Renowned boxing author Thomas Hauser said Anthony Joshua could have walked down an American street without being recognised prior to his US debut against underdog Andy Ruiz Jr. On Sunday, that may no longer be the case. His stunning defeat – where time appeared to freeze for the Briton at Madison Square Garden – will
Renowned boxing author Thomas Hauser said Anthony Joshua could have walked down an American street without being recognised prior to his US debut against underdog Andy Ruiz Jr.
On Sunday, that may no longer be the case.
His stunning defeat – where time appeared to freeze for the Briton at Madison Square Garden – will be played on loop by sports broadcasters here and at home for the next 24 hours and beyond.
Joshua’s team sat slumped, dejected, almost lifeless, as he fielded questions in the bowels of the arena after a stunning result that few saw coming.
Their man had lost his titles. More so, he had lost his “invincibility” according to former world heavyweight champion Davie Haye.
So will this be a time for change for Joshua?
And could Ruiz – who believed he was destined for life as a no-good gangster – now become the division’s “golden goose”?
Something went missing in AJ
During fight week, Joshua told Carl Frampton that after beating Wladimir Klitschko in a topsy-turvy 2017 bout, he had informed trainer Rob McCracken he would “give up” if he needed to be in fights which played out like a rollercoaster again.
Not only has he now had such a contest, but he has had one which will rear its head decades from now whenever boxing shocks or wider sporting upsets are discussed.
There can either be a view that this was unfortunate and team Joshua hold firm, or, more likely, there will be change.
“This is the biggest shock I have ever seen in my whole days in boxing,” Frampton told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“There are big questions about AJ’s engine now. It will be interesting to see if there any changes made to his team because it is something that would not surprise me.”
Before the seventh and final round, Joshua looked perplexed in his corner and simply said to McCracken: “Why am I feeling like this?”
The 29-year-old had been adamant this fight’s training camp was the one where 10 years in the sport had all come together.
He said lessons were learned from being unwell in the run-up to his last victory and an emphasis had been placed on quality over quantity. His training regime even included work with Navy Seals, who told him how they dealt with being shot in the hope it would help him stay calm if knocked down.
And knocked down he was, four times in all. Those ringside could see all was not well from an early stage as fatigue shone through.
“If Anthony Joshua is healthy and fit as he says he is, then there is something wrong,” said Haye. “He needs something in his camp that he didn’t have.”
The question is what? Joshua has a nutritionist, a psychologist, a strength and conditioning trainer, the experience of McCracken, physios, video analysts – the list goes on.
He runs a lot for a heavyweight, so an engine should be a given. Love or loathe Joshua, for any fighter to be in a ring, exposed and aware they are drowning, is nothing short of lonely.
Could it have been an inner fatigue caused by his countless commercial obligations? He said this week that trying to promote boxing and his US debut “takes so much work”.
Perhaps also, McCracken gave something away this week when he said some opponents proposed before Ruiz would not have kept Joshua switched on.
His words point to Joshua maybe needing a certain challenge to remain focused. The contracted rematch will undoubtedly focus the mind.
Lennox Lewis has admitted he paid for complacency in defeat to Hasim Rahman in 2001. Seven months later Lewis ruthlessly took back his belts.
Joshua has already defended his team and blamed himself. At least if this defeat was indeed down to the mind switching off, history shows it can be corrected.
What may be harder to correct is a dent to Joshua’s pride. He has been a world champion for over three years, after all.
Joshua now a mere mortal
“Anthony Joshua’s invincibility has gone now and he is now just a mere mortal,” Haye told BBC Radio 5 Live. “Now, fighters know they have just got to stick in there against him and keep throwing body shots.”
Haye makes a valid point. Fans can be harsh in their criticism and the human being underneath the fighter’s facade can be vulnerable.
When George Foreman lost for the first time to Muhammad Ali in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ of 1974, he later admitted he lost something as a man that night.
And Eddie Hearn told media after the shock: “Everyone will remember it forever. This will eat him up bad. Some fighters lose and fight back, some never come back the same.”
Promoter Lou Di Bella, who worked with WBC champion Deontay Wilder for his draw with Tyson Fury, tweeted: “This isn’t the end for AJ. The real test of Anthony Joshua will be how he bounces back from this. Boxing is unpredictable and unforgiving; it’s what makes it so compelling.”
There will be soul searching but Joshua has the team around him, and crucially the mental wherewithal to search in a measured way.
His team may get tweaked, his routine adjusted and his methods changed but a man often dubbed “a sponge” by McCracken stands every chance of soaking up the trauma and responding.
Let’s not forget he has come from brushes with the law to Olympic gold and world champion. There is much to his character, so surely he will show it.
Ruiz – From gangster to champion
And while pieces like this will analyse the why and the how, we cannot discount the fact that sometimes it only takes one punch.
Joshua never got close to recovering from the first knockdown. It could simply be his senses were scrambled, never returned and so began an almost uncontrollable downward spiral that others have faced before.
As in any sport, sometimes it just isn’t your day. Ruiz, however, will never have a better one.
On Monday night, he spoke to media in a pair of baggy jeans, old trainers, an ill-fitting jacket and often stood hands in his pockets, almost thankful to be asked questions.
His name wasn’t even printed on some fight tickets and the majority of the questions Joshua answered in fight week were about other fighters.
Words can barely do justice to frame the momentous upset this was.
Ruiz thanked his father, who took him to a gym aged six simply to burn off energy, such was his hyperactive nature.
As years passed, he found trouble, shaved his head, joined gangs and said it was his father who would find him and force him back into the gym.
He battled his weight, fought older children as a result of his size and despite considering giving up, continued to almost reach the 2008 Olympics.
That hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach ploughed seven years into him early in his professional career underlined his talent, not least a fast style typically seen in Mexicans in lower weight divisions.
And as well as the belts, the 268lbs heavyweight takes home several million dollars and will get more if the rematch is signed.
“Mom, I love you,” he said at his news conference. “Our lives are going to change, we don’t have to struggle no more.”
A repeat bout looks a certainty but in boxing, as tonight has shown, count on nothing.
“Eddie Hearn is a great promoter, all week he said one loss for Anthony Joshua changes everything, changes the landscape,” said 5 Live analyst Steve Bunce.
“We could have Luis Ortiz pull out of fighting Wilder and we could have Ruiz versus Wilder for all the world heavyweight titles in September.”
Such a fight was unthinkable but after this night of bedlam, is now possible.
Ruiz has made a splash in the heavyweight division, just like Joshua has in America in a way boxing will never forget.(BBC)