RIYADH: Anthony Joshua jumped up and down in the ring with his massive entourage, celebrating being around $70 million richer and having three world heavyweight belts back in his possession.
For the British boxing superstar, it was well worth this controversial trip to Saudi Arabia.
In the first heavyweight title fight to be held in the Middle East, Joshua toyed with an out-of-shape Andy Ruiz Jr over 12 unspectacular rounds to win a unanimous points decision, reclaim the WBA, WBO and IBF belts, and avenge a stunning upset by his Mexican-American opponent six months ago.
Joshua got his game plan spot on, using his lighter frame to outmaneuver Ruiz, relying on his longer reach to stay clear of trouble, and selecting his moments to go on the attack.
In the final seconds of a bout fought in the early hours of Sunday in a relatively cool 19 Celsius (66 F) for this part of the world, Joshua was almost running around the ring and Ruiz exhausted and outfought was planted in the middle, urging him to come closer.
“Sometimes simplicity is genius. I was outclassing the champion,” Joshua said. “I am used to knocking people out, but last time I got hurt so I gave the man his credit. I said I would correct myself again.”
Two judges gave the fight to the Briton 119-110, and the other awarded it to him 119-109.
“It was his night, man,” said Ruiz as his six-month reign ended.
The decision to take the fight to Saudi Arabia had been criticised by human rights campaigners but Joshua complimented the hosts and welcomed Ruiz’s suggestion that there should be a third encounter.
“If you heard, we’re going to do it a third,” said the champion.
Ruiz had stopped the previously undefeated Briton in the seventh round at Madison Square Garden but there was to be no second bolt of lightning from the man in the golden gloves and shorts.
He suffered a nasty gash over his left eye early on, with Joshua also bloodied on the brow in the second round to keep the cornermen busy to the end.
As the fight went into the second half, Ruiz was looking frustrated and was warned for illegal blows.
The eighth was more promising, with Joshua momentarily appearing vulnerable, but the Briton took back control and by round 11 had a spring in his step, looking fresh and nimble on his feet while using his height advantage to good effect.
Ruiz knew he needed a knockout but it never came.
Joshua, now with a record of 23 wins and one defeat, had described that June defeat — to a flabby-looking opponent drafted in as a late replacement — as no more than a “minor setback”.
Another loss in the early hours of Sunday would have put the 2012 Olympic super-heavyweight champion’s career on the line, with some saying after the last fight that he was finished.
Joshua had shown with his preparations, however, that he meant business — stepping into the ring lighter than ever and more than three stones less than Ruiz who had weighed in considerably heavier than in their first showdown.
The contrast between the two men was a talking point before the fight, with one British boxing writer noting that while Joshua sported a six-pack, his opponent appeared to have consumed one.
“I just wanted to put on a great boxing masterclass tonight and also show the sweet science of this lovely sport,” Joshua said. “It’s about hitting and not getting hit.”
Ruiz, embraced by Joshua afterwards, said he would do it differently next time.
“I think I didn’t prepare it how I should have. I gained too much weight but I don’t want to give no excuses. He won, he boxed me around,” he said. “If we do the third, I’m going to get in the best shape of my life.”
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2019