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Australian Boxing Legend Jeff Fenech in Bangkok Hospital

Arne K. Lang

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As widely reported, Australian boxing legend Jeff Fenech is in Bangkok awaiting surgery to repair a defective heart valve. Fenech was in the Thai capitol training boxers when he was stricken. He is expected to remain hospitalized for at least a week after the surgery is performed.

Fenech, now 55 years old, was raised in Marrickville, a suburb of Sydney. He turned pro in 1984 at age 20 after competing in the Los Angeles Olympics where he lost a disputed decision in the quarterfinals to a Yugoslav veteran. His very first pro fight was scheduled for 10 rounds.

Dubbed the Marrickville Mauler, Fenech won the IBF world bantamweight title in his seventh pro bout with a ninth-round stoppage of Satashi Shingaki. He went on to capture world titles in two higher weight classes. Among his victims were Jerome Coffee and Steve McCrory, both undefeated when he fought them, and Mexico’s legendary Carlos Zarate whose career was winding down. But Fenech would be best remembered for a fight he didn’t win, a controversial draw in his first meeting with Azumah Nelson.

They fought on June 28, 1991, outdoors at the Mirage in Las Vegas in the chief undercard bout to the rematch between Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock. At stake was Nelson’s world super featherweight title.

The fight was a corker. At the final bell, the crowd accorded the gladiators a standing ovation. Moments later, when the decision was announced as a draw, allowing Nelson to keep his title, there was outrage. Loud booing erupted from all corners of the arena. Fenech was more marked-up, but virtually everyone thought that he was robbed. The Associated Press correspondent wrote that most of his colleagues on press row had Fenech winning nine rounds.

Azumah Nelson was controlled by Don King. The result, it was argued, was precisely what King wanted as it commanded a lucrative rematch. The cynics speculated that King got to Puerto Rican judge Miguel Donate who scored it 116-112 for Nelson. The other arbiters, local men, had it 115-113 for Fenech (Jerry Roth) and 114-114 (Dave Moretti).

Compounding the controversy, the start of round 10 was delayed for at least 30 seconds while Nelson’s cornermen searched for his lost mouthguard (the videotape  appeared to indicate that one of the cornermen had pocketed it). In their futile quest to have the verdict overturned, the Australian Boxing Commission argued that referee Joe Cortez erred by not deducting a point from Nelson for this “irregularity.”

The inevitable rematch came to fruition on March 1, 1992 at Melbourne’s historic Princes Park. Azumah Nelson took charge from the get-go, knocking Fenech down in the first, second, and eighth rounds en route to an eighth-round stoppage.

Nelson, the great Ghanaian, nicknamed the Professor, had lost only twice in 36 starts, those coming at the hands of all-time greats Salvador Sanchez and Pernell Whitaker, but yet the result was such a shocker that it was named Upset of the Year by The Ring magazine.

Fenech had four more fights before retiring in 1996 after suffering a second-round stoppage at the hands IBF lightweight titlist Phillip Holiday, a fellow Aussie. He left the sport with a record of 28-3-1 with 21 KOs.

In retirement, Fenech became one of Australia’s most prominent boxing trainers. In 2005, he trained Mike Tyson for Tyson’s ill-fated comeback fight with Kevin McBride, the final fight of Iron Mike’s career. Fenech and Tyson (pictured) had a long friendship that predated their appearance on the same card at the Mirage in 1991. In the ring, both were seek-and-destroy fighters which likely enhanced their bond.

Twelve years after his bout with Holiday, Fenech returned to the ring in Melbourne for a third meeting with Azumah Nelson. By then, both fighters were ensconced in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, having entered the Hall in their first year of eligibility. At age 49, the Ghanaian was the older man by five years and had been inactive for a decade, but yet he opened a small favorite.

Fenech-Nelson III was disparaged by serious boxing fans, but yet attracted considerable buzz. As a prelude to it, Fenech appeared in a reality show on Australian television titled “Jeff Fenech: I Love Youse All.” His co-star, as it were, was his wife Suzee, a Mamie Van Doren look-alike from the neck down (and I just dated myself).

The rubber match was a “happening” in Australia. According to the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the crowd included a huge array of sports stars, celebrities, and underworld figures. (Fenech is pals with certain individuals in all three communities.) In a competitive, albeit predictably uneventful, fight, Fenech finally got the best of his great rival, winning a majority decision to even their series at 1-1-1.

Today (Monday), Jeff’s spirits were lifted by a call from Mike Tyson who wished him a speedy recovery. We here at The Sweet Science echo that sentiment.

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Congrats to AJ, But Fat Andy Obliged His Redemption by Forgetting History

Bernard Fernandez

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A wise man, Spanish writer/philosopher George Santayana, once observed that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

All right, so the original quote attributed to Santayana, who was known for aphorisms, was worded slightly differently. But the rationale expressed in either version has remained the same almost forever, and in the specific case of now-dethroned heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr., the closest parallel to the harsh life lesson he learned Saturday evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, took place on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo.  Ruiz can be excused for not seeing the HBO telecast of Buster Douglas’ shocking, 10th-round knockout of heavyweight king Mike Tyson on that date because, well, the now-30-year-old Ruiz was still an infant, having been born only 155 days earlier. But you have to figure that by now he’d heard plenty about the most famous upset in boxing history, and how Douglas, the newly crowned champion and momentary toast of the pugilistic world, squandered his opportunity to be something more than a one-hit wonder by getting knocked out in the third round of his first and only title defense, by Evander Holyfield on Oct. 25, 1990, at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

There are, of course, several differences between the cruel price Ruiz must now pay for becoming too self-satisfied with his instant wealth and celebrity, as was the case with Douglas, who never again came within whiffing distance of the form, boxing-wise or belly-wise, that he displayed one magical night (well, it was actually Sunday afternoon Tokyo time) in the Land of the Rising Sun. Douglas went down on his back and was counted out by referee Mills Lane; the disturbingly chubby Ruiz (33-2, 22 KOs) remained upright for the 12-round distance, but was handily out-boxed from the get-go in losing a wide unanimous decision in his rematch with Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), the man from whom he had lifted the IBF, WBA and WBO belts on a seventh-round stoppage in  their first meeting on June 1 of this year in New York’s Madison Square Garden. And while Douglas never did share the ring a second time with Tyson, relinquishing his WBC, WBA and IBF straps to a new opponent, Holyfield, whom he also did not face again, Ruiz’s precipitous fall from grace came in a do-over with Joshua, which may or may not be a precursor to a rubber match that suddenly seems neither assured nor in that much public demand.

“I  think I was chasing him too much instead of cutting off the ring,” said the ostensibly 6-foot-2 Ruiz, who officially weighed in at a preposterous 283.7 pounds, or 15.7 more than he did for his successful first go at Joshua, which was widely hailed as boxing’s biggest shocker since Douglas beat up the seemingly invincible Tyson. “I just felt like I couldn’t throw my combinations. But who wants to see a third fight?”

It would have been interesting to see if CompuBox, the punch-counting outfit, could have quickly scanned the sellout crowd of 15,000 in the outdoor stadium on the outskirts of Riyadh to tabulate how many hands went up in support of the possible rubber match that logic almost dictates will never happen. Where Ruiz, a United States citizen and the first heavyweight titlist of Mexican descent, was the taco-tasting flavor of the moment as soon as he had his hand raised against Joshua six months earlier, he now is teetering on the border of irrelevance, just as Douglas was when he demonstrated he did not have the will and discipline to ever again be the same fighter he was in cashing his lottery ticket against Tyson.  Ruiz, his considerable girth aside, still has fast hands and decent power for a man his size, but his waddling pursuit of AJ in the Saudi desert now stamps him as little more than a more mobile hippo in a river teeming with faster-moving crocodiles. With Ruiz’s seeming expulsion from the club, what had been a Big Four of heavyweight boxing again has been constricted to a Big Three, with Joshua reclaiming a favored place at the head table along with WBC champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and humongous  Brit Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs), who technically remains the lineal champ.

Wilder and Fury are set to square off a second time on Feb. 22 at an undetermined site in a reprise of their classic first matchup, which ended in a controversial split draw on Dec. 1, 2018 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Some observers felt that the sharp-boxing Fury had banked enough rounds to get the nod, while dissenters sided with Wilder, who registered two knockouts, including a 12th-round flooring from which Fury barely beat the count. Whomever survives that showdown automatically becomes the people’s choice to go for the undisputed title against Joshua, unless, of course, there is some sort of undisclosed contractual obligation for Wilder and Fury to swap punches a third time.

Nor is Joshua, who has expressed his desire to fully complete his collection of bejeweled championship belts, likely to voluntarily surrender any to accommodate Ruiz’s entreaties to get it on a third time. The WBO announced immediately after the fight that Joshua must make his mandatory defense against Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) within 180 days, while the IBF wants AJ to defend against its mandatory challenger, Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs). A pairing of Joshua and Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion who 17-0 with 13 KOs, is of much more global interest than Joshua-Ruiz 3 would be, and the likelihood is that AJ would accede to the IBF’s wishes rather than allow one of his titles to be vacated.

Where does that leave Ruiz? Likely back in the outer waiting room of title contention, where he either can buckle down and prove that he is not Buster Douglas Not-So-Lite by paying some dues to his craft instead of hefty restaurant bills. As Douglas – who ballooned to almost 400 pounds after his retirement from boxing — proved, it is one thing to enjoy living large, but it quite another to allow your appetites to go unchecked.

“It was his night,” Ruiz said of Joshua. “I don’t think I prepared as good as I should have. I gained too much weight, but I don’t want to give no excuses. He won, he boxed me around, but if we did the third (fight), best believe I will come in the best shape of my life.

“(The weight gain, from the 268 he came in for the first meeting with Joshua) kind of affected me a lot. I thought I would come in stronger and better. But you know what? Next time I am going to prepare better with my team. This time I tried to train myself at times, but no excuses. Anthony Joshua did a hell of a job.”

Perhaps a third Joshua-Ruiz bout, if it ever happens, should seek sponsorships from Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. The subject of weight, both gained and lost, almost superseded more traditional boxing considerations from the time the rematch was announced right through the bell ending the 12th round.

For his part, Ruiz either was in denial or simply lying about the level of his conditioning, which is tied so closely to the number that is displayed on a scale. Even after arriving in Riyadh, he insisted that he expected to come in “around eight pounds” lighter than he had for the first fight with Joshua, an estimation that either was a blatant prevarication or one of the worst miscalculations ever. Despite already having an Adonis-type physique, Joshua had determined that he needed to slim down to increase his mobility and endurance, a goal which appeared to be achieved when he whittled himself from 247.75 pounds for the first fight to 237.8. His reconstructed body more closely resembled that of an Olympic gold medalist swimmer than an Olympic gold medalist fighter. This AJ looked less Lennox Lewis than Michael Phelps, and the boost in his stamina was evident as he pranced around the huge 22-foot ring like a frisky colt for all 12 rounds, peppering Ruiz’s reddened face with stiff jabs, occasional overhand rights and change-of-pace left hooks downstairs.

It will be interesting to see if AJ will retain his sleek, more mobile look when the time comes to get it on with so feared a slugger as Wilder, or as monstrously large a man as Fury. That is another story for another day, and that day is surely coming.

Not so certain is how the saga of Andy Ruiz Jr. transitions to another, perhaps final chapter. With fleshy love handles spilling over the waistband of his trunks like crème filling from a squeezed doughnut, he has never looked the part of an elite heavyweight, but his lumpy appearance belied real skills that might have been even more evident were he to eat to live instead of living to eat. Which brings us back to his predecessor of squandered opportunities, Buster Douglas.

When Douglas beat Tyson – not only beat him, but beat him up – he was inspired to perform at a higher level than ever before by the untimely death of his beloved mother, Lula Pearl Douglas. That motivation, coupled with Tyson’s arrogant belief that he need only to show up and another frightened foe would collapse before him, produced an unexpected outcome that has become the stuff of legend.

Fit as he had ever been at 231 pounds for the Tyson fight, rumors abounded that Douglas was having pizza regularly delivered him in the hotel sauna as he prepped for Holyfield. When the man from Columbus, Ohio, weighed in at a jiggly 246 for a title defense for which he was being paid $24.075 million, hundreds of spectators at the open-to-the-public event literally sprinted from their seats to the casino sports book to get bets down on Holyfield.

That scene, of course, could not be repeated in Riyadh because there is no legalized gambling in Saudi Arabia, although it might have been a kick to see men in flowing white robes and keffiyehs on their heads sprinting toward the nearest sports book, had one existed. And while there is no gambling tolerated in Saudi Arabia, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages also is against the law, as is male fraternization with women (most of whom are wrapped up like mummies anyway) who aren’t their wives. In other words, the place is never to become as much a travel destination for fun-seeking Westerners as, say, Vegas, which is why it says here that Riyadh can never become as much of a fight town as the free-spending sheiks and promoter Eddie Hearn might want, despite the fact that Saudi backers ponied up a massive site fee somewhere between $40 million and $100 million to host Ruiz-Joshua 2. Oh, and there’s also that little matter of Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian governmental policies, which might explain why superstar golfer Tiger Woods has steadfastly declined to journey there the past couple of years to play in the Saudi Invitational tournament, despite offers of a $3 million appearance fee regardless of how he fared on the links.

So, we shall see whether Ruiz, a father of five who celebrated his stunner over Joshua by splurging on a mansion and Rolls-Royce, among other shiny new toys, finally reins himself in or continues to drift into the hazy limbo to which Buster Douglas is forever relegated. After Buster was knocked down by Holyfield, and seemed in no particular hurry to get up, the gentlemanly trainer Eddie Futch – who was there as an interested spectator, without any connection to either fighter – lambasted the now-former champion as he almost never did when speaking publicly about anyone.

“Buster Douglas fought a disgraceful fight,” said Mr. Eddie, now deceased. “He allowed himself to get in such poor condition that he had nothing – no snap, not one good punch in three rounds. For the heavyweight champion to come in such condition is just outlandish.”

And this, from Mike Trainer, Sugar Ray Leonard’s longtime attorney and adviser, who was serving as The Mirage’s boxing consultant at that time.

“We break our necks to give the public a great evening and to keep the promise, which is why we have a beautiful stadium. Wynton Marsalis, Sugar Ray Leonard and fireworks. We compliment Evander Holyfield for coming into the ring well-prepared to keep that promise. However, our attitude is that fight purses should be more along the lines of winner-take-all so that the only incentive is victory.”

That isn’t going to happen either, but it does give pause for thought when one of the two participants in a big-ticket fight shows up seemingly not prepared to give his best effort.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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In the Evening Hours After Joshua-Ruiz, There Was a Lot Going On

Arne K. Lang

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In the Evening Hours After Joshua-Ruiz, There Was a Lot Going On

Hindsight is 20-20, but pundits with an historical bent looking for clues as to how the Joshua-Ruiz fight would unfold were looking in the wrong place. They went back and looked at previous heavyweight title rematches when they should have been re-visiting the career of Buster Douglas.

Douglas’s very next fight after his shocking upset of Mike Tyson came against Evander Holyfield. Douglas came in woefully out of shape and was stopped in the third round. And just like that, Buster went from a national hero to a bum in the blink of an eye.

Andy Ruiz went the distance with Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia, but his performance was reminiscent of Douglas-Holyfield in that he fell from grace in the court of public opinion with a loud thud. The good news for Ruiz and his kinfolk is that decades from now folks will remember his first meeting with Anthony Joshua and the rematch not so much.

– – –

In the main go of last night’s SHOWTIME card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, WBC world middleweight title-holder Jermall Charlo stopped Brisbane, Australia-based Dennis Hogan (28-3-1) in the seventh round. Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) knocked Hogan down with a left uppercut early in the fourth stanza and closed the show three rounds later with a booming left that knocked Hogan (28-3-1) down and unable to continue when he arose in the eyes of the referee. Charlo who previously held a world title at 154 pounds, was making his third defense. Hogan, who was moving up from 154 pounds, hadn’t previously been stopped.

The co-main between Chris Eubank Jr and veteran Matt Korobov was billed for the WBA “interim” world middleweight title. To the great dissatisfaction of the crowd, the contest was halted in the opening minute of the second round when Korobov was unable to continue after apparently dislocating his shoulder while throwing a punch. It goes into the books as a TKO 2 for Eubank.

Korobov (28-3-1) clearly had the best of it in the opening round, giving promise of a very interesting scrap. It was the U.S. debut for Eubank Jr (29-2, 22 KOs) who apparently will move forward into a match with Jermall Charlo.

In the best of the three TV fights, a battle of southpaws, Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasa scored a mild upset with an 11th round stoppage of former WBO bantamweight champion Marlon Tapales to claim the IBF “interim 122-pound title.

Iwasa (27-3, 17 KOs) was three-and-a-half inches taller than Tapales and had a six-and-a-half-inch reach advantage. He started slowly but gradually assumed control with a higher workrate. In round 11, he brought the fight to a finish with a hard left that sent Tapales, now 33-3, down with his head falling under the lower strand of ropes. The Filipino beat the count but was in no condition to continue.

In a 10-round match fought at a catchweight of 164 pounds, Ronald Ellis (17-1-2) out-hustled Immanuwel Aleem (18-2-2) to win a well-deserved majority decision. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-95

Puebla

Emanuel Navarrete’s fourth defense of his WBO super bantamweight title was a soft defense against countryman Francisco Horta.

As anticipated, the 26-year-old Horta, who had defeated no one of note while building a 20-3-1 record, was out of his league. Navarrete (30-1, 25 KOs) dominated from the get-go en route to a fourth-round stoppage.

The co-feature was equally one-sided. Jerwin Ancajas had little difficulty defending his title against Miguel Gonzalez, an obscure fighter from Chile. Perhaps the best of the current crop of Filipino fighters (no disrespect to Manny Pacquiao), Ancajas (32-1-2) took Gonzalez out in the sixth in what was the eighth successful defense of his IBF super flyweight title.

Montreal

David Lemieux’s first foray into the 168-pound weight class nearly ended in disaster. Lemieux was knocked down in the opening round and again in the fifth by 35-year-old Ukrainian Max Bursak who wasn’t known as a big puncher.

Lemieux scored a knockdown himself in round six and that ultimately saved him as he was given a split decision (94-93, 94-93, 93-94) that could have easily gone the other way. The narrow victory advanced Lemieux’s record to 41-4 (34) while Bursak fell to 35-6-2.

In the featured undercard fight, rising heavyweight contender Arslanbek Makhmudov dismissed 39-year-old Samuel Peter in the opening round. It was Makhmudov’s 11th win by stoppage in as many tries since leaving the amateur ranks.

It’s sad to witness the demise of Samuel Peter. The former WBC title-holder, once ranked among the hardest heavyweight punchers of all time, currently resides in Palookaville. He has won only two of his last six fights, those coming in Tijuana against opponents who were a combined 4-33-2.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / SHOWTIME

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The Hauser Report: Ruiz-Joshua 2 from Afar

Thomas Hauser

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The Hauser Report: Ruiz-Joshua 2 from Afar

Humpty Dumpty is an English nursery rhyme, the origins of which are shrouded in the mist of history. It has been said at various times to have been written as an allegory for people and events as diverse as King Richard III (whose army was defeated in the last major battle of The War of the Roses in 1485) to the fall from grace of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1529. In 1797, an English composer named Samuel Arnold published a work called Juvenile Amusements that included the following:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.

Since then, Humpty has appeared in creative works as diverse as Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. In its popularly-accepted current form, the rhyme reads:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

That brings us to Anthony Joshua.

At the start of 2019, Joshua was King of the World. After winning a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division at the 2012 Olympics, he’d moved to the professional ranks and compiled a 22-0 (21 KOs) record en route to annexing the WBA, IBF, and WBO crowns. His most impressive performance during that time was an April 29, 2017, knockout of Wladimir Klitschko that saw “AJ” climb off the canvas in front of 90,000 screaming hometown fans at Wembley Stadium in London to stop Klitschko in the eleventh round.

“There has always been something regal about Joshua,” Jimmy Tobin wrote. “A purple streak that went beyond his herculean dimensions, beyond the polish, beyond the grooming that long ago began preparing him to be not just a professional boxer but the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Then came the fall.

On June 1, 2019, Joshua entered the ring at Madison Square Garden in what was billed as his “invasion of America.” The opponent was Andy Ruiz, a substitute for Jarrell Miller who had been pulled from the fight after testing positive for banned performance enhancing drugs.

Ruiz had a good amateur pedigree. But he’d fought his first pro fight in 2009 at 297 pounds and evinced an aversion to serious conditioning throughout his ring career.

There’s a reason why very few fat people succeed in boxing. And it has nothing to do with body-shaming. Boxing requires that a fighter turn his body into a finely-tuned instrument of destruction. Indeed, Top Rank (which promoted Ruiz for much of his ring career) grew so discouraged by Andy’s eating habits and other lifestyle issues coupled with his financial demands that it let him buy his way out of his contract at the start of this year.

Joshua was a 20-to-1 betting favorite when the two men met in the ring on June 1. It was expected that Ruiz would be relegated to a place in boxing history alongside “Two-Ton” Tony Galento who was knocked out in the fourth round by Joe Louis eighty years ago. But once the bell rang, AJ’s ” invasion of America” evoked memories of England’s performance against the colonies in the Revolutionary War.

After dropping Ruiz with a hellacious right-uppercut-left-hook combination in round three, Joshua was staggered by a counter left hook to the temple and pummeled around the ring. Four knockdowns later, Andy Ruiz was the WBA-IBF-WBO heavyweight champion of the world.

Within the hour, Deontay Wilder (Joshua’s WBC rival) tweeted, “He [Joshua] wasn’t a true champion. His whole career has consisted of lies, contradictions and gifts. Facts and now we know who was running from who!!!”

That earned a rejoinder at the post-fight press conference from Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, who declared, “Deontay Wilder has zero class for kicking Joshua while he’s down.”

Tyson Fury, who styles himself as the “lineal” heavyweight king, was kinder on fight night, tweeting, “We have our back and forths but @anthonyfjoshua changed his stars through life. Heavyweight boxing, these things happen, rest up, recover, regroup and come again.”

Then, two days later, Fury abandoned his gracious position and told ESPN Radio, “It was a little fat fella from California who chinned him. He’ll never live it down. Can you imagine? You’re built like an Adonis, you’re six-foot-six, you’re ripped, carved in stone. And a little fat guy who has eaten every Snickers and Mars bar in the whole of California comes in there and bladders you all over? What a disgrace. If that was me, I’d never show my face in public again.”

Meanwhile; in a video released on his YouTube channel several days after the defeat, Joshua declared, “I took my first loss. How to explain that feeling? It hasn’t really changed me, my work ethic, my mindset, what I stand for, the people I’m still loyal to. I’m a soldier and I have to take my ups and my downs. On Saturday, I took a loss and I have to take it like a man. I’m the one who went in there to perform, and my performance didn’t go to plan. I’m the one who has to adjust, analyze, and do my best to correct it and get the job done in the rematch. Congratulations to Andy Ruiz. He has six months or so to be champion because the belts go in the air and he has to defend them against myself.”

But it’s never that simple. Recalling his own loss of the heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali in Zaire, George Foreman told boxing scribe Gareth Davies, “There is a process of grieving after a loss like this. When you are the heavyweight champion of the world, it’s not like you have lost a fight. You have lost a part of yourself. You have got to find it again.”

As for what might come next, Bob Arum weighed in on the subject just prior to the June 15 bout between Tyson Fury and Tom Schwartz. After saying that Fury (who he co-promotes) reminded him of Ali and Foreman, Arum declared that Team Joshua opting for an immediate rematch against Ruiz would be “the stupidest thing they can do.” In response, it was noted that letting Ruiz buy his way out of his Top Rank promotional contract turned out to be not so smart either.

Meanwhile, Ruiz was spending money like it would lose its value by the end of the year. A mansion, a $450,000 Rolls Royce, lots of bling. In August, he hosted an elaborate thirtieth birthday party for himself that was notable for a bevy of buxom lingerie-clad waitresses, a naked sushi girl, a large ice sculpture with the initials “AR” carved into the ice, free-flowing champagne, a live performance by rapper Scotty Music, and more.

Soon after, trainer Manny Robles acknowledged that Ruiz had been slow to get back to the gym.

“We’re working on getting back together this week,” Robles told SB Nation on August 20. “I was hoping it would be yesterday but it wasn’t, so we’re definitely working on that right now. We’re scheduled to start training this week. He’s not in great shape. Let’s hope we can get him back in the gym real soon and get him going again.”

It soon became clear that a Joshua-Ruiz rematch would be the next fight for each man. The open issues were when and where. Ruiz wanted the fight in the United States. But Joshua wanted it in Cardiff and, by contract, his side of the promotion was entitled to the choice of venue. Ultimately, Hearn chose December 7 in Saudi Arabia because of lucrative financial incentives extended by the Saudi Kingdom.

A purse sweetener quickly overcame Ruiz’s safety and humanitarian concerns, and the fight was on.

The morality of Ruiz-Joshua 2 being contested in Saudi Arabia has been discussed at length by this writer in a previous article. Suffice it to say here that boxing is not known for high moral standards, a point that was emphasized at the final pre-fight press conference in Diriyah on December 4 when Hearn introduced Prince Khalid bin Salman who spoke from the dais. Prince Khalid has been named in reliable intelligence reports as having been complicit in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.

Glossing over that history, Hearn advised the assembled media, “I can’t tell you how glad and honored we are to be here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to stage this event. There was a little bit of criticism. [But] I can tell you that, sitting here today, it was a wonderful, wonderful decision that we are so happy with. This is a new dawn for the sport of boxing. And we cannot thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Skill Challenge Entertainment [the Saudi Kingdom’s official event partner], and the GSA [the Saudi Arabian General Sports Authority] enough for everything they have done.”

Joshua had arrived in Saudi Arabia two weeks before the December 7 bout, Ruiz several days later. For the most part, the pre-fight exchanges between the boxers were pleasant.

“I respect him,” Joshua said of Ruiz. “He came into the ring [in our first fight] and did what he had to do.”

Ruiz responded in kind saying, “I have a lot of respect for Anthony. Outside the ring, he’s a very good man.”

There were the usual expressions of confidence.

“When I came to boxing,” Joshua declared, “I didn’t come to take part. I came to take over. I’m not here to put on a show. I’m here to win.”

“I know he’s gonna try to box me around,” Ruiz countered. “But it’s my job to prevent that. I’m ready to rock and roll.”

Ruiz also shared the thought, “I’m still the same Andy Ruiz. I’m still the same chubby little fat kid with the big dream. But inside the ring, I’m the champion of the world. This journey now is what I’ve been dreaming about all my life. I don’t want to give it away. I want a legacy, not just fifteen minutes of fame.”

There had been other huge upsets in heavyweight championship history before Ruiz toppled Joshua. James Braddock decisioned Max Baer. Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. Hasim Rahman beat Lennox Lewis. In each of these instances, the upset winner lost in his first title defense. By contrast, Cassius Clay “shook up the world” when he dethroned Sonny Liston and had a long glorious reign as Muhammad Ali.

Within that framework, Ruiz-Joshua 2 was seen primarily as a referendum on Joshua.

“Now we find out who he is,” Jimmy Tobin wrote. “Is he a better version of his countryman Frank Bruno? A physical specimen good enough to pick up some hardware but too psychologically fragile to persist at the top? Or is he closer to Lennox Lewis, an Olympic gold medalist who could be chinned but who never abandoned his malice despite the risk it introduced, whose multiple title reigns were a testament to his talent but also his ability to rebuild?”

The consensus was that Joshua should take a page from Wladimir Klitschko’s playbook, use his advantage in height and reach over Ruiz, and fight a cautious fight. Klitschko was mocked after he lost by knockout to Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders, and Lamon Brewster. But things turned out well for Wladimir once he retooled his defense and embarked on a 22-fight winning streak. Lennox Lewis met with similar success after knockout defeats at the hands of Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. When Lewis and Rahman readied for their rematch, most onlookers who had picked Lewis to win big the first time were on the fence. They questioned whether Lennox could take Rahman’s punch any better in Las Vegas than he did in South Africa. He could and he did.

Joshua was a 2-to-1 betting favorite over Ruiz in the rematch. The odds reflected his superior physical assets and the belief that he would come into their second encounter in far better physical condition than Ruiz. But there was more to it than that.

“It’s not just about coming in strong and fit,” Joshua said at a September 5 press conference in New York. “This training camp will be based on being quicker. I’ve spent the last three months sharpening the tools in my box that I didn’t use before.”

Joshua’s jab was widely viewed the key to his winning the rematch. He had to work it effectively as both an offensive and defensive weapon.

“If he knows how to use that lead hand to stop Ruiz from coming in,” Virgil Hunter (who trained Andre Ward) said, “he can control that whole situation and use his follow-up punches at the right time. And he has to set a footwork pace on Ruiz. [In the first fight] he let Ruiz take the steps that he was comfortable with. He needs to set up a footwork pace to make Ruiz step quicker, move quicker, work harder to get in range, and test his conditioning.”

Joshua weighed in at 237-1/2 pounds for Ruiz-Joshua 2, ten pounds lighter than for their first encounter. That bespoke of a decision on his part to trade muscle mass for speed and quickness

By contrast, Ruiz weighed in at 283-1/2, the most he’d weighed for a fight since his second pro outing more than ten years ago. Granted, Andy was wearing undershorts, a shirt, and sombrero when he stepped on the scale. But many observers thought that the 15-1/2 pounds he’d added since June bespoke of a lack of conditioning and commitment.

That said; when talk turned to Joshua winning the rematch with his jab, Ruiz’s proponents noted that Andy had backed AJ up with his own jab in rounds one and two of their first encounter and was elusive when Joshua tried to find him with jabs of his own.

Asked what he thought would be the key to the rematch, Ruiz answered, “Me staying small. I don’t think he likes fighting against that style. I don’t think he’s ever fought a short guy that pressures and is pretty slick. I felt like I was boxing him around even though I was the shorter guy.”

“He’ll try to box me and use his jab,” Ruiz continued. “But how long can he keep me away from hunting him down? That’s what we’ve been working on most of all heading into the fight. The main thing is pressure, throw combinations and use my speed. I can’t let him grow balls in there. I want to impose myself in this fight.”

Having grown tired of hearing that a “lucky punch” in round three led to Joshua’s downfall, Ruiz cited his own trip to the canvas in round three and told Sky Sports, “That was a lucky shot for him, too.”

When Joshua looked back on the defeat and said, “The first time I had him down, I could have been smarter. I got trigger happy and he landed,” Ruiz countered by noting that he’d also made a stupid mistake and got whacked just as hard as Joshua. But he had gotten back up ready to fight and survived.

And there were the intangibles.

Joshua’s victory over Wladimir Klitschko had been his greatest ring triumph. But in some ways, he seemed to be a lesser fighter after beating Wladimir. Rather than emerge from the Klitschko fight with increased self-belief and the idea that he could fight through all kinds of adversity to win, Joshua had seemed more tentative and vulnerable in fights since then, as though the Klitschko experience had scared and scarred him.

Confidence is a fragile thing for a fighter.

“Joshua says all the right things,” Bart Barry wrote. “Back to basics, trust his intuition, go with what got him there, a brand new fitness regimen. None of these things fixes the technical flaws Ruiz brought to light, much less the mental weakness Ruiz amplified. Andy Ruiz knows exactly what he is when he looks in the mirror. Anthony Joshua does not any longer, if he ever did. He knows his career’s greatest advocates either overestimated him or lied about it.”

Frank Lotierzo concurred, writing, “The thing that will make Ruiz so tough to beat is this. He’s coming to fight and is confident Joshua is coming to survive and box. Ruiz is certain he has the style to beat Joshua and shake off anything he might try to do. That’s a great mindset to have going into a big fight: the total belief that the opponent fears you; that he doesn’t want to trade; that he can’t box as well; that he isn’t as fast, tough, or confident. If Joshua can overcome that, he’s a remarkable fighter. Ruiz is going to ask Joshua the same questions he had no answer for the last time.”

And Deontay Wilder played on that theme, opining, “Joshua always had a weak mindset – always. And you can’t train for a mindset. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. Either you believe in yourself or you don’t. Either you know you’ve got the goods or you don’t. It ain’t no guessing. It ain’t asking no questions. No, f*** that! You got it or you don’t. And if you don’t have it, you don’t belong in this sport. Who knows? Maybe he’s got it together. Maybe he’s gonna go in there and knock Ruiz out. There’s a lot of maybes. I’m just going off of what I’ve seen in the first fight. And just a few months is not gonna correct what happened to him that night.”

Joshua’s mental state was the key imponderable. And no one would be able to measure that until the fight began. If the time came to walk through fire, would AJ be able the rekindle the toughness he showed when he climbed off the canvas to knock out Wladimir Klitschko? Or would he crumble?

With that in mind, AJ’s supporters were discomforted by a statement that he made as the rematch neared: “Even though I lost, it was only in my quiet times, like going to bed or something like that, that I really thought about it. In a weird way, it was kind of like a relief.”

Losing was a relief? Was the pressure that came with being King of the World that crushing? Which great heavyweight champion ever thought that losing was “kind of like a relief?”

It’s hard to think of a fighter who was considered “elite” who fell as far and as fast as Joshua did after losing to Ruiz. Virtually no one had picked Ruiz to win the first fight. Now most boxing people were saying that it was hard to pick a winner. And most insiders who were picking were picking Ruiz.

“You roll the dice,” commentator Paulie Malignaggi said of Joshua opting for an immediate rematch. “This is what boxing is, right?”

A stadium seating 15,000 fans had been built for the fight in Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh. The televised undercard was forgettable. Then came Ruiz-Joshua 2, the most anticipated fight of the year.

DAZN had told viewers that the fighter ring walks would begin at 3:45 PM eastern time and that round one would start at 4:00 PM. But a swing bout pushed the start of the walks past 4:00 PM and that was followed by three national anthems.

It was not an entertaining fight. Someday, if someone prepares a list of boxing oxymorons, “Ruiz-Joshua 2 highlights” will be on the list.

Ruiz looked like the last-place finisher in a wet T-shirt contest. He lumbered forward for most of the fight while Joshua circled away and jabbed. Before fighting Joshua earlier this year, Ruiz wasn’t known as a puncher. Six of his previous ten fights had gone the distance. But Joshua kept his distance this time as though Andy was Mike Tyson in his prime.

Ruiz was cut above the left eye by a sharp right hand late in round one, but the cut wasn’t a factor in the fight. And he landed a few solid blows, mostly in rounds eight and nine. But that was all. He evinced no understanding of how to cut off the ring to get to Joshua. When he did get inside, either AJ tied him up or referee Luis Pabon prematurely broke the fighters. On the few occasions when Andy managed to land solidly, Joshua immediately got back on his bike. By the late rounds, Ruiz had the look of a frustrated fighter who was just going through the motions.

The lack of action was reflected in the fact that, according to CompuBox, Ruiz landed only sixty punches over the course of twelve rounds while Joshua landed 107. The judges’ scorecards correctly read 119-109, 118-110, 118-110 in AJ’s favor.

“He won,” Ruiz acknowledged afterward. “He boxed me around. I don’t think I prepared as good as I should have. I gained too much weight. It kind of affected me a lot. I thought I would come in stronger and better. But you know what; next time I’m going to prepare better.”

“Look, this is about boxing,” Joshua said in a post-fight interview when asked about the tactical nature of the proceedings.

Or as Rocky Marciano, one of boxing’s great warriors, once noted, “You’re not in the ring to demonstrate your courage. You’re in there to win the fight.”

Give Joshua kudos for always carrying himself like a champion outside the ring.

And add on credit for his winning the rematch. A second loss to Ruiz would have been a devastating blow to his career. But despite what was said throughout the promotion, Ruiz-Joshua 2 was for some belts, not THE heavyweight championship of the world. The #1 heavyweight in the world right now is Deontay Wilder with Tyson Fury in second place.

After Lennox Lewis lost to Hasim Rahman, he came into their rematch determined to seek out and brutally destroy his conqueror. And he did. Joshua, on the other hand, looked almost fragile on Saturday night. He’d be an underdog against Wilder or Fury. And it’s not a stretch to say that contenders like Jarrell Miller and Luis Ortiz could give him trouble.

As for Ruiz; the good paychecks should last for a while now. He’ll always be a bit of a name, the guy who beat Anthony Joshua.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In June 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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