- The fight is being contested in Saudi Arabia, how do you feel about the 3 p.m. start time and venue?
Swain: It seems a bit weird, but I like the afternoon start time. I understand the cash grab for the site fee, and I’m sure Ruiz’s team wanted a neutral site, but an open-air stadium in Saudi Arabia would not have cracked my top 500 choices of venue. Crowd involvement definitely plays into my enjoyment of a card, and I get the feeling it’s going to be subdued, which sucks because this is a huge fight with the potential to be insanely entertaining.
Hedtke: I’m on record as saying all fights should start earlier — preferably while the sun is still up so I have time later to barf at the moon and become one with the night — and since everything on earth should be done on my schedule and strictly to my benefit, I’m all for this. Just about every aspect of this promotion has been a misstep or an oversight of some kind but insofar as someone can be praised for living in the time zone that they do, the Saudis fucking nailed this one.
Langendorf: Blissful. For once, I won’t have to reenact “A Clockwork Orange” to hold my eyelids open for a main event. I’ll have a legitimate excuse, rather than mere weapons-grade misanthropy, to avoid extended family on a Saturday afternoon. Also, day-drinking will be justified.
Starks: I’m down with the 3 p.m. start time for sure. What I’m not down with is selecting this location so close to the murder of one of our journalists. Yes, Saudi Arabia is always a human rights shit show, and yes, as Eddie Hearn points out, boxing is hardly the first “brand” to do business with the nation. But it really sent the wrong signal.
- Much of the promotional narrative around this rematch has focused on Anthony Joshua’s status as a huge draw, and to a degree, him being entitled to the attention and fanbase that he has. Do you think that Joshua’s stardom affected his development as a fighter, and if so, how?
Swain: I’m not an expert on British culture, but as far as I can tell, AJ is kind of a big deal. He made his pro debut in a stadium that seats 20,000 people. He’s never been *just* a fighter, and it shows. I’m not suggesting he’s not well schooled, but you can tell that there are a lot of aspects of his overall craft that have been ignored because of his athleticism. And when you’ve just won a gold medal for the host country of the Olympics, are blowing out overrated foes for insane money in front of huge crowds, and are wildly celebrated by your fellow countrymen, things are going to slip through the cracks.
Hedtke: I’ve seen all three Austin Powers movies and own both Stone Roses albums so, unlike Swain, I very much am an expert on British culture. I don’t think I’m telling tales outside of school by saying that England has a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to heavyweight boxing. From Henry Cooper to Frank Bruno to Audley fucking Harrison it’s just a mishmash of almost’s, not really’s and hell no’s. Joshua did, and likely still does, represent maybe the best chance Britain has ever had of laying claim to a dominant superstar heavyweight. (You don’t get to have Lennox Lewis. You treated him like shit and he’s officially Canadian again. Grow up.) In the process of that myth-building corners are going to be cut. They were exposed to a degree in the first fight with Ruiz and I would personally find it to be shocking if that exposition wasn’t further exacerbated in this rematch.
Langendorf: In a world with Deontay Wilder, Joshua has gotten off easy. AJ isn’t solely a media creation, but he ain’t exactly filling the O2 for his counterpunching, now is he? The size, athleticism, and bod have helped Joshua overcome, and have certainly distracted from, some fairly significant deficiencies. Then again, he’s an Olympic gold-medalist who won his first 22 professional fights while navigating global stardom — including conquests of top-10 heavies Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, Alexander Povetkin and, of course, Wladimir Klitschko. In Andy Ruiz, it’s possible AJ just met the wrong dude at precisely the wrong time.
Starks: BOTH the Stone Roses albums, Brent? Anyway, the promotional focus on AJ makes sense for all the reasons the others have explained. He’s earned it. He’s the draw, at least for now; we’ll see what happens if he loses again. I’m not sure him earning it impacted his evolution as a fighter. I do suspect he took Ruiz far too lightly, and that played a more significant role in why he lost than some sort of arrested development.
- Do you think that Andy Ruiz’s sudden burst into money and stardom will affect his performance? Why or why not?
Swain: I really do not know. Until six months ago, he’d spent his career toiling in relative obscurity, much of which was his own making. No one has ever doubted his talent or skill-set, but the motivation always appeared to be lacking. He could’ve beaten Joseph Parker if he hadn’t gassed down the stretch because he wasn’t properly conditioned. Maybe it was something mental that needed to be overcome, or maybe it was having back-to-back camps that got him in the right shape to beat Joshua in June. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Hedtke: In what has to be a nearly unrivaled display of fence-sitting my answer is… maybe. The desire to maintain fame is rivaled only by the desire to earn it in the first place. I can’t say for certain but my guess is that sleeping in a mansion and fighting for seven figures is more enjoyable than living in a townhouse and being buried deep on a Danny Garcia undercard so Ruiz has something to protect now. Will it soften his resolve? My guess is no, but we’ll see. You know those people that rack up a massive bankroll on Cash Cab and then when it comes time for the double or nothing bonus round are like “Fuck it, we had nothing when we got here so let’s roll the dice” and then get the answer wrong? Those people are psychos. Ruiz isn’t a psycho but he’s a fucking fighter and if he gets sucked into a firefight will he back away to protect his pot of gold or will he risk it all by doing what he’s been programmed to do since birth? Therein lies the intrigue.
Langendorf: Doubtful. Gloved Fluffy has spent the better part of a career seemingly giving only half a shit (god bless him), so it’s unlikely he’ll suddenly start sweating the details. Ruiz appears to have trimmed down a touch for the rematch — but it’s not like he found Jesus inside a Planet Fitness. He’s a skilled heavyweight boxer with fast hands, impressive chubby-guy athleticism and an idea how to attack a flawed Goliath. The outcome of Saturday’s main event hinges more on Joshua’s willingness and ability to adjust inside the ring than it does on Ruiz’s newfound security and fame outside of it.
Starks: We’ve all seen “Rocky III,” right? It’s possible, surely, that a life full of robot butlers might have ruined Ruiz’s motivation. It strikes me as likely that he won in part last time because he had a chip on his shoulder. Is that still there? It might be, given that he’s the betting underdog. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s his turn to be taking Joshua lightly.
- Having seen them fight once already, what aspects of each fighter’s game do you think they will be looking to exploit in each other and mask in themselves?
Swain: Length. Joshua has it and Ruiz doesn’t, and whichever of them decides at what range the fight will be waged is going to win. For Joshua, he’s going to need to use that telephone pole length jab and right cross to keep Ruiz off of him, which also gives him the best chance of scoring a KO as well. Easier said than done. Because of that insane length and power, there are holes in Joshua’s craft, particularly his lateral movement, pivoting, and inside game. That just happens to be where Ruiz excels. He’s got stubby little arms and legs, but he’s quick as shit and has excellent balance. If Ruiz uses that speed and balance to come in at angles again, Joshua’s wingspan won’t matter at all, because he only moves in cardinal directions, and six months isn’t long enough to fix that big a gap.
Hedtke: In hockey (Google it, U.K. folks) a successful penalty kill can provide a team with even more of a boost of confidence than an offensive outburst. The same holds true in boxing. Landing your best shot is nice but taking your opponent’s money punch and surviving can be the psychological dagger in his heart. Joshua landed his best shot in the 3rd round of the first fight and all it got him was violently swarmed by a pissed off fat kid on a sugar-high and an adorable little concussion to boot. In return, Ruiz landed a series of hard, but not full-throttle, blows and was rewarded with a god damn “Scarface” mansion and a place in history. Not exactly an even tradeoff. Joshua goes in knowing he has to be perfect. Fight tall, use his length to his advantage and pick his spots to unload behind the jab. Ruiz, on the other hand, just needs to get low and inside and fuck shit up. He’s deceptively slippery and the four inch height deficit will only work to his advantage the closer he gets.
Langendorf: Ruiz, quite simply, wants more of the same: He’ll try to pressure AJ to the ropes, attack at angles and slip inside, where he’ll pose his greatest threat and can avoid the worst of the danger coming back. For Joshua, the jab is key. If a somewhat slimmed-down physique puts a bit more bounce in his boots, all the better. But it’ll be more important that going lean translates to stamina allowing Joshua to keep pumping the jab, discouraging Ruiz from moving forward and hunting for holes.
Starks: There’s not much these lads said that I don’t agree with, especially the length stuff. The fight isn’t much different than the last one. One thing I’d add is, Joshua really needs to watch out for counters. He’s a great finisher, of course, but he got over-eager last time and got caught because of it. Be patient next time.
- Who wins, and how?
Swain: I’m sticking with Ruiz by KO. Angles and combinations.
Hedtke: Picture a teeter-totter. On one side sits what you want to happen and on the other sits what you think will happen. These two things almost never match up because all of life is unceasing cosmic horror but in this particular circumstance both are riding on the same side digging the butt end of that teeter-totter into the frozen earth below. Ruiz by stoppage but likely by injury or his corner pulling the plug. I don’t see Joshua being able to make the necessary adjustments but his team will soften the blow this time by pulling him out of harm’s way and salvaging what’s left of his market value later.
Langendorf: The highlight reel of Joshua knockdowns at Ruiz’s hands is burned into our memories, but don’t forget: AJ nearly ended the first fight before the challenger ever touched him up. If Joshua makes a few manageable adjustments to go with his new streamlined frame — stay off the edges, assume a more compact stance, jab ’til the cows come home — I think he’ll have enough to handle Ruiz. Joshua by late-round stoppage.
Starks: I, too, believe Joshua probably hasn’t had enough time to make the adjustments. Learning to time a tricky, quick-handed counterpuncher isn’t an overnight thing. This situation is more Klitschko learning to fight in a more suitable style after several bad losses than Lewis bouncing back against a clearly inferior Hasim Rahman. I’ll join the “Ruiz by stoppage” crowd.
- Who should the winner fight next? Where does the loser go from here?
Swain: The winner needs to fight the winner of Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. The loser should fight the loser of that bout. Simple and entertaining.
Hedtke: Fury/Wilder winner, loser gets Oleksandr Usyk. Let’s do this.
Langendorf: If Ruiz wins, fans deserve a fight with the Wilder-Fury winner. But what’s best for us isn’t necessarily what’s best for Ruiz. He’d do well to milk his newfound A-side status in a fight with, say, Whyte or Derek Chisora in the U.K. After back-to-back Joshua wins, Ruiz will have earned a softer touch who can still help him put asses in seats. If he loses … he might be relegated to those matchups anyhow. Joshua will have plenty to prove even after winning a rematch over Ruiz, so his next fight should be Wilder or Fury. If he stumbles against Ruiz again, Joshua is gonna need a get-well fight. Come get it, David Price!
Starks: Probably lean more Swain on this question, but Usyk ain’t a bad option for the loser, either.
(Photo via Matchroom Boxing USA)