Ruiz v Joshua II: Can AJ reclaim the belts? - The debate

By Sports Desk December 03, 2019

Six months have passed since Andy Ruiz Jr sent seismic shockwaves through the world of boxing to dethrone heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

The 11-1 underdog, a late replacement for Jarrell Miller, rose from the canvas to send 'AJ' to the floor and score a seventh-round knockout.

Joshua seeks to gain revenge in Riyadh on Saturday and reclaim the IBF, WBA and WBO belts he relinquished to the Mexican at Madison Square Garden on that fateful June evening.

But with the Briton's aura and reputation left in tatters in New York, can Joshua make amends for the first blot on a previously unblemished record? Or will Ruiz reign supreme once again.

Below, two Omnisport writers go head-to-head to discuss what will happen in Saudi Arabia.


All the greats had blips, Joshua will be hungrier now – Liam Blackburn

Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko. Great heavyweight champions who all had to suffer the ignominy of a shock loss to an underdog. All four came back and won a world title again. 

Joshua insisted he did not underestimate Ruiz back in June but with unrelenting chatter about Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, was his eye really on the immediate danger? Would he really have handed his belts to his replacement opponent for a photo opportunity at a pre-fight face-off had he genuinely thought he might lose?

The golden boy of British boxing has had six months to stew over that night at Madison Square Garden, half a year to meticulously prepare for an opponent who was previously parachuted in at the last moment and almost 200 days of listening to the doubters saying he is just a hyped-up fraud.

Such chatter can only sharpen Joshua's mind. This time, there are no questions about Wilder, Fury and what's next; only a focus on righting a perceived wrong. As Ali, Lewis, Tyson and Klitschko did, a hungrier Joshua will approach this fight with a completely different mindset. In the long run, the loss to Ruiz may prove a blessing in disguise for a fighter too big and too good not to reclaim his titles.


It was an upset waiting to happen, Ruiz will keep the belts – Peter Hanson

To say I predicted Ruiz would beat AJ in their first bout would be a lie so big it would make Pinocchio's nose grow to epic new lengths. But that's not to say there wasn't an upset waiting to happen.

Questions had long since been asked about Joshua's chin. As long ago as 2015, before he even had a world title on his arm, AJ had been wobbled by a stinger from domestic rival Dillian Whyte.

Some 18 months later, he was floored for the first time by Klitschko – though he valiantly rose off the canvas to score a fine win in a classic. An unconvincing win against Carlos Takam followed, while there were problems early doors against Alexander Povetkin.

Whatever the cause for his defeat to Ruiz the first time round (was he concussed? Was it nerves? Was he merely outclassed?) there can be no doubting that the aura and air of invincibility he previously carried has gone. It is a big ask to regain it and chase the big fights with Wilder and Fury he once looked certain to face.

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    'Mystic Mac' is back!... and not for the first time.

    Conor McGregor steps back into the Octagon having not fought since knocking out Donald Cerrone after just 40 seconds at UFC 246 over 12 months ago.

    That was supposed to be the first of three fights in 2020 for a rejuvenated McGregor, who had spent 14 months away following the ugly melee that followed his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018.

    Then, of course, a global pandemic caused chaos to the world of sport and, in June, McGregor announced he was retiring from fighting, citing he was just not excited about the MMA game.

    Fans of McGregor and the UFC had been here twice before and the scepticism that met his announcement was justified when it was confirmed the big-talking Irishman would face off against Dustin Poirier for the second time in his career.

    Ahead of that bout on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi this weekend for UFC 257, we take a look back at McGregor's past 'comeback' scraps.


    August 20, 2016 – McGregor beats Diaz by majority decision

    In March of the same year, McGregor suffered his first loss fighting in the UFC after submitting to a rear-naked choke from Nate Diaz at UFC 196.

    McGregor was slated to have his rematch against Diaz at UFC 200 but in April posted on Twitter: "I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese."

    Two days later, he clarified that he had not actually retired but had fallen out with UFC bosses over promotional work and the fight was pulled.

    But the bout was eventually staged at UFC 202 in an absolute classic that saw McGregor avenge the defeat via majority decision.

    McGregor floored his opponent in round one and Diaz was downed twice more in the second round, but the Irishman survived a series of brutal blows in the third.

    Diaz scored a takedown late in the fifth but McGregor saw out the time with the three judges scoring it 48-47, 47-47, 48-47, leading to a famous declaration: "The king is back!"


    January 18, 2020 – McGregor beats Cerrone by knockout

    Five months on from the ugly aftermath of the Khabib defeat, McGregor announced, "I've decided to retire from the sport formally known as 'Mixed Martial Art'."

    High-profile incidents away from the Octagon had plagued McGregor, while he also launched his 'Proper No. Twelve' whiskey brand.

    Still, the lure of the UFC proved too much for one of the all-time greats and a focused McGregor was back to fight Cerrone in Las Vegas in a bout pitting two of the sport's most popular stars against one another.

    McGregor put on an absolute clinic and a series of brutal blows led to the bout being waved off after just 40 seconds. It marked his first victory in the Octagon since November 2016 when he defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the UFC lightweight title and become the company's first ever dual champion.

    After the fight, McGregor said: "I made history tonight. I set a new record. I'm the first fighter in UFC history to secure knockout victories at featherweight, at lightweight and now at welterweight - across three weight divisions, so I'm very proud of that."


    January 23, 2021 – McGregor v Poirier?

    "Hey guys I've decided to retire from fighting. Thank you all for the amazing memories! What a ride it's been!"

    And with that McGregor was done... again.

    But really we knew he wasn't, and once more McGregor will step into the Octagon against an opponent he is familiar with.

    Almost seven years have passed since McGregor earned 'Performance of the Night' honours after the fight was stopped after one minute and 46 seconds of the first round when 'The Notorious' put Poirier on the back foot then caught his opponent with a huge left hook behind the ear.

    So the question remains: how will McGregor fare on his latest comeback from 'retirement'?

  • Brocchi dreaming of Milan reunion as Berlusconi's Serie A-chasing Monza try to recreate Rossoneri Brocchi dreaming of Milan reunion as Berlusconi's Serie A-chasing Monza try to recreate Rossoneri

    Silvio Berlusconi, Adriano Galliani, Cristian Brocchi, Mario Balotelli, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gabriel Paletta.

    There is a real Milan vibe about Monza, who are nestled 15 kilometres north of the Lombardy capital, as the ambitious club stand closer than ever to achieving their goal of Serie A promotion after spending their entire existence in the lower leagues.

    Monza are owned by former Milan president and Italy prime minister Berlusconi, who returned to football in 2018 after selling his beloved Rossoneri a year earlier.

    After purchasing the club through his Fininvest company, Berlusconi turned to his trusted right-hand man Galliani – who was born in Monza – as CEO. Their partnership helped turn the Rossoneri into a superpower, with eight Serie A titles and five Champions League/European Cup crowns among the 29 pieces of silverware between 1986 and 2017.

    Monza are also coached by former Milan midfielder and boss Brocchi, while the Serie B outfit also boasts ex-Rossoneri players Balotelli, Boateng and Paletta.

    After completing their rise from Serie C to the second tier of Italian football amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2019-20, Monza are well and truly in the promotion mix – fourth and six points adrift of leaders Empoli, while they are only two points behind Cittadella, who occupy the final automatic spot through 18 games.

    Moving up to Serie A would mean a Milan reunion for many of Monza's staff and players, as well as Brocchi – who won the Scudetto and two Champions League titles among other honours at San Siro between 2001 and 2008 before spending a brief period in charge eight years later.

    "It is a dream that hopefully will come true. To have brought the Milan mentality coming from our board – always striving to build an important organisation similar to the Milan that won so much worldwide," Brocchi told Stats Perform News.

    "Board, manager and some players have worn that shirt and the dream to recreate Milan here in Monza is beautiful and emotional."

    "It is a tough season. There are many strong clubs, the ones relegated from A [in 2019-20] who have retained all the important players and those who last season had built up a squad for promotion and failed, so I think this year's Serie B is the hardest of recent times," he continued.

    Monza – back in Serie B following a 19-year absence – are no ordinary second-tier team in Italy, with all eyes on the Bagai due to Berlusconi.

    Berlusconi's presence has changed the landscape for Monza, who tried to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic before the star striker opted to return to Milan in January last year. However, Monza have since lured Balotelli and Boateng to the club.

    "Working for Berlusconi and Galliani's club is grand because all media attention is on you. For sure everybody thinks Monza have to win every game because these two people have gone down in football history winning so much. And this is exactly our goal," Brocchi said.

    "I know very well Berlusconi and Galliani's wish is to reach Serie A and win every game. We share the same mindset because I have grown up with them since I was nine. To me it is an honour to be the manager here.

    "For sure it is beautiful and important for me to manage in a club like Monza that are very ambitious. It is not easy to take a club from Serie C to Serie A but it is emotional because you have a lot of responsibilities and adrenaline is always rushing. As I said, to face strong clubs with your own aim and manage to overcome them, would make this even better." 

    Brocchi, who oversaw just seven matches as Milan coach before being replaced by Vincenzo Montella, continued: "Monza's aim is to improve. We started from C, we are in B and we want Serie A. The difference between us and other clubs is that once in Serie A we won't have the goal of avoiding relegation at the last game, but to rank in the top 10.

    "Mr Galliani wants us to always be a strong team going for great objectives. This is what will happen should we win this league."

    Balotelli and Boateng are set to play a key role in Monza's push for promotion following their high-profile arrivals.

    Boateng has made an immediate impact, with the former Milan and Barcelona midfielder – on average – scoring a goal every 243 minutes in Serie B this season, the best average among Monza players with at least 90 minutes played.

    Only Dany Mota has fired more shots on target than Boateng (23 to 10) among Monza players this term and the talented Portuguese forward has four league goals.

    Balotelli – coming off a difficult spell at Brescia before their relegation from Serie A – scored with his first touch in Serie B on debut for Monza last month before being sidelined through injury.

    "They [Balotelli and Boateng] arrived here in Serie B thanks to the acquaintance they had with Berlusconi and Galliani and even with me as a manager, since I trained them at Milan and we had a great relationship," said Brocchi, who was handed his first senior head-coaching role at Milan after replacing Sinisa Mihajlovic almost five years ago, having previously worked with the club's youth team.

    "They settled in very well, they always train hard, they lead by example by showing the will to take me, Berlusconi, Galliani and Monza to Serie A. So far they have been important, let's hope they can give us even more in order to make this dream come true."

    The experience of Balotelli and Boateng complements an exciting core of Monza players, including Mota and Brazilian full-back Carlos Augusto, as well as talented loanees Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo), Andrea Colpani (Atalanta) and Davide Bettella (Atalanta).

    Both Balotelli and Boateng have tasted Serie A success in their careers to go with respective Premier League and LaLiga honours, with the latter part of the last Milan team to celebrate Scudetto glory in 2010-11.

    The strategy of sporting director Filippo Antonelli and Brocchi to invest in promising young talent has continued to deliver results on the pitch.

    Monza have allowed the fewest headed goals (one) in Serie B this season, while Brocchi's side have conceded 10 goals from inside the box – the least in the league, while they have scored five goals inside the opening 15 minutes of play – the joint most in 2020-21.

    "Monza are a mix of experienced players and great young talents. The right mix to achieve our goals. Players like Balotelli and Boateng can help Mota, Carlos Augusto, Frattesi, Colpani or Bettella, all under-21 players for Italy and Portugal," the 44-year-old Brocchi said.

    "You can't only field experienced players, you have to look for the right mix and this is what Antonelli and I looked for. I think experience helps youngsters and their exuberance helps the expert ones."

  • Liverpool v Burnley: Anfield streak ends but goal drought continues as Pope saves all Liverpool v Burnley: Anfield streak ends but goal drought continues as Pope saves all

    After thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 on December 19, Liverpool were six points clear at the Premier League summit. 

    Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were all on target in the clinical rout at Selhurst Park, after which Jurgen Klopp said: "It was really difficult to play against us."

    The reigning champions had seemingly found top gear again. 

    Fast forward to January 21 and, following a stunning 1-0 loss to Burnley at Anfield, Liverpool were left to wonder just where it had all gone so badly wrong.  

    For a fourth successive outing in the league they had failed to score, while the shock result sees them stuck in fourth position in the table, six points behind leaders Manchester United. 

    Never mind moving through the gears: the wheels have well and truly come off. 

    BARNES HARMS AILING CHAMPIONS

    Ashley Barnes' penalty condemned the Reds to a first home defeat in the league since April 23, 2017. It had been three years and 273 days since former Liverpool player Christian Benteke struck twice for Palace in a 2-1 triumph. 

    The run of 68 games unbeaten was the second longest in English top-flight history. During the streak, there were 55 wins, 176 goals scored and 36 clean sheets. A total of 43 players were used, too.

    Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum, Firmino and Divock Origi were also in the starting XI that were beaten by Palace, managed by Sam Allardyce, nearly four years ago, while Trent Alexander-Arnold came on as a late substitute.


    GOAL-SHY LIVERPOOL MISS CAPTAIN

    Since Mane's early strike in the 1-1 draw against West Brom on December 27, Liverpool have registered 87 shots in the Premier League without managing to find the net. Eighty. Seven. Shots.

    It was not for a lack of trying against Burnley, admittedly. They had 27 total attempts, their most in a single league match without scoring since April 2013 versus Reading (28).  

    The absence of Jordan Henderson did not help. Even prior to kick-off, Liverpool had lost more of their 11 Premier League games without their captain (3) than they had in 45 games with him (2) since the start of last season.

    KLOPP STREAK CAUSES CONCERN

    This is not yet uncharted territory for Klopp at Liverpool; he previously went five league games without a win between January and February in 2017. 

    That barren run four years ago included fixtures against Sunderland and Hull City – clubs now in the third tier of English football – and a home defeat to current Championship side Swansea City, who were celebrating at Anfield thanks to goals from Fernando Llorente (two) and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

    However, Klopp has never previously gone four without a goal during his Reds tenure. The previous time that happened in his coaching career was while in charge of Mainz, who suffered a drought in the Bundesliga late in 2006.


    POPE SAVES ALL AS REDS PAY THE PENALTY

    Nick Pope excelled when Burnley ended Liverpool's 100 per cent home record in their title-winning campaign – and the goalkeeper was once again in outstanding form on Merseyside.

    The England international made six saves to keep a clean sheet, having produced eight in his side's 1-1 draw in July at the same ground. Since the start of the 2019-20 season, no keeper has made more saves against a single opponent in the Premier League than Pope against Liverpool (19).

    Barnes' penalty was the second spot-kick Liverpool have conceded at home this season too – they had only given up two penalty goals at Anfield under Klopp before 2020-21.

    There is plenty for the German to ponder, then. While retaining the trophy is far from out of reach, what appeared to be a temporary blip is in danger of turning into a full-blown crisis.

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