Anthony Joshua: One Match Left?

We’re getting to around the one month stage since Andy Ruiz Jr brutally disposed of Anthony Joshua, walked away with three versions of the World Heavyweight Championship, and turned boxing on its head. In the space of one evening, an overweight and unfancied Mexican outsider who took a fight with Joshua at short notice had ruined the carefully-laid plans of boxing’s greatest promoters on their head. The trilogy of fights between Joshua, Tyson Fury, and Deontay Wilder had disappeared. Ruiz Jr had given the sport its biggest shock since Buster Douglas put down Mike Tyson, and catapulted himself to elite status in the heavyweight division. 

The hysteria that came immediately afterward has now died down somewhat, and minds have turned to the inevitable rematch between the two which is slated to occur in November or December of this year. Joshua had a rematch clause, and chose to exercise it immediately. He of course has that right, but was it really a smart idea? 

No Fire? 

It wasn’t so much the fact that Joshua got beaten in the fight that is causing some people to question his decision. Anyone can lose a fight and come back from it. Mike Tyson’s career endured for far longer than Buster Douglas’ did. When Hasim Rahman stunned Lennox Lewis for the world title, Lewis won the return bout with one of the heaviest knockouts in boxing history. The difference is that when Tyson and Lewis lost, it looked like they’d underestimated their opponents and were caught in the act. Joshua just appeared to have been beaten by a much better fighter. There was nothing in Joshua’s performance that suggested he was capable of achieving a different result the next time around. 

Even after the fight, Joshua had the demeanor of a man whose fire has gone out. He was laughing and smiling with Ruiz Jr immediately after the bell. There wasn’t a visible trace of anger, and he seemed to have accepted the defeat as easily and inconsequentially as a man who’s just placed a $1 bet on a mobile casino game and lost. If we’re using casino terms, Joshua has lost far more than that. He went all in, placed his whole career and status on one short-odds bet in which he was the overwhelming favorite, and came up short. They say the casino always wins in the end. Boxing, with all the betting money that goes into it, is one of the biggest casinos in sport. The worry for Joshua is that he’s already had the biggest wins he was ever going to take from it, and isn’t holding any cards up his sleeve. All the best mobile slots players know when to walk away from the table and enjoy their winnings. Joshua has now lost his, and by shooting for a rematch so quickly he risks throwing good money – his entire legacy – after bad. 

Ignoring All Advice

It isn’t just armchair enthusiasts who think that Joshua should have a time out before chasing after Ruiz Jr again. Amir Khan – who knows a thing or two about how to come back from a crushing defeat – has offered the opinion that Joshua should have taken one or two smaller fights before diving back into the world title picture. Khan has had to build himself back up after a bad loss more than once, and knows better than anyone that the court of public opinion isn’t kind to repeated losers. He’s not alone in that approach. Tyson Fury didn’t make his big comeback to boxing by getting straight into the ring with Deontay Wilder – he beat a couple of lesser-known fighters first. The fact that Fury would win those matches was never in question, but they allowed him the chance to work on his form and his confidence before aiming higher. If Joshua doesn’t fight anyone else before standing across from Ruiz Jr again, the defeat is still going to be painfully fresh in his mind. 

Speaking of Tyson Fury, the British giant is another who feels like Joshua is acting unwisely – and he hasn’t been as charitable as Khan about saying so. Fury thinks that Joshua looked like he didn’t want to be in the ring from the moment he made his entrance, and is ‘finished’ as a top level fighter. According to Fury, the tell-tale signs that Joshua no longer wants to put his body on the line in a boxing ring are already there, and that once they’ve appeared, it’s impossible to get rid of them. He, too, believes that AJ is doomed to lose the hastily-announced rematch. 

On top of all this, Ruiz Jr hasn’t had kind things to say about the potential of a Joshua rematch either. Although he was happy to be amiable with Joshua in the immediate aftermath of the fight, he’s more recently said that Joshua’ just isn’t good at boxing,’ and points out that he beat the Brit with less than five weeks to prepare for him. He therefore feels that with a longer build up and more time to prepare, it’s inevitable that he’ll defeat Joshua even more comprehensively than he did the first time around. 

All of the above should put plenty of fuel in the tank for Joshua – if the engine still works. If Anthony Joshua still has professional pride, he’ll be chomping at the bit to silence his critics and prove everybody wrong. Only he knows if that engine is still ticking over. 

One More Match? 

There is still one explanation for Joshua’s weak surrender and bizarre post-match behavior in the Ruiz Jr defeat – he may have been concussed. He never appeared to recover from the punch that put him down in the third round. In his corner before the seventh and final round, he could be heard asking his trainer, ‘why do I feel like this?’ as if he wasn’t completely aware of his surroundings. 

Up until that knockdown, Joshua was very much in the fight. He’d put Ruiz Jr down once, and it was in pushing too hard to finish him off that he got caught with a punch that he didn’t see coming. A more reserved approach to finishing the fight might have seen him walk away with the victory. If he is to beat Ruiz Jr, the key to winning will be to box his own fight, and not to get drawn into a slugfest. With Ruiz Jr’s vastly superior hand speed, there’s no way he can win standing toe to toe. 

What appears to be certain is this: If Joshua faces Ruiz Jr again and loses, it will be the final match of a career that burned brightly, but then faded away too fast.