A year ago tonight in the “World’s most famous Arena,” Madison Square Garden, a stark and thrilling reminder that anything in boxing is possible took place. That’s when a little-known Mexican American heavyweight, Andy Ruiz, stunned the unbeaten Unified champion, Anthony Joshua with a seventh-round TKO that goes down as one of the all-time upsets in prize fight history.
Immediate comparisons were drawn in the aftermath Ruiz’s shocker to what James “Buster” Douglas had done 29 years earlier to unbeaten, undisputed and seemingly unstoppable, Mike Tyson.
Now, while the Ruiz upset rocked the 2019 boxing world, Douglas’ 10th round KO is in a category all its own. That’s because, Tyson was the most devastating fighter on the planet and had repeatedly, torn apart World Championship competition in the fights leading up to that February night in the Far East.
As for the Brit Joshua, as I wrote 52 weeks ago, he will never be confused with Tyson. He doesn’t have the pedigree of wins, particularly the string of devastating early knockouts- sometimes with only one punch, to remind you of “Iron Mike.”
Further, before he ever set foot in the MSG ring with Ruiz, Joshua had already been rocked in a couple of previous title fights, including by former Undisputed Champ, Wladimir Klitschko.
To his credit, Joshua had always rallied to win those, but on this night ,when Ruiz hit him hard and rocked him, he could not survive.
And, in the post fight analysis, that’s said more about Joshua than it did about Ruiz’s accomplishment.
That was born out in the weeks and months after June 1st last year, when Ruiz didn’t take winning the title seriously. He couldn’t handle the fame and fortune in the short term, wasn’t in shape (283 lbs.) and was easily beaten over 12 rounds by Joshua in their rematch last December.
Johnson deserves full credit for an excellent game plan and utilizing his tools, in particular his powerful jab and his hand speed, to control and easily win the rematch. But, having to go 12 rounds and not even being able and knock down, much less knock Ruiz out, has left more doubts about Joshua and his future.
Now, after that December night in the Middle East, we don’t know if Ruiz will ever get another shot on the big-time stage? Remember, that Douglas never fought Tyson again. But, he instead was in front of Evander Holyfield and his wicked right-hand one punch knockout just 8 months after Tokyo.
Douglas was never the same and never fought again for the World Championship.
And that may be Ruiz’s fate.
Meanwhile, Joshua may go on to some more successful defenses and maybe even spectacular KOs.
Then again, most critics of Joshua’s, of which I am one, point to his repeated ducking of former WBC Champ, Deontay Wilder, for more than three years before the Ruiz upset, as a sign of his lack of belief in himself to be tested by a devastating punching opponent.
To to me and many others, Joshua’s inaction demonstrated that he was fearful of what Wilder and his lethal right hand could likely do to him. And, that was born out when a lesser, smaller fighter, like Ruiz, was able to do it to him in their first meeting.
Also, there’s the present day argument that new WBC champ, Tyson Fury, who won the belt off Wilder with a 7th round TKO in February, would also dominate, if not knockout, Joshua. I also believe that would be the case.
But, those are open-ended hypotheticals, and while he and promoter Eddie Hearn have repeatedly made clear that they will fight would be open to a Fury fight, if Joshua has his way, he would rather put raw meat around his torso and enter the “Lion’s Den” than meet Wilder in a boxing ring.
So, we are left with something not hypothetical.
It’s what Andy Ruiz reminded us of a year ago tonight: boxing is simply different.
And, hat no matter what you may think will happen, there are always variables, upsets and stunning knockouts to keep us coming back for more.