It was over, more or less, at the weigh-in. When Andy Ruiz Jr. scaled 283 pounds the day before his scheduled rematch with Anthony Joshua, he did so resembling a tipsy tourist strolling along a Tijuana boardwalk. To a degree, his sombrero, tank top, and modern tracksuit ensemble also betrayed his frivolous viewpoint. Never a beanstalk, of course, Ruiz was now the heaviest he had been since his second pro fight, in 2009. Since last June, when Ruiz battered Anthony Joshua into a shocking TKO defeat, his carefree attitude had morphed into careless attitudinizing. He proved that on Saturday evening when Joshua waltzed circles around him en route to a lopsided unanimous decision at the gleaming Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia.
Boxing rarely seeps into the mainstream and, when it does, it is almost exclusively because of some controversy. Diriyah, as a location, became a flashpoint, of sorts, for the kneejerk and grandstanding alike. (Which is a shame, really, since Diriyah is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) To underscore just how phony and hypocritical some of these clickbait commandos are, consider that Tyson Fury received little moral condemnation for rassling in Saudi Arabia, whose human rights abuses sparked meretricious outrage when Andy Ruiz‒Anthony Joshua II wound up in Diriyah. And just as the thunderous HTML justice mob remained silent about Fury, it will no doubt limit its handwringing when Top Rank pops up again in China, a country currently engaged in a cultural genocide.
Against the exotic-despotic backdrop of the desert, Joshua carefully dissected an undermotivated but certainly not undernourished Ruiz, whose minor celebrity status, combined with a major salary boost, undercut his modest aspirations. Indeed, the jackpot he hit by hitting Joshua repeatedly last June seemed to have slaked his limited ambition, which, along with his dedication, had already been suspect for years. In that sense, Ruiz resembles Buster Douglas, another talented but unmotivated roly-poly whose surprise peak would ultimately generate his downfall.
In a few short years, Ruiz, thirty, went from fighting at the Sportsman Lodge in Studio City and the Masonic Temple in Detroit to being a multimillionaire making appearances on the Jimmy Kimmel show. As a substitute for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who lost his chance at a windfall when he became a walking chem lab, Ruiz barely had time to train. Naturally, he left Joshua in smithereens. This time, with a full camp, Ruiz somehow managed to enter the ring in Diriyah looking like a rookie challenging for the Yellow Mustard Belt. “The partying and all that stuff got the best of me,” Ruiz said after the fight, in an understatement.
For most heavyweights, exchanging volleys with a crippling puncher such as Joshua would mean a fast track to having smelling salts waved under their bloody noses and penlights shining into their glassy eyes. But Ruiz, Imperial, California, has the kind of hand speed that resembles a blur to the numberless plodders comprising the division. It was that speed—and the moxie to return fire while under assault—that left Joshua with his molecules rearranged last June. And while it seems almost counterproductive, Ruiz was hoping for the chance to swap punches again with Joshua. It never happened.
From the opening bell, Joshua, 23-1 (21), made his intentions clear, and they did not include mixing it up. Looking far leaner than in the first fight, Joshua employed a footloose style calculated to keep Ruiz from churning his stubby-flabby arms. While Joshua feinted, stepped clockwise and counterclockwise, and shot out stinging jab after stinging jab, Ruiz struggled to get into firing range, where his compact hooks were likely to do some damage. Unable to set himself to punch, however, Ruiz was reduced to waddling around the ring.
In the first round, Joshua, Watford, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, landed a crackling straight right and drew first blood against Ruiz: a small cut on the left eyelid that leaked throughout the fight. By the middle rounds, Ruiz, 33-2 (22), was beginning to bruise and, worse, seemed resigned to losing. Hopelessly behind on all three scorecards, Ruiz accelerated at the start of the twelfth, but he was unable to mount much of a rally. In the waning seconds of the fight, with his brief fame about to expire and his pudgy grip on (numerous) world titles slipping, Ruiz tried goading Joshua into slugging. Like so much Ruiz had done since the rematch was signed, this halfhearted effort was a flop.
Between them, Joshua and Ruiz landed a total of 167 punches, a feeble number that even Wilder‒Fury I, an Ambien special, for the most part, surpassed. The final scores—118-110, 119-109, 118-110—were academic.
It almost goes without saying that rebounding from destructive KO losses is difficult, but it is doubly so for seek-and-destroy fighters. That Joshua, following the “Win today, look good tomorrow” formula, managed to reproduce a version of Humberto Gonzalez‒Michael Carbajal II is to his credit. Yet his wire-to-wire coasting against an unprepared Ruiz was not a masterpiece. “I am not here to put on a show,” Joshua said before the fight. “I am here to win.”
Notably absent from his bruising repertoire was his cleanup left hook, the shuddering blow that had dropped Ruiz in Madison Square Garden. (Ironically, Joshua sealed his own doom that night when, for an instant, he rediscovered his killer instinct and opened up a crossfire attack that left him vulnerable to countershots.) Because Joshua was wary of remaining in the pocket too long, he kept his combinations brief, in hopes of avoiding retaliation. At that, he succeeded, but his limited offense may cost him against a fighter with more zest than Ruiz.
The adjustments Joshua made for this fight were simple if somewhat telling: after all, until he left Joshua with cartoon stars circling above his head, Ruiz had never been considered a puncher of note. But Joshua approached Ruiz the way a member of the Army Explosive Ordinance Removal Unit would approach a bomb. And when Ruiz did manage to connect, he left Joshua looking decidedly uncomfortable. More than once, Joshua rushed forward, arms outstretched, to embrace Ruiz for a seemingly gratuitous respite, an indication that his method may have transcended mere tactics.
There are few small humiliations in boxing, a pursuit that specializes in big hurts—both physical and psychological. For Joshua, thirty, the thrashing he took in the first fight, at the hands of a meandering longshot ridiculed for his girth no less, seemed to accelerate the keen introspection that began after his life-and-death struggle against Wladimir Klitschko in 2017.
His subsequent fighting demeanor—cautious, modulated, somewhat passive, even, despite the run of knockouts—suggested the minor character of Charles Flitcraft in The Maltese Falcon, a man whose entire outlook on life undergoes a radical change after he narrowly escapes being hit by a falling beam. Like Flitcraft suddenly aware of the randomness of existence, Joshua seemed wide-eyed at the possible dangers the squared circle promised in light of his struggle against Klitschko. If contingency, or fate, made a cameo appearance during the Klitschko fight, it made a marquee turn during the first Ruiz fight: a surprise left hook that altered everything for Joshua. With his loss to Ruiz now behind him, Joshua still has some way to go, it seems, before he can come to terms with his vulnerability. (“He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”)
If the ultraviolent heavyweight, bloodlust almost palpable, is gone, replaced by a measured simulacrum, Joshua will need some time to polish his new style. Joshua had only sixteen starts when he was suddenly on the two-fight-a-year plan, a program that virtually guarantees arrested development in someone so inexperienced. He may have won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, but Joshua did not have a particularly extensive amateur background, and he did not enter the pro ranks with the seasoning of Pernell Whitaker or Oscar De La Hoya or Vasiliy Lomachenko (with his reported 396-1 slate). With the lawless, loco, and ludicrous sanctioning bodies ready to assert themselves at any moment, he may well have a chance to “hit and not be hit” against someone other than Fury or Deontay Wilder. Unlike Andy Ruiz, neither Fury nor Wilder would play a combination schlemiel-schlimazel against a new-look Joshua.
For the moment, Anthony Joshua has righted the past, to an extent, and has settled the present, too; now, all that is left is the precarious future.