Anthony Joshua is, by all accounts, a genuinely good guy. The animosity being spewed toward him in the wake of his shocking knockout loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. this weekend feels, at the very least, misdirected.
In boxing’s class structure though, Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) represents the establishment, the “man” so to speak. Ruiz’s (33-1, 22 KOs) destruction of AJ, both as a fighter and a symbol of the pugilistic plutocracy, is just about the most punk rock thing that could happen in a sport increasingly bereft of shock and wonder.
More than anything, Ruiz’s storming of the heavyweight castle disembowels the notion that big fights need time to marinate, the efficacy of which was never grounded in reality. Marinating, in boxing parlance, is promoter speak for delaying desired fights while maximizing profits with unwelcome ones. Postponing gratification while not testing your consumer’s patience is a delicate balancing act.
You can keep your bait in the water in hopes of catching a whale but every now and then you’re gonna bag a fucking shark.
A big, fat one.
When it gnaws through your leg and capsizes your vessel, all the treasure you spent the last two years stockpiling are now worthless. This is the situation the heavyweight division now finds itself in and we as fans are better off for it.
As recently as last December we were in a bit of modern heavyweight golden era. Not exactly the mid 70s or early 90s in terms of quality but the nuclear winter of banality that was the Wladimir Klitschko era finally began to subside. From the rubble emerged a crop of interesting, young-ish, towering heavyweights with something resembling a personality.
The dam of indifference appeared to finally break with a deliciously entertaining brawl between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder that leapt off the pages of a Hollywood screenplay. Public interest for heavyweight boxing had doused itself in gasoline and Fury, Wilder and Joshua were each holding a flamethrower.
And just as quickly as the embers were lit, an inability to make the fights the consumers of the sport actually wanted to see put the flames out. Plan B fights against retreads and no-hopers stacked the calendar while an air of indifference filled the air.
As Joshua prepared to make his American debut, fights against boxing’s lower middle class fell through one after the other due to failed drug tests, time constraints and just plain old incompetence. It took a direct message on Instagram from Ruiz to Matchroom head honcho Eddie Hearn to seal the deal.
Looking back, I bet Hearn wishes he’d have treated that message the way Ruiz treats vegetables and ignored it.
In the weeks leading up to the fight, with every angle covered and every fat joke exhausted, talk turned almost exclusively to when Joshua would finally face Wilder once Ruiz was dispensed of. Joshua himself even engaged in the speculation while forgetting one tiny little detail…
And Ruiz is a hell of a god damn fighter.
In a sport where this much money is at stake, not to mention the current and future state of a fighter’s brain, one simply cannot afford to overlook a fighter of Ruiz’s quality and resume. Numerous mistakes were made by Joshua and his camp on Saturday night but this oversight was the most egregious.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the four knockdowns and stoppage that Ruiz ultimately scored took about a quarter of a billion dollars out of the pockets of Fury, Wilder and Joshua and those they employ to count that money. A loss doesn’t, and shouldn’t, end a fighter’s career and those fights will likely still happen, but a staggering amount of zeros all of a sudden don’t have a permanent home.
There is still money to be made but it’s a different kind of money now. Instead of the deserved gargantuan purses that come from proven supremacy it’ll be, at least for the foreseeable future in Joshua’s case, the kind that stems from curiosity. The curiosity of seeing how or if he’ll bounce back from this.
Lesser fighters than Joshua have come back from worse losses and he has all the tools to recover his career in the same way. The problem for Joshua though, is that when he does come back Ruiz will be there waiting for him. Ruiz is all wrong in all the right ways and will be a problem for everyone except the fans, who are suddenly wide awake.
Again, one loss, however unexpected, doesn’t define a fighter and certainly not a division. The fights between what until last night was the big three are still of interest. Ruiz’s victory though, is pebble that hits the windshield. Today it’s a small dent but before you know it that crack has spiderwebbed to the point where you’re catching June bugs with your teeth.
It’s not how we expected and certainly not what the establishment wanted but Ruiz’s beatdown of Joshua was the kick in the ass this division needed to break the stalemate of frustration. When one piece moves on the chess board the rest are forced to as well. Ruiz spilled his cheesy gordita crunch on the board, yelled “checkmate!” and then threw the damn thing in the trash.
Maybe Ruiz is just a pinprick. Maybe nothing changes and he gets sucked up into the machine of predictable monotony.
More likely though, he’s a sledgehammer to the face of boxing’s aristocracy that they’re not safe and they never were.
The lesson, whether they choose to heed it or not, is clear: Make the fights when you have the chance. There’s no point in saving for a rainy day when it’s already fucking pouring outside.
Besides, you never know when the fat little Mexican you ignored is going to come and steal everything you’ve been greedily stashing away.
Viva Andy Ruiz.
(Andy Ruiz celebrates; via)