Belfast Telegraph

Everything looking rosy in the Garden for Joshua


Face to face: Anthony Joshua squares up tp Andy Ruiz Jr during their official weigh-in at Madison Square Garden in New York
Face to face: Anthony Joshua squares up tp Andy Ruiz Jr during their official weigh-in at Madison Square Garden in New York

By Steve Bunce

There will be a rumble in the sacred ring at the beloved Madison Square Garden tonight when Anthony Joshua fights to break free from the toxic cloud hovering high above the heavyweight championship of the world.

The reluctance, refusal and reasons for big fights not happening in the self-funding quagmire of the heavyweight division will be forgotten when Joshua finally lets his fists fly at Andy Ruiz, a decent replacement and victim of some outlandish historical amnesia.

Ruiz is not a bad contender, not even a bad contender in Garden history, but in a race against the bright light of Joshua, a beam often so righteous that he takes on saintly duties when anointing the heads of children at his workouts, it is hard to look good.

I can find 50 heavyweight challengers since the 1971 Fight of the Century, a turning point in my sport, who would end the night losing to Ruiz.

And, by the way, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, both unbeaten at the Garden that night, made the equivalent of nearly $70m each for a fight that truly will never have an equal.

The agenda, the narrative and the outcome are known and glorious, but the actual fight is too often neglected; it was about sacrifice, honour, a devotion to a craft beyond any call of reason, and in the hours before the Ruiz fight, at a room in an apartment in Greenwich Village, Joshua and his track-suited horde will sit and watch it from the opening bell.

Please, never be fooled by Joshua's goofy grin, endorsement package and humour - he is a very nasty man in the ring and pays homage to the men from the Seventies that he adores.

Ruiz was drafted in when Jarrell Miller was caught with a tainted medical cabinet of illegal juices in his system; he failed three tests, was out, and Ruiz, just a few days before a fight, accepted the offer.

He won the fight, which, incidentally, was against a man with identical Joshua proportions, had one day off and went back to camp.

He has been training for 15 weeks and it shows because his body, at best described as fleshy and most often simply labelled fat, has been hardened over the weeks. Transformed is probably a bit strong, but he has shifted most of the wobbling bits.

There has been talk here this week that Ruiz is a harder fight for Joshua than Miller, and that is probably true, but Miller delivered expletives and he annoyed Joshua when they clashed at the first conference for their doomed bout.

Ruiz arrived in the city on Monday at a gorgeous dusk, taking in the setting sun from a rooftop bar and looking at heaven and thanking his blessings. There is no bad blood to help the sell, just Joshua on his mission of conversion in a land of one-time heavyweight splendour and helped by his posters in this city of neon desires.

This is, incidentally, just the second world heavyweight title fight at the Garden in 11 years, which is an inconvenient little fact for a venue that's so revered.

The last two title fights in the Garden ring have been forgettable, whereas this will leave vivid memories even if Joshua bludgeons a brave Ruiz in less than five rounds. Ruiz, you see, knows how to go down swinging and he will.

Joshua might try a softer approach, might try a few rounds of tenderising, but the crowd will most likely persuade him that a short, brutal fight is necessary.

He is probably going to be criticised for any ending, which is a sobering thought attached to just about every fight that takes place under the spotlight in the modern game of millions.

At some point late tonight, as Ruiz is patched up and checked by New York's fussy medical gang in the ring, Joshua will be asked about fights with Deontay Wilder, who holds the one belt Joshua wants, and Tyson Fury, who has claimed the lineal title and holds it close to his heart like a newborn child.

The three have spoken endlessly about just how fearless they are, called each other bums, cowards, liars, dossers and frauds.

The tiresome dialogue will continue, but their genuine desire to fight each other is not a strong enough force in the battle for viewers by television companies and the accepted differences of rival promoters.

It is a pity, and nobody involved is truly innocent or beyond a bit of criticism.

However, this is boxing, a greedy sport deluded by a fantasy of warehouse loads of cash and not a charity building clean-water wells in Africa. We like our heroes flawed, trust me.

It is a big fight for Joshua, America and the heavyweight business. Ruiz will not be a disgrace, Joshua will hold off the cold, which is trying to slow his body, just long enough to preach with his fists in a giant room packed with wonderful memories.

Ruiz is capable of hurting Joshua with his left hook and Joshua knows it. On Thursday, at the final conference, Joshua reached across, surprising Ruiz, and extended his hand: "May the best man win," he said as they shook hands. Ali and Frazier would be disgusted but, as I said - please, don't be fooled by niceties.

Joshua, still only 29, will win inside five or six rounds and it might not be pleasant viewing for the squeamish.

It will, however, be essential viewing for the growing flock, and then the tent will move to another American city where the debate about the best heavyweight will continue.

By midnight in New York, Joshua might have become the most popular in the hearts and minds of the fans. That, nobody should forget, is the real title on the line in the Garden tonight.

The tale of the tape

Anthony Joshua was 17st 9.8lbs (247.8lbs) at Friday's weigh-in, significantly lighter than his Mexican challenger, Andy Ruiz, who weighed in at 19st 2lbs (268lbs).

Both boxers have won 21 fights by knockout; Ruiz has lost once in his 33 professional fights, while Joshua is undefeated in the 22 fights in his pro career.

Fans here should expect to wait until the early hours of Sunday for the main event to start. The SKY broadcast will start around 10:00pm BST with the undercard starting soon after.

Belfast Telegraph


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