Anthony Joshua v Ruiz build-up dominated not by who world champ is fighting but by who he is not

Heavyweight boxing proceeds with all the authenticity of Love Island, with one exception. The action in Mallorca centres on contenders throwing punches in the same ring against each other.
Anthony Joshua steps into the ring for a training session ahead of his fight against Andy Ruiz at Madison Square Garden. Picture: Al Bello/GettyAnthony Joshua steps into the ring for a training session ahead of his fight against Andy Ruiz at Madison Square Garden. Picture: Al Bello/Getty
Anthony Joshua steps into the ring for a training session ahead of his fight against Andy Ruiz at Madison Square Garden. Picture: Al Bello/Getty

In the week when the unified heavyweight champion of the world makes his debut in that most sacred of boxing houses, Madison Square Garden, the focus is not on the opponent Anthony Joshua is actually facing but those whom, by all conventional sporting standards, he should be.

WBC champion Deontay Wilder and undefeated, self-styled linear champion Tyson Fury are present by insult and outrage only. Wilder laid the first scar of the week with the announcement that he would be fighting a former victim now turned 40, Luis Ortiz, next. This after erasing the overmatched Dominic Breazeale inside a round a fortnight ago.

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Fury, who makes his own contribution to the walkover club two weeks hence against trumped up anonymity Tom Schwarz – that should make the neon melt in Las Vegas – lobbed in the familiar profanities via the Nevada media loop.

This wearisome cycle of blame and counter blame is as old as John L Sullivan’s jockstrap and a pox on the sport. The broadcast stakeholders who bankroll the business persist with the idea that absence makes the value of any eventual meeting soar.

While this might be true, it is nevertheless galling to be sold burger and chips as fine dining.

Joshua’s opponent Andy Ruiz is, in fact, an improvement on the original choice Jarrell Miller, which passes its own judgment on the willingness of boxing’s controlling interests to mug its own public.

Ultimately, it is our own fault for shelling out. We can’t stop ourselves believing, contrary to all available evidence, that a contest of substance might break out.

In defence of Ruiz, he is a capable fighter. He is just not the ticket seller that stirs the loins. Joshua know this, of course. As do Wilder and Fury. Whilst broadcasters are happy to pump money their way to stand up bills no matter how flimsy the degree of jeopardy, you can hardly blame them for saying thank you very much, don’t mind if I do. It is, however, a policy that leaves them 
richer, not loved.

Ruiz, a west-coast American of Mexican descent and monumental waistline, has lost only once in 33 fights to an opponent he has in common with Joshua. While Ruiz dropped a majority decision against Joseph Parker in 2016, Joshua cruised to a wide points win last year, the only time he has gone the distance in 22 bouts.

If Joshua was not trading down, Ruiz was certainly trading up in his first world title bout. Though he acquitted himself well he does not carry anything like the potency of the Englishman. Joshua is here to make an impression, to let loose that Chippendale mass on an audience innately responsive to the kind of meta masculinity that comes this way only rarely.

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He has already attracted the attention of the New York Times, not the worst card swap even if the author was hindered by the overtly twee house style which insists on the formal title Mr Joshua. If the author struggled to capture Mr Joshua’s essence he was bang on the nose in identifying the mission as a commercial ram raid.

Joshua’s $39 million fortune as reckoned by Forbes is nickels and dimes compared with the bullion banked by America’s MLB, NBA and NFL high rollers, and derived almost entirely from a British market. If Joshua wants to punch a serious hole in the American sports budget, Ruiz has to hit the canvas hard, followed sharpish by Wilder or Fury.

“I have a four-to-five-year American plan,” Joshua told the NYT. “During that time, I will fight as often as I can in the United States, and I will put on such memorable performances that people here, or anywhere, will never forget my name.”

Here’s hoping.