Joshua back at the heavyweight top table after Ruiz Jr feels the strain in desert rematch

By Sports Desk December 08, 2019

Job done for Anthony Joshua, who once again holds the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles.

The British fighter achieved his aim in the rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr, just about staying far enough away from the kind of trouble that saw him lose the belts in the first place to make amends for the only blot on his professional record.

He could not quite produce the kind of sensational stoppage his opponent managed on a still-scarcely believable New York night back in June, instead choosing to use his physical advantages to dictate from a distance, boxing off the back foot behind a solid jab. Prior to the bout, Joshua had sought out Wladimir Klitschko for advice - this was just the kind of performance Dr Steelhammer would have prescribed during their conversations.

"I took my 'L' and I bounced back," the victor said in the immediate aftermath. While it was far from flashy, the result was really all that mattered for the 2012 Olympic gold medallist.

Hyperbole is so often present in sport, yet it was not too much of an overstatement to state this was a must-win situation for Joshua. Another setback, whether by stoppage or on the scorecards, would have been a disaster. Shock losses are a risk in his line of work – just look at the careers of heavyweight legends Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson – but two defeats on the spin would be tough to overcome.

With that in mind, it made sense for the determined challenger to make absolutely sure history was not repeated. There was simply too much on the line to take any risks. Work commitments forced Jose Mourinho to turn down the offer of a ticket, yet he must have been impressed by Joshua's safety first strategy in the face of such obvious danger.

There were moments during the bout when Joshua had to fight his natural instinct to attack, where he appeared seemingly ready to step into range and follow up a heavy shot with a further barrage, only to realise that was not part of the plan worked on with trainer Rob McCracken. It was as if he had to continually remind himself of the best way to be successful boxing: hit and don't get hit.

My hope is that someone sees my page and decides not to give up. Clean hearts win  pic.twitter.com/yBrHeLq19q

— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyfjoshua) December 8, 2019

It helped his cause that he was up against an opponent who had clearly made the most of his unexpected success.

Having registered over 20 stones on the scales at Friday's weigh-in, Ruiz was unsurprisingly sluggish with his footwork, as if wearing boots full of Saudi Arabian sand, and slow to pull the trigger. At least in defeat his pockets are full, though.

Piling on an extra 15 pounds following the first fight seemed an odd tactic even before the action was under way inside the purpose-built arena. It had taken around six weeks to put the venue together – Ruiz had the opportunity to destroy Joshua's career in the space of six months, in the process proving what unfolded at Madison Square Garden was no fluke.

Instead, once the now-trademark sombrero came off, he was completely overshadowed by Joshua. In more ways than one, there had been too much on Ruiz's plate in the aftermath of that famous triumph in the Big Apple, leading to a lacklustre display that he may live to regret. Despite the beaten boxer stating his desire for the pair to make it a trilogy, a third instalment seems unlikely to be on the agenda for 2020.

And, in turning the focus to next year, you realise that while much went on in the heavyweight division in 2019, not a lot has changed. Deontay Wilder remains the WBC champion, as we tantalisingly wait for that Tyson Fury rematch (fingers crossed for February), while Joshua now once again has the three other major belts in his possession.

Meanwhile, Dillian Whyte – now cleared by UK Anti-Doping - waits for his opportunity to face somebody, anybody, for the chance to get his hands on a world title. Then there is the ultra-talented Oleksandr Usyk, the next in line with the WBO, who has fought just once since moving up in weight.

Maybe the talented Filip Hrgovic – an easy winner against Eric Molina on the undercard in Diriyah – is set to be thrust into major fights, or the promising Daniel Dubois builds on 13 straight wins to make a breakthrough on the global stage.

Despite the strength in numbers and all that has happened in the previous 12 months, the status quo remains the same. By finding the necessary – if unspectacular – way to avenge his first loss, a relieved Joshua knows he once again sits with fellow Brit Fury and the undefeated Wilder as the kingpins among the big men.

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