As he tore the page of May 2019 from his calendar, Anthony Joshua was standing tall. Unbeaten after 22 professional fights, the British fighter was the king of world heavyweight boxing, proudly holding the unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO titles.
The following day after facing Andy Ruiz on June 1st at Madison Square Gardens in New York City, the man from Watford was empty-handed.
What made the defeat even more unexpected is that Joshua had originally been scheduled to face Jarrell Miller, although the latter had failed three anti-doping tests in mid-April. At short notice, Ruiz was confirmed as the new rival with just a month to prepare and in the end, yet despite being regarded as a massive underdog, the Mexican-American would become the lumberjack who felled the once mighty Joshua tree.
“The better man won,” Joshua later admitted, no longer the undefeated champion of the world. Ruiz had taken all four of his belts after flooring his rival four times during the fight, even having been the first to hit the canvas himself earlier in the bout. Once considered a nearly man having lost his shot at the WBO title in 2016 against Joseph Parker, now Ruiz held three of the ‘big four’ heavyweight belts and the IBO title.
After the stunning defeat in New York City, the Joshua camp wasted little time in activating their rematch clause. Although the fight was originally tipped to be held in the United Kingdom, Ruiz refused that option and a neutral venue was agreed instead. Touted as the ‘Clash of the Dunes’, the rematch will take place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. According to the latest boxing betting odds at 888, Joshua is touted as favorite once again, although he’ll need to up his game to beat Ruiz this time.
Having received accusations of complacency in the aftermath of losing against Ruiz last time around, Joshua is more than aware that this is much more than just a rematch, or an opportunity to regain his titles, the British boxer knows that his very career in the sport is also at stake. If he loses, the chances of getting other title fights will be slim to nothing, particularly following suggestions that the winner of this bout could face WBC champion, Deontay Wilder.
Should he lose, promoter Eddie Hearn has already hinted that it could be the end of the line for Joshua, which is even more of an incentive for the British boxer to get things right against Ruiz this time around.
Both fighters have also had plenty of time to prepare and analyze one another more carefully. Ruiz has no intentions of relinquishing his recently acquired titles, insisting he’s even more confident and ready to prove he deserves his current status.
Meanwhile, there’s a clear change of focus from Joshua, who has worked on his muscle mass in order to carry less weight, aiming at providing Ruiz with a far more agile opponent in the ring.
If that approach works, we could see a leaner, meaner Joshua than ever before, indicating that his shock defeat in June has only served to increase his appetite, as the 30-year-old aims to make that loss just a footnote in what has otherwise been an unblemished boxing career.