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It Wasn’t The Queen That Needed Saving as Andy Ruiz Jr. Dethroned Anthony Joshua

Bernard Fernandez

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Andy Ruiz

NEW YORK – The sellout crowd of 20,201, a significant percentage of whom had journeyed here from the United Kingdom, warmed up for the main event by turning Madison Square Garden into a mass karaoke performance. First they warmed up by loudly singing along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” before attaining an even higher decibel level with an enthusiastic rendition of “God Save the Queen.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t Queen Elizabeth II who needed salvation Saturday night, but magnificently sculpted Briton Anthony Joshua, widely considered by this Union Jack-waving audience as the one, true king of the heavyweights. Although the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Joshua always has looked the part of an unconquerable warrior monarch, on this historic night he would be exposed as something less by a chubby fill-in opponent whose longshot bid to end AJ’s royal reign must have seemed only a bit more likely than one of his comparatively few on-site supporters winning the Powerball Lottery.

In what arguably was the most shocking upset since Buster Douglas knocked out seemingly invincible heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990, Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) arose from a third-round knockdown – the first time he’d been on the deck as a pro – to floor a stunned Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) twice in the same round before tacking on two more knockdowns in round seven. Although Joshua beat referee Michael Griffin’s count after his fourth trip to the canvas, he stepped backward, on unsteady legs, to a neutral corner and put his arms atop the highest strand of the ropes. Griffin quite reasonably interpreted that as a sign of surrender and awarded Ruiz a technical knockout victory after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 27 seconds.

Thus did the seventh title defense for Joshua, the super heavyweight gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics who was fighting for the first time on American soil, end on a discordant note. But the flip side of his supporters’ dejection was the sight of Ruiz, his considerable love handles jiggling like a shaken gelatin mold, leaping in exultation as his corner team rushed forward to celebrate with him.

Not that Ruiz, a U.S. citizen from Imperial Calif., who became the first fighter of Mexican descent to capture a world heavyweight championship, had surprised himself along with the thousands in attendance and many more around the world who watched the fight via the DAZN streaming service. No, far from it. Ruiz insisted he had known all along that he had all the attributes to defeat Joshua, his lack of a magnificent physique notwithstanding.

“Nobody thought I was going to win, but everybody that bet on me is going to make some serious money,” a smiling Ruiz said at the postfight press conference. (He went off at +1100 in the Las Vegas sports books, yielding a profit of $1,100 to anyone who bold enough to risk a $100 wager on him.)

“Before this fight was going to happen I was saying in a lot of interviews that I would rather fight AJ than any other heavyweight out there. I knew that I could beat him. Every fighter has flaws and I think AJ has bigger flaws than Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.”

Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion who has steadfastly maintained that it is he who most deserves to be recognized as the best of boxing’s big men, wasted no time in concurring with Ruiz’s estimation that Joshua, who had entered as the WBA, WBO and IBF titlist, has never deserved to be recognized as the No.  1 guy, and maybe not even as No. 2 or 3 or possibly even 4.

“He wasn’t a true heavyweight champion. His whole career was consisted of lies, contradictions and gifts,” Wilder almost giddily tweeted after Ruiz chopped down the Joshua tree. “Facts, and now we know who was running from who!”

Until the 6-2, 268-pound Ruiz backed up his bold talk with action, the heavyweight division was widely considered to be comprised of a top tier of Joshua, Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, with everyone else occupying lower rungs on the ladder. Now the round-robin tournament almost everyone in boxing had hoped would happen, with Joshua, Wilder and Fury sorting things out among themselves, has had that exclusive party joined by a gate-crasher who, upon further reflection, probably always was more dangerous than many had imagined. That sometimes happen with fighters – any athletes, actually – who fail to score high on the eye test. More than a few naysayers have dismissed Ruiz as a legitimately elite heavyweight because what first caught their attention is his paunch instead of his quite respectable punch, not to mention his nimble feet and fast hands for a guy who, by his own admissions, will never be a male underwear model.

Although Ruiz has officially weighed in as high as 292½ pounds as a pro, and his weight for the Joshua bout was five pounds heavier than he had come in at for his most recent ring appearance, a fifth-round stoppage of Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20 in Carson, Calif., that outing took place just five weeks before he took on AJ. He was, by his somewhat relaxed standards, in excellent condition.

Still, some of the questions that were posed to Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, regarded the possibility of Joshua having taken Ruiz too lightly, if you’ll pardon the expression, or Ruiz being chosen because he might have been considered a relatively soft touch after the originally scheduled opponent, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, was obliged to withdraw after failing three separate drug tests for banned substances. Hearn insisted that neither suggestion held any merit.

“I said in the buildup that this is a tougher fighter for Anthony than Jarrell Miller,” Hearn said. “They’re not dissimilar in (physical) stature, but Andy’s faster, he has better movement, a better boxing IQ. The Miller fight would have been much easier.”

But if Ruiz constituted such a threat, why didn’t Hearn replace Miller with Manuel Charr or Trevor Bryan, both of whom were lobbying for the pinch-hitting role and the fat payday that came with it?

“We wanted to give a proper fight,” Hearn answered. “With all respect to Manuel Charr and Trevor Bryan, they’re not worthy challengers. We wanted a proper test for AJ. When you come to Madison Square Garden, you’ve got to give the public a real fight. We knew that Andy Ruiz would give Anthony Joshua a real fight. Unfortunately, he gave him more of a fight than we hoped he would. We really felt that Anthony is the best heavyweight in the world and he would win tonight.”

Hearn said Team Joshua would enforce the clause for an immediate rematch, most likely to be held in November or December in the United Kingdom. It will be interesting to see if Joshua, whom Hearn said “will be absolutely devastated” when the realization of what had just happened kicks in, can replicate the feat of countryman Lennox Lewis, who was knocked out by Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, but came back to avenge those losses in emphatic fashion.

“Great fighters come back and improve,” Hearn noted. “Some fighters come back the same (and lose again to the guy that beat them). The future will show how Anthony Joshua responds.”

For his part, Ruiz – who succeeded where past Mexican or Mexican-American heavyweight title challengers Chris Arreola (three times), Eric Molina (twice), Manuel Ramos and even Ruiz himself, in an earlier bout with then-champion Joseph Parker, didn’t – said he doesn’t anticipate being a one-hit wonder.

“I’m still pinching myself to see if this is real, man,” he said. “But this is not the only victory that I get. I’m not going to let the belts go.”

It might require another win inside the distance over Joshua, on his home turf, to convince any remaining doubters that Ruiz isn’t simply some incredibly lucky guy who caught a superior fighter on an off-night. At the time of the stoppage two judges – Julie Lederman and Michael Alexander – had Ruiz up by a single point, 57-56, while the third judge, Pasquale Procopio, actually had Joshua ahead by the same tally.

“I did not want to leave it up to the judges,” Ruiz said, a frame of mind he no doubt will carry into the do-over.

Several Undercard Bouts Also Were Keepers

A stellar undercard was punctuated by several bouts that were main-event worthy, the most notable of which was won by Callum Smith.

Smith (26-0, 19 KOs), the 6-foot-3 super middleweight from Liverpool, England, knocked down former three-time world title challenger Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (37-4, 21 KOs) once in each round en route to being awarded a third-round TKO, enabling him to retain his WBA 168-pound belt as well as his WBC Diamond belt. Smith again called out unified middleweight champ Canelo Alvarez.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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The Gypsy King: Enjoy Him While You Can

Ted Sares

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Gypsy King

Tyson Fury —The Gypsy King– possesses a sharp Irish wit. True, he’s putting everybody on half the time, but that’s what blarney is all about. He’s a born showman and is rarely at a loss for words or afraid to throw stuff out there. Heavyweight boxing hasn’t had this type in a long time—maybe not since Ali.

Curiously, the forgoing was written before he went into the deep depths of hell brought about by depression and substance abuse. He was pretty much written off as a one-off phenom. In fact, things got so bad that David Haye once said, in response to Fury’s homophobic tweets,: “It seems @Tyson_Fury needs to ease up on his ‘Medication’ or seek an Exorcist, or he’ll get sectioned at this rate #StraightJacketRequired”

Fast Forward

But lo and behold, that was then and this is now and he has made one of the greatest comebacks in sports history (with a nod to George Foreman and Tiger Woods) showing a will and determination rarely seen anywhere. This should not be downplayed. When combined with his ability to get up from Deontay Wilder’s best shot in the final round of their fight, that determination—that will, borders on the surreal.

And he is an entirely different person. This is not the same person who told reporters they can s**k his balls. No, this Fury donated his entire purse from the Wilder fight to several UK charities that specialize in providing housing for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Said Fury, “I did give away my last purse, but I don’t do charity work for a pat on the back…I do it to help people, but I do not want praise for it, I don’t want to be called a do-gooder.”

This is not a Nikolai Valuev or a Primo Canera. The new Fury is fast, fights backwards, forwards, orthodox, southpaw, and has great upper body movement. He fights in a relaxed and fluid manner, but is a ruthless closer. This Fury enjoys what he does unlike fellow-Brit Anthony Joshua who seemed visibly uncomfortable in New York City recently. Heck, Fury is made for The Big Apple.

Anyone who is 6’9” and can switch stances and slip seven punches in a row much like Pernell Whitaker was able to do and then immediately come back with a deadly volley to initiate the beginning of a ruthless end (with Schwarz bloodied and under brutal attack, the bout was waved off), warrants the attention of every serious boxing fan.

After referee Kenny Bayless finished his count, Fury came across the ring after the poor German like something out of a horror movie as he closed the show. It bears a second and third look.

“I got a big man out of there by switching it up. He caught me with a couple but you can’t go swimming and not get wet.” said Fury (now 28-0-1). As an aside, the Gypsy King went to Schwarz’s locker room to console him after the fight.

“He needed to make a statement tonight. When he walks to that ring, he becomes someone else. All that he has in the back of his head, is Deontay Wilder. He wants that revenge. He showed strength, power, determination and that killer instinct.” — Tyson’s father John Fury.

He made that statement.

The Future

Now attention turns to his next fight with Kubrat Pulev, his IBF mandatory, his most like likely opponent. (Of course, Pulev must refrain from kissing his female interviewers.) Such a matchup would be more competitive and even risky. As Caryn Tate of Boxing.com says, “The sooner Fury and the rest of the heavyweights at the top of the division fight each other, the better. The plethora of tune-ups in this sport have got to stop.”

In a sport/business that overwhelms us with nonstop legal bickering and suspected/real use of PEDs, this affable and candid giant is a breath of badly needed fresh air.

“I was in the car on the way with my wife and I said ‘I think we’ve made it Paris’. She said why and I said ‘We’re headlining in Vegas! This is it!’” — Tyson Fury

Later, he said, I came here to have fun and enjoy myself. I don’t take it too seriously. I thought I put on a good show and the fans got what they paid for.”

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Grand Master class.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Three Punch Combo: Looking Ahead to the 2020 IBHOF Class and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Last weekend, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, held its annual induction ceremony. Julian Jackson, Donald Curry and James “Buddy” McGirt were enshrined in the modern category. With the 2019 induction weekend now complete, it is now time to look forward to the 2020 class in the modern category.

For those not familiar with the process, each year three boxers are elected in the modern category. No more and no less. The modern category is comprised of fighters who had their last bout no earlier than 1989 and have been retired from the sport for five years. So to be considered for the 2020 ballot, the boxer’s last fight would need to be no later than 2014.

Last year’s class was dominated by holdovers who weren’t elected to the IBHOF the first time they were eligible and appeared on the ballot multiple times before finally getting inducted. We also saw something similar in 2016. But for the class of 2020, we have a strong list of first time eligible candidates and given the current voting criteria it is probable that the class of 2020 will be comprised of fighters from this list.

The five notable first time eligible candidates are Juan Manuel Marquez (56-7-1, 40 KO’s), Sergio Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KO’s), Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KO’s), Jorge Arce (64-8-2, 49 KO’s) and Marcos Maidana (35-5, 31 KO’s).

Of the five, I think Arce and Maidana can safely be eliminated from serious consideration for the class of 2020. They don’t have near the resumes of the other three.

Juan Manuel Marquez (pictured) would seem to be a lock. He is a former multi-division champion who fought in some of the most prominent fights of his era and holds wins against some of the best fighters of his generation. This includes wins over Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera and future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao.

Sergio Martinez is also a lock. The Argentine may have been a late bloomer but he had a dominant four-year middleweight title reign after defeating Kelly Pavlik in 2010 for the title. During this reign he scored an emphatic second round knockout of Paul Williams which avenged a previous loss and won a decisive 12-round decision over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

I sense there will be some debate regarding Froch but I think he will get the nod his first time around. He is a former 168-pound champion and has an incredibly deep resume that includes wins against many of the best in the division of his era. Of his two losses, one was avenged to Mikkel Kessler and the other was to future first ballot Hall of Famer Andre Ward. The resume just speaks for itself and should be more than enough to earn Froch enshrinement on his first go-around.

Of the holdovers, the two most likely to push Froch for the third and final spot are Rafael Marquez (41-9, 37 KO’s) and Vinny Paz (50-10, 30 KO’s). Marquez garnered a lot of support in his first year of eligibility last year and a lot were surprised when he did not make the final cut. With his brother likely getting inducted this coming year, there could be a push to put the brothers in together. As for Paz, he also picked up some steam last year and seemed to sway more voters to his side.

The Case For Yaqui Lopez

Every year I like to touch upon some fighters who I feel have gone overlooked by IBHOF voters. In past years for example, I have made cases for both Kevin Kelley and Junior Jones. This year, I wanted to go back a little further to a different era and point out a fighter who I think deserves serious consideration in Yaqui Lopez (61-15, 39 KO’s).

Lopez never won a world title and I am quickly reminded of that whenever I bring up his candidacy. He fought in an era that not only did not have an abundance of title belts but also featured some of the all-time greats of the light heavyweight division. Lopez lost two close decisions in world title bids to Hall of Famer Victor Galindez. Lopez also was competitive on two occasions in challenging Matthew Saad Muhammad for his light heavyweight title. Their second fight in 1980 was the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. And Lopez also gave future Hall of Famer Michael Spinks a test before being stopped in the seventh round.

The losses were competitive to these all-time greats. In any other era Lopez would have been a world champion. But there are yet many good wins on his resume, most notably a sixth round stoppage of Mike Rossman in March of 1978. Six months later, Rossman would knock out the aforementioned Galindez to become the light heavyweight champion.

There is another side to the argument for Lopez. Some people hate when I mention this but entertainment matters when considering candidates qualifications. The floodgates were opened by voters in this regard with the elections of Arturo Gatti and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and there is no going back. Lopez was not only a very accomplished fighter but one of the most exciting fighters of his era, he was involved in many memorable wars. Add this fact to his resume and Lopez more than meets all the criteria to be inducted into the IBHOF.

Under The Radar Fight

 ShoBox returns on Friday from the WinnaVegas Casino & Resort in Sloan, Iowa with a tripleheader featuring six fighters with a combined record of 91-1. Though I am very interested in all the fights, I am especially interested in the main event, a 154-pound contest between fast rising prospect Sebastian Fundora (12-0, 8 KO’s) and Hector Manuel Zepeda (17-0, 4 KO’s).

Fundora stands 6’7” tall and is appropriately nicknamed “The Towering Inferno.” For a man who stands that tall, he is incredibly athletic and fluid inside the ring. Working from a southpaw stance, Fundora likes to use his height to pepper his opponents from the outside with a sharp right jab. He will work very fluid, heavy handed combinations behind that jab and makes his opposition pay a heavy toll when they attempt to close the distance. And if opponents do manage to get inside, Fundora has shown himself to be a very accomplished fighter at close range.

Defensively, Fundora has some things to clean up. He tends to get involved in exchanges and when he does so will stand straight up with his chin exposed. He’s been clipped clean on a few occasions and that will need to be corrected as he moves up in caliber of competition.

There is not a lot of video available on Zepeda but from what I have seen he is a technically astute fighter. He is a boxer puncher by trade who will use frequent lateral movement working behind the left jab from the orthodox stance. Zepeda likes to be first instead of looking for counters and from the fights I have seen has shown to be a volume puncher. As the record indicates, however, he is not a big puncher.

If Zepeda fights the way that I have seen on video, I think we are going to get a fast paced, good action fight. Fundora is clearly the “A” side here and is supposed to win. But make no mistake, Zepeda can fight and this is a step up in class for Fundora.

This is a classic ShoBox fight in which the “A” side could get pushed and I am very interested to see this one on Friday.

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Will a Canelo Alvarez Trilogy Turn ‘Triple G’ into a Mexican Style Piñata?

Jeffrey Freeman

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We’ve all seen the birthday video of some poor kid swingin’ for a strung-up stuffed toy but getting back in the face something other than the expected bounty of candies and treats. Dizzy from being spun around in circles and blindfolded against a moving target, a child is beaten by paper mache. Score one for the much-abused piñata. It can only take so much punishment.

Before it opens up—explodes!

Perhaps that’s 37-year-old Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin now in his single-minded desire to fight world middleweight champion Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, 28, for a third time following a successful comeback KO of Steve Rolls at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Maybe he’ll bust Canelo’s belly open. Or maybe this time he’ll get busted up? Three strikes in this game; sorry Buster.

“I’m ready. Bring on Canelo,” Golovkin told DAZN’s Chris Mannix after improving to 39-1-1 with 35 big knockouts. “A third fight is more interesting because we both have experience against each other. I come to open up, he comes to open up…the next fight will be amazing for us.”

Their first two title bouts were amazing for fans but they lacked a sense of finality. Neither boxer was ever visibly hurt and there were no knockdowns registered. In two fights, only six points divided the combatants and that includes the despicable 118-110 score from Adalaide Byrd in favor of Canelo in the first meeting. In the rematch, Alvarez was superior—but not by much.

The piñata is still in play.

In his many swings in two HBO-PPV tries against Alvarez, Golovkin came up short of bursting the economic bubble that surrounds Canelo and appears to protect him at all times. Their 2017 contest was ruled a split draw and their 2018 rematch was won by Canelo via majority decision. If Golovkin was cloaked in an aura of invincibility, it was Alvarez who stripped him naked but helped fund a brand-new wardrobe by providing Golovkin with his two biggest paydays by far.

Golovkin’s ability to knock out ordinary fighters and second-tier contenders like Vanes Martirosyan remains intact. The offense looks good. Punches still fly like hatchets. However, GGG’s defense looked third-rate against Rolls and he’s back to taking punches in the face in order to connect with harder punches of his own to end matters early as a “gift” for fans.

New trainer Johnathon Banks wasn’t impressed.

As a student of the late trainer Emanuel Steward and caretaker of his KRONK legacy, ‘Mister Banks’ is a fine human being and an honest man in an industry full of lies told to sell fights.

“It was very uncomfortable for me,” said Banks at the post-fight press conference of having to watch Golovkin, now without Abel Sanchez, take shots he shouldn’t be taking. On the other hand, Canelo’s Golden Boy Promotions promoter Oscar De La Hoya had to like what he saw.

The TSS Truth: The Golovkin who beat Rolls didn’t look ready at all for the Canelo who beat Jacobs. And if you listened carefully to the post-fight breakdown by Banks, the trainer knows it’s true. What’s also true is that as Canelo approaches his peak, Golovkin is approaching age 40.

Can Banks teach Golovkin to correct his mistakes and be better than Alvarez in September—in three months? “If we can grow day to day as trainer and fighter, that can change the outcome.”

I’m not so sure.

THE BANK STATEMENT

After getting his head bobbled around by Rolls before dropping the boom in the fourth, GGG didn’t sound too interested in a New York rematch with Danny Jacobs or a shot at Providence, Rhode Island’s Demetrius Andrade for Boo-Boo’s new WBO trinket—and who can blame him at this point? The only big money fight out there for GGG is still against Canelo Alvarez.

It’s all about his legacy now. Uno mas en Las Vegas. Third times a charm?

As Golovkin gets another year older, his red-headed target grows another year wiser. Canelo’s 24 rounds of experience in the ring with GGG have taught him how to do what nobody else before him could do which was beat Golovkin back and take his unified middleweight titles.

Ask Canelo, as DAZN’s Mannix did, and he’ll say a third fight with Golovkin is unnecessary. “For me, we are done, but if the people want to see it, we can do it again. And I’ll beat him again.”

But can Alvarez finish the job and be the first to finish off Golovkin inside the distance? If he wants to get the critics off his back who insist he received two gifts against Golovkin, he’ll want to. It worked for Andre Ward against Sergey Kovalev but even then fans cried foul over the TKO.

Can Alvarez make GGG quit?

The way Golovkin got hit by Steve Rolls has me wondering if the counterpunching Canelo has been setting him up all along for a trilogy winning knockout of some sort. Is the rock-solid chin of Golovkin finally ready to burst after years of getting whacked at by eager-fisted title challengers?

Canelo is by no means a knockout puncher against fully fleshed out middleweights but he has grown into the 160-pound division very well over time. His recent unanimous decision victory over Danny Jacobs didn’t feature any knockdowns but his win over the ‘Miracle Man’ was more conclusive than was Golovkin’s in 2017. Nobody was claiming afterwards that Jacobs deserved the decision while some still insist that Danny actually beat GGG. If Golovkin is right and both of them open up more in a third fight, Canelo-Golovkin III could exceed expectations.

We’ve all heard the saying: Be careful what you wish for. Because you just might get it!

There wouldn’t be a bigger Big Drama Show in all of boxing than to see the once seemingly invincible Gennady Golovkin dropped and/or stopped by the Mexican Style of Canelo Alvarez.

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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