Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz: Clash of the Dunes is History in the Making
It didn’t take very long to realize that history was being made at New York’s Madison Square Garden on June 1.
Britain’s boxing Adonis, Anthony Joshua, was being sorely tested by a chubby, 121 kilogram Andy Ruiz Jr. just three weeks after being called upon to fight one of the sport’s biggest names.
Then it happened. With just under two minutes to go in the seventh round, a flurry of powerful punches sent an already wobbly Joshua tumbling to the canvas for the fourth and final time in the fight. As he climbed back to his feet, disoriented and seemingly disinterested in continuing, the referee called the fight over via TKO.
Ruiz—an 11-1 underdog—instantly became Mexico’s first heavyweight champion, a national hero and global superstar who had just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, propelling himself into the hearts and minds of Mexican sporting fans—such as myself—desperate for success after years of chronically underperforming footballers. As a nation, we finally had a modern-day champion at the pinnacle of his sport to call our own.
Few—even many fellow fighters and friends—had given him much of a chance. Whereas Joshua has the chiseled abs and taut muscles of a Greek statue, the Mexican-American was a memorably unsculpted mass of man who’d referred to himself as an overlooked and downplayed “little fat boy”.
While Joshua has the chiseled abs of a Greek statue, Ruiz jokingly referred to himself as "little fat boy"
“If you look at him, you’d never think he’s going to become a world champion,” British boxer Amir Khan, a friend of both men, tells Esquire ahead of the December 7 bout in Riyadh. “By looking at him, you don’t really give him justice….I think it was a big shock to the whole world.”
But as boxers are quick to tell the uninitiated, a boxing match is ultimately not won by simple athleticism—and certainly not by looks—but by, simply, being able to give and take punches better than the other man.
And that’s a talent that the pudgy pugilist has in spades, alongside a healthy dose of what he calls ‘Mexican warrior’ spirit. “It just made me stronger,” Ruiz said of an early knock-down from Joshua. “It just made me want it more.”
It’s good to be on top
In Mexico and among Mexican-Americans in the US, Ruiz has become something of a superstar: an underdog whose rise to the top is unlike anything the country has seen before. For some, like Mexican-American poet Matt Sedillo, Ruiz came to represent much more than sports. “No one gave him a chance like very few people give us a chance…at anything.”
Just how big a deal Ruiz has become in Mexico was plainly evident by the red carpet welcome he received there after the Joshua fight. Mobs of fans screamed. Adoring women swooned. Children jostled for selfies. Even Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopes Obrador, wanted a piece of the action, inviting Ruiz to the national palace for a well-publicized photo opportunity.
With this level of adulation, it’s no surprise that Ruiz will be looking to stay at the top. But—not for the first time—many are wondering whether he can do it.
Duel on the Dunes
Both Ruiz and Joshua will be wanting a victory at the upcoming rematch between the two, the hotly anticipated ‘Clash on the Dunes’ fight held in Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Arena, a historic first that is already being compared to iconic fights like Muhammad Ali’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’ or ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Kinshasa.
Ahead of the last clash, many scoffed at Ruiz’s moniker of ‘the Destroyer’—which he earned through a penchant for smashing toys as a child, rather than in the ring. Now, his supporters are hoping he’ll destroy Joshua’s career, using his clumsy hands to send the mighty Zeus-like Briton tumbling down boxing’s Mount Olympus.
Joshua, for his part, will be desperate to salvage that career before it’s too late. Already, another potential opponent—fellow Briton Tyson Fury—has said there’s ‘no chance’ of the two fighting if he loses to Ruiz again. Many—including Amir Khan—have speculated that Joshua “might” retire if he takes another loss.
Anthony Joshua has vowed to win the next fight, to show the world what he's made of
Khan—who admits he’s supporting Joshua in the fight—says that Joshua’s career may at the very least be taken down a few more notches by a loss, with many would-be opponents not wanting to risk their own careers at the hands of a man coming off a string of losses.
“If he gets beat again, definitely all the top guys won’t want to fight him,” he explains. “He’s a risk to them. A lot more risk than reward…I think he’d have to have to go a couple levels down and build his career back up again.”
Joshua is determined not to let that happen. The Watford native has vowed to “reign again” and show what he’s made of.
“I’m fighting the best man in the world now. I’m going to whup him, and show how great I am,” he brashly told Sky News ahead of the fight. “They think he’s so great, so when I beat him, I want everybody to bow to my feet.”
A changed man?
The Ruiz that will step into the ring in Diriyah is a far cry from the one that Joshua faced in New York—and many are speculating whether he can pull off another win.
Looking at him, it’s not a mystery why. The jiggles and rolls of fat that made him such an unlikely champion in the first place have largely melted away, leaving a leaner version of the fighter in its wake.
Some, however, have questioned whether a lighter Ruiz will still pack the same punch as he did the night he beat Joshua. Among the naysayers are boxing legend Mike Tyson—who said that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”—and Ruiz’s former trainer Freddie Roach, who questioned publicly whether the changes are more about being ‘presentable’ to fans than fighting prowess.
Ruiz has said this time around he'll be lighter and faster - but just as strong
“This is not a modeling show. It’s a fight show, and I don’t think he needs to lose weight,” Roach told boxing reporters. “They’re making him look skinny so that he looks better for the audience. That’s the only reason, and that’s foolish.”
Ruiz dismisses such criticism, saying that he’ll be lighter and faster—but just as strong —as he steps into the ring to dismiss the critics once and for all and cement his place as champion.
“I still [have] a lot more to prove. A lot of people are saying that it was just a lucky show, but no way, man,” Ruiz says. “I’ve been working so hard for this opportunity.”
Saudi steps into the ring
No matter who emerges as winner once the final bells rings on December 7, the ultimate victor is likely to be Saudi Arabia, a kingdom whose star has begun to shine increasingly bright in the world of sports.
Auto sports, professional golf tournaments and WWE have all already taken a hold there, and 65,000 adoring fans flocked to Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City earlier this year to watch Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus take on AC Milan in the Italian Supercup.
And while the Ruiz-Joshua fight is by no means the first boxing match to take place in the kingdom—Amir Khan fought Australia’s Billy Dib there earlier this year—it is by far the biggest and most significant to happen so far.
“You have to realize there is a world outside of Cardiff and Madison Square Garden. This event could change boxing forever. You could see a big chance in the dynamics of the sport,” promoter Eddie Hearn says of the Ruiz-Joshua bout. “There is time for change there, and they are trying to make that change through sport.”
The scale of this fight will represent an important milestone in Saudi Arabia's efforts to open itself up
Take it from Khan. Speaking just a few months after his own victory over Dib in a packed Jeddah stadium, Khan says that he believes Saudis are more than ready for the big fight night.
“Boxing can be big in Saudi Arabia. They took a risk, [bringing him and Dib] for the first time to be there. It paid off,” he says. “Nobody ever would have thought a fight was going to happen there. But now, they’ve surprised everybody.”
The scale of the upcoming fight, Khan explains, is likely going to represent an important milestone in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to open itself up to the world.
“Having this fight there is going to make a massive difference. For one, it’s definitely going to promote boxing,” he adds. “But it will also prove that Saudi Arabia can host the biggest events in boxing.”
The million-dollar question
For fans, the beauty of boxing is that it notoriously unpredictable —and for as much as analysts like to prattle on about it, nobody knows how things will go until the two men step in the ring. After all, as Mike Tyson famously quipped, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Will Saudi Arabia pull off the mega-event without a hitch?
Will Ruiz silence the fat-shaming haters once and for all?
Will Joshua save his career?
Nobody knows—but the world will be tuning in to Riyadh in order to find out.
For more information on the Clash on the Dunes and buy tickets to the event, click this link