The “Clash on the Dunes.” A unified Heavyweight title rematch of what, in my opinion, was the fight of the year so far.
Andy Ruiz (33-2, 22 KOs) shocked the sporting world on June 1 by coming in as a replacement opponent and dethroning Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) on six weeks’ notice.
It was the biggest upset in the sport since Buster Douglas’ knockout of Mike Tyson in February of 1990.
The weigh-ins on Friday provided the first clue as to how the rematch would go. Ruiz, who had weighed 268 pounds in June, came in at 283 pounds.
AJ, who seemed refocused and reinvigorated by his setback, trimmed off 11 pounds, to come in at 237. Jack Dempsey said it best, “It’s tough to get up and run at 5:00 am when you’re wearing silk pajamas.”
Ruiz may have enjoyed the trappings of fame and being the first ever Heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage a little too much for his own good.
The fight itself was a masterclass on the part of Anthony Joshua. The first four rounds saw AJ establish what would be the pattern for upwards of 90 percent of the fight. He used his faster feet to circle around Ruiz on the outside and set up his fast, left jab.
He pecked and poked for the majority of the first two minutes of each round, while probing with feints to open Ruiz up for power shots. This approach paid off almost immediately towards the end of Round 1, as AJ landed two hard rights in short succession.
The second right opened up a cut on Ruiz’s left eyelid. Round 2 saw Ruiz inching closer and landing occasionally. He even managed to return the favor of a cut left eyelid to AJ, although neither laceration would prove to be a factor.
Rounds 3 and 4 passed in similar fashion, with AJ winning them as well. The middle portion of the fight saw AJ’s confidence visibly growing. The Brit routinely snapped jabs off in Ruiz’s face, then smartly circled away.
On the rare occasion that Ruiz managed to bull his way in, AJ held. He’d learned not to trade at close range and was sticking to his game plan to stay on the outside. His goal was to win the fight, not prove his courage by foolishly getting into exchanges.
Rounds 8 and 9 were where AJ truly showed his championship pedigree and grit. After having his easiest round of the fight in the seventh, Ruiz worked his way into mid-range in the final minute of the eighth and caught his man in two consecutive exchanges.
Joshua was visibly buzzed and stayed on his bicycle for the remainder of the round, which prompted me to score it for the champion. The ninth saw Joshua still on shaky legs, and Ruiz knew it.
He pursued doggedly for the first minute, while Joshua did very little but move away and throw the occasional jab to stave off the assault. As his legs came back to him, AJ went back to what had worked for almost the entire fight.
Joshua punctuated the ninth with a thudding combination that finished with a left uppercut to Ruiz’s chin. The Mexican American’s head snapped back, and it was clear that AJ had re-established control. He led the fight eight rounds to one on my unofficial scorecard.
The final three rounds were relatively easy ones for Joshua. He won them all with relative ease. Andy Ruiz’s body language finally began to reflect the frustration that had been building on his face.
In the 11th round, he dropped his hands all the way below his waist in an instant of resignation as AJ continued to literally box circles around him. And in Round 12, as the final 30 seconds were ticking away, Ruiz yelled at AJ to fight him at ring center, to no avail.
The belts were always more important than validating one’s own machismo.
My final scorecard read 119-109. The official judges saw it similarly as Benoit Roussel and Glenn Feldman both scored it 118-110 and Steve Gray had it 119-109. It was honestly an easy fight to score.
Where Do They Go From Here?
Most fans will undoubtedly clamor for AJ to fight the winner of the Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury rematch next February before even thinking about granting the trilogy he promised to Andy Ruiz.
Barring any odd political happenings regarding different sanctioning bodies and belt organizations, that matchup would crown the first undisputed Heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999 (the WBO title wasn’t yet considered necessary for “undisputed” status).
Either way, AJ proved a lot in overcoming a knockout loss to regain his belts, just as his countryman Lennox Lewis did twice.
For Ruiz, his status as a former unified Heavyweight champion will command bigger paydays for the rest of his career. No one ever expected him to become champion, and through luck (in replacing Jarrell Miller) and sheer force of will (picking himself off the canvas and fighting back,) he achieved something that few can say they’ve done.
When each man is in his best possible condition, a fight between them is scintillating, can’t-miss action. Their styles mesh beautifully. Ruiz wasn’t in his best shape tonight, but AJ beat the man in front of him.
Just as Ruiz beat the possibly damaged version of AJ that was in front of him in June. Personal accountability is key. Fighters are a product of their training and lifestyles, and in the end, no one will know or care why a certain fighter won or lost. They’ll only remember the result.