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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  • Saudi Arabia an option for Joshua bout against Fury or Wilder – Hearn Saudi Arabia an option for Joshua bout against Fury or Wilder – Hearn

    Eddie Hearn believes the money offered to host a fight in Saudi Arabia between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder will be too good to turn down.

    Joshua regained his WBA, IBF and WBO belts from Andy Ruiz Jr in December in a heavyweight rematch contested in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.

    While Joshua's next fight is set to be against Kubrat Pulev, the Briton's promoter Hearn has talked up the possibility of a meeting with the victor of Fury-Wilder II, which takes place in Las Vegas on February 22, later in 2020.

    On Wednesday, Fury's promoter Frank Warren dismissed Joshua's claims that talks between his camp and Wilder's had already taken place, though he claimed a fight between his client and Joshua should be held towards the end of the year.

    Now, Hearn has suggested Saudi Arabia would again prove to be a viable venue for such a fight, claiming the money on offer would ensure a bout would happen.

    "You have new players in town that are willing to spend money never seen before in this sport. It's there, we've had the conversations," Hearn told Sky Sports.

    "We did it once, in December. I know the money that they're willing to put in for this fight at the back end of the year and it's why I'm so confident of making it, because there's just too much money.

    "There comes a time in the sport where money talks too much and, when it does, there's no going back. Even if the other guys didn't want it, they can't ignore the numbers.

    "Everybody's lucky that the numbers we were talking about a year ago, they've doubled, trebled. Don't agree? You've spun it up on that roulette wheel, now take your chips and leave."

    Hearn also suggested Joshua – who could also face Oleksandr Usyk – would be willing to scrap his planned fight with Pulev should the Bulgarian not agree to a venue in Britain.

    "AJ's going to call the shots here and he may end up having to let the Pulev fight go if he won't fight in the places we'd like him to fight and that is in the UK," Hearn said.

    "We're looking at dates around the end of May, beginning of June for the Pulev fight. Everywhere's in play – Emirates Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the London Stadium.

    "We've also reached out to Twickenham as well and the Millennium Stadium have got some dates for us. In an ideal world, AJ's next fight will be against Pulev in London."

  • No Wilder-Joshua talks, insists Fury's promoter Warren No Wilder-Joshua talks, insists Fury's promoter Warren

    Tyson Fury's promoter Frank Warren insisted there is no truth in Anthony Joshua's claims he has held talks with Deontay Wilder over a heavyweight fight.

    Joshua regained the WBA, IBF and WBO belts from Andy Ruiz Jr in December, while Fury is set to meet WBC champion Wilder in a rematch on February 22.

    Brit Joshua has recently suggested his camp has held discussions with Wilder's management over a potential meeting this year, which would come instead of a possible third bout between the American and Fury.

    Warren, though, is adamant no talks have been held.

    "I spoke to [Wilder's co-manager] Shelly Finkel [on Tuesday] and he denied it," Warren told ESPN.

    "There's a rematch clause in the contract and the loser has the right to invoke that not long after the fight.

    "That will determine what happens, not what [promoter] Eddie Hearn or Joshua says.

    "It seems every time they mention these discussions they never think about the possibility of Tyson winning the fight with Wilder."

    Joshua is reportedly set to face Kubrat Pulev, who is the IBF mandatory challenger, while a bout between the Briton and Oleksandr Usyk has been also been mooted.

    But Warren is hopeful of bringing Joshua and Fury together for an-all British encounter, though he cited the "ego" of Hearn as a potential stumbling block.

    "I would like to see Tyson in with Joshua straight away after February 22," Warren said.

    "I don't think it's a difficult negotiation – we have just seen that with two networks in the United States agreeing to work with each other for Wilder-Fury II. The only thing that stops it is all of the ego with Eddie Hearn.

    "I don't see why it should be a problem at all. It's a fight for the good of the sport that everyone wants to see. As long as Tyson wins his next fight, and Joshua wins his mandatory fight next, it can happen.

    "It seems like everyone is looking for reasons why it shouldn't happen. Nearly every big fight we have got over the line. 

    "Fury and Joshua are at their best, nothing is stopping it from happening except Joshua's people being afraid of their cash cow being beaten."

  • White puts McGregor in same bracket as Muhammad Ali and talks up Khabib rematch White puts McGregor in same bracket as Muhammad Ali and talks up Khabib rematch

    UFC president Dana White has compared Conor McGregor to boxing greats Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard after the Irishman made his return to the Octagon.

    McGregor needed just 40 seconds to defeat Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone in Las Vegas on Saturday, as the 31-year-old marked his comeback after 15 months away from the Octagon in style.

    And White believes McGregor has now reached the same level as stardom as icons such as Ali, Tyson and Leonard.

    "[Conor] is such a huge superstar. I put him up there with Tyson, Leonard," White told a media conference.

    "All of them," he added when asked if McGregor could be compared to Ali, considered to be the greatest fighter in boxing history.

    "He's got the biggest pay-per-view in pay-per-view history. How many of the top 10 does he have? I don't even know. He's one of the biggest stars out there.

    "A lot of the times coming in his career he's been doubted for his talent and he proves everybody wrong every time."

    White was also asked how much McGregor was worth to UFC, with a figure of $2billion suggested by a reporter.

    "Two billion dollars? Sounds like a good number, I'll take that," White joked. "I don't know what he's worth to the company but it's big.

    "You couldn't go anywhere without seeing this fight and knowing that this fight was on. All the people came out and watched the fight.

    "This is one of those fights that people who normally don't buy [do] buy, right? So, the number is always massive.

    "Then Conor comes out and does what he did tonight. You can't put a number on that. It's massive and it's global. The whole world was watching tonight."

    McGregor's previous fight came in October 2018, when he was defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov.

    In his own post-fight news conference, McGregor outlined his intention to go up against the Russian once more, and White is eager to make a rematch happen.

    "We're at a place right now where Conor was saying that, going into the Khabib fight, he had lots of personal stuff," said White.

    "Some stuff [was] self-inflicted. He had injuries. He had all these things going on. He has been obsessed with getting that rematch because he knows that he wasn't 100 per cent right.

    "We're looking at like Ali-Foreman, Ali-Frazier. This is a massive fight with global appeal. It's the fight you make, it's the fight that makes sense. It's for the 155-pound title.

    "It's huge for Khabib’s legacy, too. If he beat McGregor, then he beats Tony Ferguson, then he beats McGregor again, I mean, this is how this kid, when he retires, he's 30-something and, oh, he's beaten all of the best."

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