Andy Ruiz Jr sprung one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight championship history when he spoiled Anthony Joshua's US debut with a seventh-round TKO on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The unheralded 29-year-old from southern California, a replacement opponent dialled in on five weeks' notice who went off as a 11-1 underdog, came off the floor in the third round to drop Joshua twice before the end of the frame, then sent the champion clattering to the canvas for a third and fourth time in the seventh round before referee Mike Griffin put a stop to the proceedings at the 1:27 mark.
This was no fluke. No lucky one-punch knockout that can be explained away by a silver-tongued promoter. Joshua was outboxed, out-toughed and beaten up on a night that turned the division on its ear.
"I just feel so good, man," said an elated Ruiz, who absorbed Joshua's WBA, WBO and IBF belts in a shock that ranks alongside Buster Douglas v Mike Tyson and James Braddock v Max Baer among the biggest in the division's centuries-spanning annals. "This is what I have been dreaming about. This is what I have been working hard for. I can't believe I just made my dreams come true."
Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), who was only even in the position for the life-changing upset because Joshua's original opponent, Brooklyn's Jarrell Miller, failed three tests for different performance-enhancing drugs shortly after the match-up was announced, became the first fighter of Mexican decent to win a heavyweight title in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.
Joshua’s physical advantages in height (four inches) and reach (eight) appeared even more ominous under the glare of the Garden lights as he spent the opening round fighting off the back foot while Ruiz moved forward in pursuit. The 2012 Olympic gold medalist continued to measure distance into the second as Ruiz struggled to negotiate his way around the jab.
The preordained outcome appeared imminent in the third when Joshua sent Ruiz to the deck early in the frame. “That was my first time getting dropped on the floor,” Ruiz said. “It just made me stronger. It just made me want it more. I just had to knock him down back.”
The challenger beat the count, declined to clinch when Joshua closed in for the finish, then connected on Joshua’s jaw during a firefight in the center of the ring and sent the champion sprawling to the canvas.
Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) made it to his feet but Ruiz resumed the chase around the ring, battering the champion backward toward the corner. Near the end of the third Ruiz landed a massive right that sent Joshua down and nearly through the ropes. The champion made it upright and was saved by the bell.
The wounded champion, unable to cope with the smaller man’s hand speed, was still reeling when the bell sounded to start the fourth. Ruiz, curiously, backed off rather than resume the pell-mell onslaught. Each man had tasted the other’s power and both appeared wary as they kept their distance, allowing Joshua to rediscover his footing. The familiar pattern continued into the fifth as Ruiz chased Joshua, who landed counters in a slow retreat the challenger walked through like raindrops.
But Ruiz’s came on strong at the end of the sixth before dropping Joshua early in the seventh. The champion made it to his feet but the underdog dropped him again. The referee’s decision to wave it off set off pandemonium in the building, prompting roars from the announced sell-out crowd of 20,201, many of whom flew from Britain to watch Joshua’s first fight on American soil.
“I want to fight,” said Joshua, who connected on 47 of 176 shots (27 per cent) according to CompuBox’s punch statistics, compared to 56 of 206 (27 per cent) for Ruiz. “I don’t do [THE REFEREE’S]job. I am never one of those fighters to disrespect a referee like he should have done this or he should have done that. He called it off when he thought I couldn’t fight. It’s a shame. But I don’t want anyone to drown in their sorrows. It’s the long game, not the short game.”
The shock result effectively torpedoed the much-anticipated summit meeting between Joshua and Deontay Wilder, who’s held the WBC’s version of the heavyweight championship since 2015.
“He wasn’t a true champion,” Wilder tweeted. “His whole career was consisted of lies, contradictions and gifts. Facts and now we know who was running from who!!!!”
Afterward Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua, said his fighter would exercise an immediate rematch clause.
“AJ got sloppy,” says Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua. “It was a beautiful combination in the third round. He was in total control of the fight but he got sloppy and never recovered. Listen, tonight was his night but AJ will come back 100% and we will make the rematch in the UK in November or December. But this night now belongs to Andy Ruiz.”
He added: “AJ has the heart of a lion and will come back stronger. Now at least we know the opponent for the end of the year in the UK. Absolutely we will enact the immediate rematch. He will be devastated when it sinks in. It makes the fall fight a must win.”
Joshua, to his credit, was upbeat in defeat while affirming he wanted the immediate rematch.
“It just wasn’t my night,” he said in an in-ring interview before skipping the post-fight press conference. “I just have to turn it around a few notches and bring it back my way. I don’t want people to drown in their sorrows. This will show I have the power and the strength.” - Guardian