwhelmed the veteran challenger.
Take a look at a few minutes of the first Ruiz fight and then the second. It’s more than the ten pound difference on the scale for Joshua. Joshua was leaner, more on his toes, more agile in the second fight. It’s all relative to a degree. Joshua will always be a big heavyweight; he’s never going to float like a bee.
But a lighter Joshua, one focused more on functional weight rather than mass for the sake of it is an interesting thought. Joshua, despite his Gold medal and professional achievements to date, is likely still a work in progress. With less than 50 recorded amatuer bouts and still shy of 25 paid starts, Joshua has been moved aggressively.
Wilder, like Joshua, had a truncated amatuer career and was developed over a longer period of time before he tested the contender level of the sport. Joshua’s learning curve has been impressive but we’re watching him learn hard lessons in real time. The adaptations he showed for the Ruiz rematch suggest a fighter who can absorb those lessons and find new wrinkles.
It may not be enough to catch up to the skilled, more experienced Fury but public workout clips from this week suggest he’s kept some of the bulk off again. Saturday, we see the next chapter in what can be considered the second act of the Joshua story. If we keep seeing literally less of him, it could mean more in the long run.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com