In the past couple of years, Anthony Joshua’s unstoppable rise to world domination has begun to resemble a game of snakes and ladders. The fractious state of the heavyweight division - with its multiple belts, competing networks, money-mad promoters and discontented fanbase - throws extra obstacles in AJ’s path to undisputed glory.
All the pressure is on Joshua to bag himself a US audience in his first fight on American soil.
What’s The Backstory?
Eddie Hearn rolled the dice on a Saturday Night Extravaganza at Madison Square Gardens. Unfortunately, he landed his prize fighter by the name of Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller. The second-best American heavyweight and a native New Yorker he boasted a similar record to the British champ (23-0-1 to AJ’s 22-0-0). His schoolyard “crumpets and tea, fish and chips” trash-talk created a lovely bit of pre-fight anti-British beef.
But then it transpired that the Big Baby had wrapped his big snakey chops around a naughty sack of ‘roids, making him inconveniently ineligible for a well-deserved battering. AJ is bound to have plenty of frustration to take out on Saturday night – any volunteers?
Who Is Andy Ruiz Jr?
Bad news for promoters is good news for fight fans. With a far lower profile, but far better skills than Miller, the Mexican is the opposite of what Hearn was bargaining for. Ruiz Jr’s 32-1-0 record tells the tale of a formidable opponent, with his only loss a controversial points decision against AJ’s old mate Joseph Parker.
Quick hands and dogged stamina make ‘The Destroyer’ much more of a challenge in the ring than the Big Baby ever threatened to be. Having last fought on April 20th, he will be coming off back-to-back training camps and no downtime. Where Miller looked like a gibbering sack of amphetamines, Ruiz seems calm and fearless as he prepares for the biggest fight of his life.
Are we going to look past the absolute state of the lad? No we are not. He describes himself as “hungry” to which the only response is, “no shit.” Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Little Chef, he’ll be looking forward to this one with extra relish, double cheese and gravy.
No Pressure Then?
Let’s be honest, to win over the American audience, Joshua is going to have to do more than just beat this contender. He’s going to have to make it spectacular.
With the body of a Love Island contestant and the charm of a Pixar cartoon, you couldn’t think of a better British sporting icon for the US chat-show circuit. But in the world of boxing, our star-spangled cousins like their fighters raw.
Contrast Joshua’s contained self-confidence with the animal rage of men who can’t control themselves. Mike Tyson, Conor McGregor, Tyson Fury – all three have captured the fascination of the US press. The type of self-destructive lads who can’t be trusted with a shandy, for whom every day out of police custody is a good day.
What Has AJ Been Saying?
An absolute snooze-fest of a pressie suggests the champ is going to let his fists do the talking in the ring. In an event originally designed to generate hype, all this talk about being a “serious fighter in a serious fight” shows how much the objective has changed in the Joshua camp. Outside the ring, he’s not taking the bait.
With any luck, this means AJ is saving the entertainment until he gets under the lights. In recent fights he’s shown a much-improved jab and an ability to absorb big punches without being seriously rocked.
But getting behind the jab and winning on points would be seen as an enormous cop-out for fans who are crying out for explosive entertainment. Being blood thirsty masochists we are, no one will be happy until AJ’s splattered someone across the canvas. It’s time he showed us why he’s the best heavyweight on the planet.
What About The Other Boys?
Of course, that’s not going to be confirmed until he gets a shot at the WBC belt.
It’s STILL holding Deontay Wilder’s trousers up, but the Bronze Bomber prefers second dates, with Ortiz II on the horizon and Fury II more likely.
Speaking of the mutant Greg Wallace, Fury’s next bout is against another chancer, the German Tom Schwarz, on June 15th.
Over 10,000 British fans are making the journey to MSG to support an undercard featuring Callum Smith, Joshua Buatsi, and Josh Kelly, as well as Ireland’s Katie Taylor. British boxing couldn’t be hotter right now.
The fight we all want to see depends on Wilder, who now looks like he’ll be hiding behind his diamante gimp mask until at least 2020. Relative unknowns like Ruiz and Schwarz have a genuine puncher’s chance of delaying what many of us see as AJ’s destiny. Until the unification bout materialises, nights like these are as good as it gets. Let’s make the most of them.
Where Are You Watching It?
With a 3am UK start time, you're going to need to do your homework here. Thankfully we've done the hard yards on that front, just follow this link to find pubs showing Joshua v Ruiz and search by your location.