Andy Ruiz was a 10-1 underdog when he turned the boxing world on its head in June, stunning Anthony Joshua with a seventh-round knockout at Madison Square Garden. He took three world titles in the process and handed Joshua the first loss of his career.
Ruiz stepped in as a last-minute replacement for Luis Ortiz and hit the lottery, instantly elevating his name into the top tier of heavyweight boxing.
Saturday’s rematch with Joshua in Saudi Arabia represents an even bigger windfall, and a victory would put Ruiz in position for consistent eight-figure paydays and headlining bouts. A victory for Joshua would put him back into the conversation as one of the all-time British greats, providing him with redemption and relief, and likewise for his sponsors, promoters and fans.
The stakes could not be much higher, and while few could have predicted Ruiz would be at the epicenter of such a moment, this megafight will shape each of their careers, the heavyweight division as a whole and the balance of power between boxing’s top promotions.
Is Ruiz a one-hit wonder or the real deal?
Anthony Joshua says Andy Ruiz Jr. is the toughest heavyweight to fight right now, but doesn’t regret not taking any tune-up fights before their rematch.
There aren’t many people who can empathize with what Andy Ruiz is going through right now as well as Hasim Rahman, because 18 years ago, he was Andy Ruiz.
“You’re on top of the sports world. I just felt every second of it was euphoric,” Rahman told ESPN as he arrived in Saudi Arabia, where he will be in the corner of heavyweight Michael Hunter, who faces Alexander Povetkin. “It was just a beautiful time, from having the most money you’ve ever had in your life, to not having to spend money on anything.”
Rahman scored an unlikely fifth-round stoppage of Lennox Lewis in 2001 in South Africa to win multiple world titles. His run was short-lived, though, as Rahman was blasted by Lewis in the rematch seven months later. During his time with the titles, Rahman found that being the heavyweight champion of the world came with certain privileges, but the pressure and distractions proved to be too much.
Rahman paid the price for how he handled himself after beating Lewis. A much more focused Lewis dominated the rematch and knocked out Rahman in four rounds.
“He made adjustments. I didn’t,” stated Rahman.
Ruiz similarly seemed to enjoy the aftermath of his shocking victory. He made the rounds on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and a variety of other media platforms. Ruiz also spent his hard-earned millions on everything from a mansion to luxury sports cars and a lavish birthday party.
And while Ruiz’s trainer Manny Robles went right back to work at Legendz Boxing with his other fighters after the upset, Ruiz didn’t report back to him for a few months. He enjoyed the attention he received while traveling around the United States, but Ruiz received even more attention during his time in Mexico, where it seemed that every politician, dignitary and VIPs wanted their time with the newly crowned champion.
But once it came time to buckle down and get back into the gym, Ruiz was all business.
“It was pretty hectic,” said Robles of the last few months. “We got him in pretty good shape, up until this point.”
Ruiz spent two months training in privacy, to the utmost degree. While there was once a time when you could walk into the gym and speak to Ruiz, he went almost completely radio silent once he started working toward the rematch. Outside of a media day in mid-October in San Diego, a brief press release and a lone interview granted to Reuters, Ruiz looked to get back to business ahead of the biggest fight of his life.
“Right now, we are meditating, we are preparing, we are getting sharper in the ring and training as well. We are visualizing the fight and becoming victorious,” Ruiz said in the press release.
So is Ruiz a modern day version of Rahman, who stunned Lennox Lewis, slipped up but ultimately won another world title? Or is his future destined to be more in line with that of Buster Douglas, who became the most notable one-hit wonder in boxing after he defeated Mike Tyson in 1990 and then faded into obscurity after his 15 minutes of fame?
Saturday night will go a long way toward telling us which half of the equation won out: the excess or the prefight lockdown. Interestingly enough, considering their parallel paths, Rahman got to see Ruiz up close for a month as Hunter served as a main sparring partner for Ruiz in the lead-up to each of their big fights.
Ruiz might be an underdog again Saturday, but Rahman came away from training camp impressed and convinced Ruiz has a chance to beat Joshua again.
“This kid can punch,” said Rahman. “He’s one of the hardest punchers in the heavyweight division. So if Anthony tries to bang with him, it’s going to be the same [result].”
A fight that will shape the future of boxing
Teddy Atlas says that Anthony Joshua didn’t look interested in the fight vs. Andy Ruiz Jr. and gives credit to Ruiz for catching Joshua behind the ear, throwing off his equilibrium.
The stakes for Saturday’s fight go beyond the belts. The power in the heavyweight division is also at stake Saturday. If Ruiz (Premier Boxing Champions, broadcast primarily on Fox) should come out victorious over Joshua (Matchroom, broadcast on DAZN) again, it would mean that all four of the major belts in the heavyweight division would be under the PBC umbrella, with Deontay Wilder holding the WBC title.
That would give PBC control of almost all of the biggest potential fights in boxing’s most glamorous division for the foreseeable future, provided Wilder overcomes lineal champion Tyson Fury in their rematch on Feb. 22.
For Fox, with the uncertain status of welterweight world title holder Errol Spence following his car crash, an asset like having all of the heavyweight world titles is vital for driving pay-per-view interest. In Ruiz, they have the first Mexican-American heavyweight champion, and in Wilder, the best-known American big man. A fight between the two — should they win their upcoming bouts — would be a financial blockbuster for everyone involved.
As Ruiz searches for another shock to the system, Joshua enters a unique must-win situation of his own. Joshua not only sells out soccer stadiums, he does significant pay-per-view buys, and while one upset loss to Ruiz could be considered a blip, a second defeat irreparably damages his reputation as an elite fighter. Beyond that, his marketability for Matchroom Sports would take a permanent hit.
A defeat this weekend would mean consecutive losses in a six-month stretch, and many would wonder if he was just a well-marketed and over-hyped entity who was able to capture the emotion and loyalty of a country that reveres its boxers more than most because of timing and strategic matchmaking. But by evening up the score, Joshua can still be the next Lewis. With a defeat, he’s Frank Bruno, another English heavyweight champion who saw his world title and ultimately his career slip away, at the hands of Mike Tyson.
This isn’t just Ruiz-Joshua II, but PBC versus Matchroom and Fox versus DAZN. And while fans are eager to see one of the most highly anticipated fights in recent memory, the ripples of what happens Saturday night will likely determine which other dream fights in the heavyweight division come to fruition for years to come.
What lies ahead
There will still be chaos to come in the future, though. Whoever wins on Saturday will eventually drop a title or two, because the reality of being a unified champion is that there will be mandatory defenses that loom for each belt. There is only so much time and interest in placating the likes of Kubrat Pulev (ranked No. 1 by the IBF), Trevor Bryan (WBA), Dillian Whyte (WBC) or Oleksandr Usyk (WBO).
Should Joshua gain revenge on Ruiz, the likes of Whyte, Usyk, and Hunter are under the same promotional banner, giving him his pick of the litter while the wheels of a potential unification fight down the road click into place. And their promoter and platform will likewise sit in the driver’s seat in the division.
The fates of boxer and promoter are intricately intertwined, which contributes to the complicated nature of making fights between rival promotions. The performances by the top boxers in each stable dictate how much money comes in and carry a trickle-down effect that determines which promoters and platforms will showcase and invest in a particular weight class.
The spotlight this weekend is on Ruiz and Joshua, two fighters who arrived in this rematch from drastically different circumstances. The pressure seems to lie most heavily on Joshua, but in that way, the power in this moment belongs to Ruiz.
If he pulls off the impossible again, Ruiz will have shifted the future of the heavyweight division in dramatic, seemingly impossible fashion. And while there is so much on the line outside of the ring, it will all boil down to what a previously unheralded boxer and a heavyweight star with everything to lose do once they step through the ropes, in a heavyweight clash that, like many heavyweight fights of the past, will shape the future of boxing.