Just whom did Ruiz shock?

Not me.

But it seems almost everyone else was shocked by Andy Ruiz Jnr’s defeat of Anthony Joshua on 1 June this year at Madison Square Garden.

The Mexican-American went into the fight as a massive 25/1 (+2500) underdog. The bookies wrote him off. The media and its talking heads wrote him off. Other pro boxers wrote him off. The boxing establishment of trainers, promoters, and the rest, wrote him off. Joshua’s manager Eddie Hearn wrote him off. And Joshua himself obviously wrote Ruiz off. Ruiz was supposed to be just another stepping stone on Joshua’s high road to the unified heavyweight championship of the world. Hearn had it all worked out in his business plan.

Ruiz warned them beforehand, “Do not underestimate me.” The commentariat dismissed it as typical pre-fight hype, the kind of stuff pro boxers do all the time to promote their fights and encourage those beyond the hardcore fans to take an interest. Ruiz had a puncher’s chance, of course; but who doesn’t? There was no way that that fat, pasty, baby-faced, fringe contender could defeat the muscular, tall, handsome, undefeated champion. That only happens in the movies, not when serious businessmen like Hearn have millions of real dollars at stake.

In the media, Joshua was often compared to the truly great heavyweight champions of history such as Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Hearn had constructed an apparently invincible marketing exoskeleton and encased Joshua within it. Nothing from reality could get through, least of all rational observations based on Joshua’s underwhelming performances in key fights. There were hype-bombs exploding everywhere, decimating the ranks of the doubters and making them out to be more like lunatics.

So what were the lunatics thinking? I can answer that question because I was one of them.

AJ’s achievements

The mainstream comparisons of Joshua with the truly great heavyweight champions of history like Ali and Tyson have always been absurd.

Joshua was 27 with a 15-0-0 record when he defeated the mediocre and obscure Charles Martin for his first major title, the IBF belt. He was 28 with an 18-0-0 record when he added the WBA and IBO belts by defeating Wladimir Klitschko. At 29, with a 20-0-0 record, he beat Joseph Parker for the WBO belt.

Joshua celebrating after his extraordinary victory over the feared Charles Martin. Oh, hang on…

Ali was only 22 with a 19-0-0 record when he defeated the legendary monster Sonny Liston for the undisputed heavyweight championship. His spectacular footwork, speed, and jab made Liston look like a rheumatic gorilla. Ali was certainly prone to exaggeration, but he was not exaggerating after this fight as he ran around the ring shouting, “I shook up the world!”

Our whimpy ancestors were terrified of this midget. Just imagine if they’d seen Joshua…

Tyson, at 20, was even younger than Ali when he defeated Trevor Berbick for the WBC belt, and his record was better, too: 27-0-0 with 25 of his wins coming by way of knock out, many of which were terrifying displays of pure boxing talent. He was only 21 with a 30-0-0 record when he beat Tony Tucker to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Ruiz’s victory has presumably put the nail in the coffin of the mainstream comparisons of Joshua with the likes of Ali and Tyson. Joshua was 29 years old with a record of 22-0-0 heading into his bout with Ruiz. He was knocked down four times by Ruiz and lost by TKO in the seventh round.

Ali was knocked down four times in his entire career. He was first dropped by Sonny Banks (1962), followed by Henry Cooper (1963), Joe Frazier (1971), and Chuck Wepner (1975). Ali went on to convincingly defeat Banks, Cooper, and Wepner by TKO despite the knock downs. Ali lost the 15 round “Fight of the Century” by unanimous decision to Frazier, but there’s hardly any shame in that! The only time Ali lost by TKO was in the penultimate fight of his extraordinary career, the immoral farce with Larry Holmes. Even then, Ali wasn’t knocked down once despite probably suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Tyson’s first loss by knockout was his first loss simpliciter. Heading into the extraordinary fight with Buster Douglas, Tyson was only 23 years old but his record was already 37-0-0 and full of knockouts. He had already established himself as a truly great heavyweight and it’s not surprising that Douglas was the 45-1 underdog. Tyson was most probably at or near his prime going into the fight, despite the myths about his training and condition promulgated by Tyson sympathisers afterwards. That’s why Douglas’s victory is one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing and professional sports in general.

Ali and Tyson were phenomena. Joshua is not. Almost everyone now is comparing Ruiz’s victory over Joshua with Douglas’s victory over Tyson. But there is no comparison. The commentariat is simply trying to reassure itself that it was – and in a way still is – right about Joshua. There wouldn’t be so much self-serving nonsense in the boxing news today if the commentariat would pay less attention to Hearn and more attention to reality.

AJ’s performances

That’s because the reality is that Joshua has never delivered a truly compelling performance in a world championship fight against a serious opponent. He hasn’t dominated a title fight in the way Ali and Tyson dominated many of their title fights. Ali and Tyson often seemed invincible; Joshua, on the other hand, has always seemed vulnerable and beatable from the opening bell.

This could not have been more obvious than in what I take to be his three most significant title fights.

Joshua vs Klitschko – 29 April 2017

This victory against the great Ukrainian champion is widely regarded as Joshua’s most impressive achievement so far. The fight itself was really entertaining; there can be no doubt about that. The spectacularly devastating uppercut and flurry with which Joshua finished off Klitschko in the eleventh round is justly famous and merits its inclusion in the myriad of All-Time Greatest KO videos on YouTube.

But that uppercut doesn’t prove much about Joshua, and neither does the fight itself. Indeed, the fight proves more about Klitschko than Joshua.

Joshua was only 27 and had fought three times in 2016. Klitschko, on the other hand, was 41 and hadn’t fought at all since late 2015. He was fit, of course, but 41 human years is verging on geriatric in boxing years. Even so, the great Ukranian knocked Joshua down in the sixth round and for a long time this fight really could’ve gone either way. That’s partly why it was so entertaining.

“Right, that does it! From this day forward, no old man who was born in the former USSR shall be safe from me”

In the end, a much younger and more active boxer knocked out a elderly Soviet gentleman. Big deal. All credit, in my opinion, must go to Klitschko for almost going the distance with such an opponent at his time of life.

Joshua vs Parker – 31 March 2018

At a glance, this fight was as boring as Joshua’s fight against Klitschko was entertaining. But upon closer inspection it yields several interesting observations about Joshua’s defects as a boxer.

Joshua’s performance was dismal. He sat lazily on the jab for most of the fight, desperately using his reach advantage to keep Parker from getting inside and working on the body. This strategy ultimately paid off only because the referee, Giuseppe Quartarone, continually intervened and separated them. Parker was actually very effective when he managed to close the distance, but then the referee would separate them, allowing Joshua to go to work again with the jab.

“Joseph, how many times do I have tell you? Stop punching Anthony right now!”

The fight very clearly demonstrated that Joshua has problems dealing with strong and short world-class fighters on the inside. He flails his arms about, stumbles backwards, and fails to counterpunch effectively, if at all. Parker is a good boxer who had previously defeated Ruiz in a tight contest. He forced Joshua to go the distance for the first time, and things may well have turned out otherwise had a more competent and professional referee been running the show.

Joshua vs Povetkin – 22 September 2018

This was Joshua’s second victory over an elderly Soviet gentleman. Povetkin was still amazingly potent at the age of 39, having just come off a brutal knockout victory over the younger David Price. But the advantages of youth, height, weight, and reach were all on Joshua’s side.

Joshua was plainly vulnerable in the early rounds. Povetkin knew he had to work his way through Joshua’s jab to get inside, and that’s what he did. In the very first round, Povetkin overcame Joshua’s huge reach advantage and delivered a massive blow that probably broke Joshua’s nose and definitely showed that Povetkin was there to fight.

“What? My nose? Oh it’s nothing, doesn’t hurt at all…”

Of course, the 39-year-old Povetkin knew he had to get the job done early if he was going to get it done at all. The 28-year-old Joshua survived Povetkin’s assault, and gradually took control as the old man faded, knocking him out in the seventh round. Not content with bashing another elderly Soviet gentleman, Joshua afterwards denied that Povetkin’s massive blow in the first round had hurt him. If anything in boxing has shocked the world, that furphy sure did.

The blueprint for defeating AJ

Klitschko clearly demonstrated that, despite his youth, muscles, height, and weight, Joshua was vulnerable and beatable. Parker and Povetkin then set out the blueprint for a strong, shorter fighter to actually defeat him.

If you can close distance on Joshua and pressure him hard on the inside, he will freak out, and then you can knock him out.

Step 1: work your way inside past his jab
Step 2: apply pressure and freak him out
Step 3: knock him out

That blueprint has been sitting there under everyone’s eyes for years. The bookies didn’t see it. The media didn’t see it. The boxing establishment didn’t see it. Hearn didn’t see it. Joshua didn’t see it.

The only ones who saw it were Ruiz and the lunatics. And it’s doubtful whether, now that he has seen it also, Joshua has what it takes to do anything about it.

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Posted by ScepticalBoxer

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