On June 1 2019, undefeated unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion of the world Anthony Joshua fought the unfancied outside Andy Ruiz Jr. at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was Joshua’s first fight in the United States. It was Ruiz’s second title shot, after he had lost a close decision to Joseph Parker for the vacant WBO belt in December 2016.
Ruiz was not supposed to be there. An 11-1 underdog, the Mexican was parachuted in after Joshua’s initial opponent, the undefeated Jarrell Miller, failed a drugs test.
Joshua was the overwhelming favourite to defend his titles and move onto a lucrative unification showdown with either WBC champion Deontay Wilder or lineal king Tyson Fury – but there appeared to be something wrong with the Briton before the first bell had even sounded.
Eddie Hearn, managing director of Matchroom Sport: His fight camp was really good. Normal. The only difference was that his camp was in Miami, rather than Sheffield. Still, he had good sparring and good prep. Maybe his sparring wasn’t quite as good as we would have wanted, because we were sparring for Jarrell Miller who is a 20st fighter that comes forward, and then before the fight his opponent switches to a small guy who was very fast. So we probably didn’t get the exact kind of sparring we would have wanted.
But camp was good. He turned up in New York relaxed. Probably too relaxed. He did an ESPN preview on Tuesday and all the questions were: ‘obviously you’re going to beat Ruiz – and then what next?’ I don’t want to say he wasn’t focused, because he is always focused, but maybe subconsciously he thought this was going to be easy. A walkover. And it didn’t work out that way. And he ended up in a much tougher fight than he thought.
Dean Whyte, associate of heavyweight rival Dillian Whyte: Going into it, Joshua seemed to be composed. He was talking well. But when he entered the ring, you could see his body language wasn’t like usual. His team were massaging him a lot. And everything seemed unusual.
Lennox Lewis, three-time world heavyweight champion: It was just a mad, mad night for the division. And from the moment they appeared in the ring it was like we all knew what was supposed to happen – but then something else entirely happened. But we are still asking how exactly it happened. We still don’t really know.
David Haye, two-weight world champion: He just seemed like his normal self, he didn’t appear like he was walking into the most important fight of his life. He didn’t appear in the interview like ‘this could be it, if I do one thing wrong I could end up losing all the credibility I’ve worked so many years to continuously build’. He didn’t seem like that was up for grabs, but now he does.
Controlled aggression and carnage
The fight starts. The first two rounds are careful and controlled. Both men slowly begin feeling one another out. Joshua lands nine of the 47 punches he throws. Ruiz just three of 31.
And then, in the third round, everything changes. Joshua knocks down Ruiz. Only for Ruiz to rise to his feet and twice knock down Joshua before the bell mercifully rings.
David Haye: I had no alarm bells ringing [before the fight]. The only time the alarm bells started ringing was the first or second round, there was a couple of shots that Andy Ruiz was throwing, and I remember me and Carl Froch looked at each other just slowly looked round, and both went ‘hmmmm’ - he was doing all the right things that someone needs to do to beat Anthony Joshua, that’s punching when he punches and closing down the range and forcing him to fight at a pace he doesn’t want to fight.
He was doing all the things to beat Joshua. He was throwing counter hooks that were just grazing Anthony Joshua’s chin and I don’t think Anthony Joshua even saw them shots, but we saw them whistling past the chin. We both looked at each other and I remember we had a moment like ‘oooh OK,’ like maybe Andy Ruiz just doesn’t know what he’s doing. But no, he knew what he was doing, he practiced it and he was doing all of the right things he needed to do that night to get close and catch him with that left hook and he was only able to get that left hook on the target after he’d been heavily knocked down himself.
Evander Holyfield, unified two-weight world champion: Joshua actually missed him with the one he wanted to catch him with, the right hand, and then caught him with the left.
Michael Griffin, Joshua vs Ruiz I referee: I think [Ruiz] had a real fear that I was going to stop the fight.
Eddie Hearn: The shot that turned the fight, really, was when he had Ruiz down and in the back of his head he obviously had Wilder the week before with the big knockout and it was like ‘let’s go in and get the big finish’ and it was all a little bit complacent. They started trading and Joshua hit Ruiz with a big right hand and then Ruiz hit him with a massive shot on the chin and he didn’t blink, hit him with another shot, the same sort of shot round the side of the head and it just hit a switch, that was the shot he never really recovered from.
Even though he was knocked down again in the round, went back and obviously I’ve seen the stuff about Rob McCraken, Rob’s not a physician and fighters get hurt bad, you don’t just pull them out because they’re hurt, or concussed.
Sugar Ray Leonard, five-weight world champion: I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I saw Ruiz jabbing to the body, throwing right hands to the body. He was wearing AJ down.
Mike Tyson, undisputed world heavyweight champion: It was just the basics. [Joshua] was conscious, his head was cool, but his body was not responding. He couldn’t control it, his body was all f***ed up. He knew he was in a lot of trouble.
David Haye: The moment Anthony Joshua knocked down Andy Ruiz, he forgot about that distance and started and started thinking about ‘I need to put some more fists on this little guy’s face’. Once his changed his outlook, once he changed the dynamics of the fight, those shots missing in the first two rounds started connecting and straight away he got put down heavily with the left hook, the left hook that was missing in the first two rounds. He walked into the danger zone, so this time round he’s going to know where the range is and he’s going to try and keep the little danger man outside and the end of the jab.
Dean Whyte: In between rounds he was saying ‘what happened there, what round are we in? It was a sign something was untoward but in this game you get punched in the head by big guys who are over 15st. You get concussed in there, in sparring so it’s not unusual.
I think he was doing ok up until that punch in the third, a lot of people know that Joshua is open to the left hook. They always want to throw that left hook, they want to faint and then throw it. He [Ruiz] was throwing a combination where he was going to the body, going to the head and he’s going to come a lot harder in the rematch to get the same result.
Ruiz stuns the world
Joshua survived the round but the writing was on the wall. Rounds four, five and six passed in a blur, as Ruiz sought to press home his advantage and Joshua attempted to stabilise, before the fight came to a brutal end in the seventh.
Ruiz twice more dropped Joshua, with the Briton spitting out his mouthguard immediately after being felled for a fourth and final time. He did not beat the count. Ruiz had won by TKO and was the first Mexican-American – and second Hispanic – heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Eddie Hearn: He just survived the third round, at that point the trainer’s like ‘come on let’s get back in this fight, don’t take any chances’, stuff that every trainer in the world can say. He did, kind of, get back behind the jab but he didn’t recover in time so when he took another one, he went down and went down again.
Mike Tyson: He was trying to recover. It was an inexperienced move. Fighting is the art of not letting the other man know. You try to not let them know. Don’t run, you’ve got to do something. When you get knocked down you have to say, ‘you motherf***er, I’m going to kill you’.
When he spits the gum shield out, he indicates he’s a defeated man.
Michael Griffin: He wasn’t quitting. He was looking for more time. He turned his back on me, I picked up the mouthpiece, I don’t think he was quitting. He wanted more seconds, but the rules don’t allow me to give him more seconds.
Steve Bunce, The Independent boxing columnist: Joshua was stopped on his feet, unsteady and largely unresponsive in his own corner with about ninety seconds left in round seven after stumbling up from his fourth knockdown. He was talking to the referee, communicating but clearly nothing was making any sense to the big lad and he left the referee no alternative but to stop the fight.
Eddie Hearn: He would have gone all night but unfortunately the ref stopped it. The fight ended, not without him getting hurt but without a devastating knockout, you’ve seen a lot of upsets in big fights, like Hasim Rahman against Lennox Lewis, Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson, where the guy is out on the floor, can’t get up, knocked out.
He was never knocked out he was just concussed. He was trying to survive and couldn’t regain his composure.
Steve Bunce: He is the most unlikely looking champion: flabby, smiley, relaxed and a happy tourist here in New York where he promised to fight until the bitter end. He kept his word and broke Joshua in one of boxing’s genuine shocks.
The dust settles
The fight was immediately heralded as one of the biggest upsets in the history of boxing.
On August 8 2019, it was announced that a rematch clause in the contract of the first fight had been activated.
The two men will meet for the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles on Saturday night, at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al-Turaif, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
David Haye: It’s very difficult. I’ve done the same thing in the past, I’ve knocked someone down or hurt someone and emptied too much of the tank trying to get him out of there. It happens, it’s a bit of a roll of the dice. You’ve got 12 rounds of fight in you and you can empty two rounds into one round, which means you don’t have enough energy when it comes to the end of the fight. There’s a pace, like if you run the 1500m and you run the first 100m as fast as you can you’re going to use up the majority of your energy. He may have tried to close the show too quickly and it went pear-shaped.
This time round he should stay calm, keep it long, but it’s a lesson he’s learned. So when he knocks Andy Ruiz down, potentially, hopefully in Saudi Arabia, he will know ‘OK, he’s still a danger man’, and he will keep treating him with respect. Any time Andy Ruiz starts getting close and engaging, he needs to clinch, hold and stop the onslaught of punches coming from the Mexican.
Lennox Lewis: To me, just looking at the fight, he didn’t seem mentally or physically prepared for that opponent. Now, he can go back to the drawing board and get prepared for that opponent.
My concern is that he needs a different approach, he needs some experience in his corner. I don’t know what the gameplan was but if it was ‘go behind your left-right’, that’s the wrong gameplan.
If I was in charge of Anthony Joshua I wouldn’t put him straight into the rematch. It’s a quick turnaround especially after how the fight ended. It was like something is majorly wrong, I can’t guess what and I can’t tell you what it was.
Eddie Hearn: Watch the fight back and you will see how, quite a few times, Ruiz walked in and Joshua went with the jab and backed off. What he should have done is knocked him down, stayed composed, bang the jab in again, one right hand and even if the round is over, Ruiz goes back to his corner and is a bit taken. Then you do it again, keep chopping the tree down until he’s ready.
When he smells the blood, he’s fucking brutal. Against Povetkin, he was patient and he is one of the best finishers, he’ll learn so much because next time he hurts someone he’ll remember it and be patient. I don’t want him to hurt Ruiz, I almost don’t want him to stun Ruiz and then have him here, I want him to lay him out cold so we don’t have to close the show.
Dean Whyte: I like him. He has done good for UK boxing and I’ll be rooting for him. I’m hoping he has had enough time to make the adjustments to get the win. It’s a short space of time but at the same time, what they say is just try and hold the telephone, keep your chin down and get your jab pumping, move around. He needs to get in a little bit of lateral movement, it’s hard if that’s not his style but maybe just jab, double jab and press him back.
I think he only needs to make slight adjustments and he could get a very boring win, an ugly win is a good win because it’s all about the record, it’ll say win and two-time world champion. People will forget it. Ruiz is fast, a great combination fighter and you don’t want to have to come back on that long, dark road.
As told to Jack Rathborn, Adam Hamdani, Declan Taylor, Tom Kershaw and Lawrence Ostlere.