Ruiz v Joshua II: Talent-stacked heavyweight division awaits next twist in the tale

By Sports Desk December 05, 2019

Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua's rematch in Saudi Arabia takes place at the end of a year in the heavyweight division that has not taken off quite as anticipated.

Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury fought to a gripping majority draw in Los Angeles 12 months ago and both remain undefeated with their eagerly anticipated return slated for next February.

WBC champion Wilder has since knocked out Dominic Breazeale and Luis Ortiz, while Fury beat Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin before trying his hand at WWE.

It was hoped Joshua versus either man would be on the agenda, but Fury's fellow Briton stunningly lost the IBF, WBA and WBO belts inside seven rounds to the unfancied Ruiz in June.

The second edition of that unlikely rivalry should help make the picture of what lies in store in 2020 a little clearer, while a high-calibre list of potential challengers lends weight to the feeling boxing's blue riband division could be in the midst of a new golden era.

THE ELITE

There remains a reluctance to place Ruiz in this bracket, as he and trainer Manny Robles have noted during this week's build-up, but Mexico's first ever heavyweight champion is the man who beat the man.

Ruiz might be a long way from the body-beautiful Adonis many casual fans would expect to see atop the heavyweight landscape, but the rotund puncher's unlikely hand speed and intelligent tactics saw him eviscerate Joshua and his undefeated record.

A late replacement for drugs cheat Jarrell Miller, the underdog floored Joshua four times and hurt him repeatedly to the body. This was not simply the result of a "punch from the gods", as Joshua dubbed the short left hook to the temple that robbed him of his equilibrium as he moved in to finish a hurt Ruiz in round three.

There was much mirth to be had on the part of Wilder and Fury, who are widely considered numbers one and two in the division, despite Ruiz's recently acquired hardware.

Wilder obliterated fellow American Breazeale inside a round in May – a spectacle that perhaps inspired Joshua's foolhardy endeavour to match him with an explosive finish against Ruiz – before arguably losing every completed round in his second encounter with Ortiz.

The problem for the Cuban veteran was the thundering right hand that left him befuddled on the canvas and for the count in the seventh.

Fury managed to rouse himself twice having similarly outboxed Wilder last year. The 34-year-old's technical deficiencies are not the cause for concern they should be because of his unfathomable, fight-altering power.

Joshua is rarely in anything other than entertaining bouts but whether or not he can continue to operate at the very highest level hinges upon victory at the weekend. If Ruiz wins again before the Wilder-Fury return, he will be on the outside looking in and without some of the mystique attached to the men below.

THE CONTENDERS

Dillian Whyte is on a 10-fight winning streak since losing to Joshua four years ago, getting off the floor to outpoint the dangerous Oscar Rivas in July.

However, the fact he was cleared to fight Rivas after returning an anomalous drugs test led to the WBC stripping him of his mandatory status to face Wilder. The governing body will not consider him for the position again until February 2021.

Whyte returns to action against former world-title challenger Mariusz Wach on the Ruiz-Joshua II undercard, where Alexander Povetkin takes on Michael Hunter in an intriguing crossroads fight.

Povetkin's only defeats have come against Wladimir Klitschko and Joshua, but the 40-year-old's advancing age means victory is a must against Hunter, who made it six out six wins since stepping up from cruiserweight by beating another Russian in Sergey Kuzmin last time out.

Hunter's only professional loss came at the irresistibly skilled hands of Oleksandr Usyk, the former undisputed champion at 200lbs. Already number one at heavyweight by the WBO, the lavishly gifted Ukrainian seems certain to become a major factor among the big men.

Joseph Parker is, for now, the only man to beat Ruiz, but losses to Joshua and Whyte checked the popular New Zealander. Restorative stoppage wins over Alexander Flores and Alex Leapai leave the former WBO king primed for another tilt at the top in 2020.

THE NEXT GENERATION

Whether or not this comes to be viewed as a golden generation globally, the evidence in that regard for the British heavyweight scene is starting to look irrefutable.

Behind Fury, Joshua and Whyte, Daniel Dubois' destructive power has cut a swathe through the domestic scene, with 12 of the 22-year-old's 13 wins coming inside the distance.

Rio 2016 silver medallist Joe Joyce does not have time on his side to the same extent as countryman Dubois – a showdown between the two feels inevitable – but the 34-year-old is 10-0 having mixed with higher-calibre opposition.

Tony Yoka pipped Joyce to Olympic gold and is 7-0, although a one-year suspension from the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) for three missing three tests means he is playing catch-up having placed himself under the cloud that continues to darken the sport.

Filip Hrgovic will take his place on a stacked heavyweight bill in Saudi Arabia and is expected to defeat Eric Molina. A week in the spotlight has allowed the Croatian former amateur standout to talk up his chances of success against Wilder and Joshua, both of whom count Molina among their scalps.

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