Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr participated in what turned out to be two of the biggest fights in boxing last year.
In June, their first bout, where Ruiz shocked the entire world by stopping Joshua and taking the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles, was more of a hit after the fact. The fight itself had little mainstream buzz coming in, other than a lot of casual or non-fans remarking on the rotund build of Ruiz, who had come in as the opponent on short notice. After the upset, it was a massive sports story, going beyond the normal realms of boxing today.
The December rematch in Saudi Arabia was a bigger event coming in, but didn’t even sniff the overall scope of the first fight when it was all said and done, as Joshua easily outboxed a truly out of shape Ruiz and regained his belts.
Ruiz (33-2, 22 KO) said immediately after the fight that he wanted to do it a third time, and AJ played along in the moment. But there was no real demand for it — in the rematch, people got the rout that was expected the first time, and thus the first fight was largely written off as a true fluke happening.
Ruiz also did himself no favors by not just losing to Joshua in the rematch, and not just losing clearly and with little excitement, but by having shown up giving the impression he didn’t train seriously and couldn’t put his best effort in. You’re asking the public to pay to see these fights, after all; to get them to show confidence in giving up their money to see you, you can’t make them think you’re going to come in and lay an egg by barely even trying ahead of the fight.
Since then, Ruiz has parted ways with trainer Manny Robles, a common move for fighters to make after a loss, and especially one as troubled as that. Robles had shown no reservations about sharing his frustrations trying to get Ruiz to train, figuring the writing was on the wall as soon as Ruiz lost in Saudi Arabia.
There’s more than one problem for Ruiz here. Joshua (23-1, 21 KO) has mandatory challengers in line, for one thing. Kubrat Pulev will be first up, as that fight has been signed and was meant to happen on June 20, now postponed. Oleksandr Usyk is also in the mix, provided Usyk beats Derek Chisora, another fight that is currently on the shelf due to COVID-19. And the biggest fish to fry would be an undisputed championship fight with Tyson Fury. That, too, would take some doing, but there is and will be demand for Fury-Joshua if both keep winning.
Ruiz? He’s still a contender for now, but that performance put him off the radar for any immediate major fights. Dillian Whyte has called him out some (and just insulted him a lot), and Dominic Breazeale wants to face him, but Ruiz has only made vague promises of “big news” coming “soon,” and was doing that before the pandemic shut the sport down.
And he can really only blame himself for the relative lack of interest in what’s next for him at the moment. I like Andy Ruiz as a fighter; when he’s on his game, I think he’s a dangerous heavyweight against just about anyone out there. He’s got skills, hand speed, he takes a hell of a shot, and he’s fun to watch, too. When he’s not on his game, he’s an also-ran. The margins are thin for him to be a top tier guy. He has to be at his best.
Here’s hoping he gets there. And if he shows in a fight or two or three that he’s dialed in and serious about his career going forward, there may very well come a time when Joshua-Ruiz 3 is a great, big fight.
It’s just not right now. As unfair as it may seem, Andy Ruiz is going to have to prove himself to people again.