On Saturday, June 1, 2019, Andy Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) delivered the biggest upset in Heavyweight boxing since Hasim Rahman traveled to South Africa and knocked out then-reigning champion Lennox Lewis in April of 2001.
Ruiz’s victory is perhaps even bigger than that one. We may have to go back to Buster Douglas’ victory over Mike Tyson to find a more surprising upset. It’s certainly hard to think of a bigger upset (or WTF moment, if you will) in the digital age of boxing where everything is GIF’d, Meme’d, tweeted and posted on Instagram, practically in real time.
Regardless of where it lands on the list of monumental shocks in boxing history, Ruiz’s seventh-round knockout victory over Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) has certainly shaken things up in the Heavyweight division.
As Brian Kenny stated during the pre-fight tale of the tape just moments before the fight started on DAZN, Joshua is built like a cartoon character–a visual version of perfection with muscles popping out of every possible section of his body.
Ruiz, on the other hand, was the guy that no casual boxing fan knew, and even Sugar Ray Leonard chalked him up as the guy with a pot belly as he sized up the matchup.
In short, not many people–fans and pundits alike–could fathom Joshua losing.
The lead-up to the fight was the stuff that far-fetched movies are made of. The late replacement with a less-than-stellar physique, squaring off against the Heavyweight champion of the world who was making his grand arrival in the United States at the Mecca of Boxing–Madison Square Garden.
For those who don’t know better, and for some of us who may have forgotten, Ruiz provided us all an important reminder that boxing isn’t a bodybuilding contest. While breaking a fight down on paper can provide insight, it is sometimes the intangibles that end up meaning the most.
After tasting the canvas for the first time in his career in Round 3 and seemingly being moments away from a knockout loss, Andy Ruiz did something incredible. He got up, collected himself, and fought back.
DAZN’s ringside commentator Chris Mannix had just finished uttering the words, “watch this,” as he waited for Joshua to close the show like he had done so many times before.
But instead of being treated to another Joshua knockout victory, we witnessed one of those immeasurable intangibles–heart. Guts, will, huevos, whatever you want to call it–that’s the equalizer that nobody really knew Ruiz possessed.
After rising up from the knockdown, Ruiz stood toe to toe with the giant, ate a hellacious right hand that would have crippled most men, and then found a home for his own game-changing left hook.
“It’s because of the Mexican warrior I am,” said Ruiz after the fight as he described his ability to come back. “I have that Mexican blood in me. Talking about the Mexican fighting style, I just proved it.”
From there, Ruiz’s confidence soared as he scored a second knockdown in the round. If the fight had ended there in favor of Ruiz, it would’ve been an awesome victory. But what’s even more impressive is that Joshua came back. He survived a shaky Round 4, had some success in Round 5, and landed a huge hook again in Round 7.
We began to remember that Wladimir Klitschko, with all of his championship experience and power, had Joshua hurt and on the canvas as well. But the legendary Ukrainian could not close the show and let Joshua off the hook, only to be stopped in the later rounds.
It’s almost what we expected. A spirited effort that would fall just a tad bit short. Because this type of stuff only happens in the movies, right?
Instead of following script, Ruiz wrote his own ending by stringing together numerous power punches and forced an exhausted Joshua back on his heels and to the canvas in the seventh. Joshua was able to beat the count after the second and final knockdown, but his body didn’t seem to be on the same page with his mouth.
He looked lost in the corner and while he did say he was ready to continue, Joshua didn’t put up much of a fight when referee Michael Griffin decided to call a halt to the bout.
And just like that, the little-known 29-year-old contender from Imperial Valley, California became the WBA, WBO, IBF and WBO Heavyweight titleholder. The new kid on the PBC block (they didn’t even post the standard congratulatory graphic on their Instagram page), the one who Bob Arum (Ruiz’s former promoter) called a fat slob, the one who was repeatedly compared to the chubby kid from the Pixar movie, Up.
He did that.
But, as is usually the case with boxing fans and media, Ruiz’s incredible victory has quickly become a little less important than crying about what could have been a mega fight between Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
Do you honestly think Wilder vs. Joshua would have been an all-time great fight? We don’t know, but I personally don’t. Even if you do feel like it had the makings of a great one, there isn’t any reason why it still can’t be a big fight down the line.
Joshua’s legacy is not done.
If Lewis wouldn’t have come back and knocked Rahman out silly in the rematch, history would probably look at Lewis a bit differently. So let’s see how Joshua looks if and when he returns.
AJ has a rematch clause that he seems eager to exercise, so we may find out what he’s made of before 2019 is over.
“100 percent,” said Joshua when asked if he wants another crack at Ruiz. “I’m still young in the sport, still got a long way to go. Been pro I think six years, so I’ve still got another like nine years in me. Fighters go on until they’re 40 now, I’m still 29 so I still got a long time (via Metro).”
I’ll admit to being guilty of usually asking “what’s next?” after a fight. But for now I’m content with appreciating what just happened on Saturday night–an upset for the ages.