Anthony Joshua didn’t know what round it was. He didn’t know anything about the shot that put him on the floor for the first time in round three. At the end of the fight, three further knockdowns later in the seventh, Joshua didn’t know what day it was, where he was, or maybe even who he was such was the scale of the shock that had taken hold.
When he is fully returned to his senses he will discover a world painfully shorn of the certainties he had known before Andy Ruiz Jnr disabused him of his deceptions. Though a rematch clause has already been triggered, the golden thread from Olympic champion to world title invincibility is fractured. Not just broken, shredded. And with it his economic power has gone, too.
This was not so much a defeat, as a shellacking. Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury have left Joshua’s orbit at warp speed to occupy another planet. Even if he were to avenge the loss to Ruiz – and on the basis of what passed in New York that is a sizeable if – any negotiations with Wilder of Fury would be conducted on their terms. Joshua’s American debut was imagined as a coming out, an unveiling pregnant with promise. He would dazzle Madison Square Garden before moving westward to the grand palazzos in Las Vegas and the big halls of LA. America, he said, would never forget his name.
He was right for all the wrong reasons. This was a heavyweight apocalypse as seismic as any boxing has seen since Buster Douglas uprooted Mike Tyson in Tokyo almost 30 years ago. Like Iron Mike, Joshua met an opponent so ill considered he could barely fill out the underdog label that hung around his neck. The outcome was the more remarkable for the tumble taken by Ruiz, who was first to hit the deck in the third. Thirty seconds later, Joshua was a fighter stripped of his motor functions.
Ruiz dropped him with an anvil to the temple. Joshua had no means of resetting or recovering equilibrium. He was whacked senseless. It was disturbing to witness the exchanges with trainer Roberet McCracken, who talked but could not penetrate the fog. His prompts urging Joshua to regroup behind boxing’s old one-two – “Come on, jab, right hand, jab right hand” – were met by scrambled, unconnected responses. “What shot was it?” Joshua asked. And later at the end of the sixth: “What round is it?”
The shots that floored Ruiz landed bang on the chin, raw bone, first a right uppercut then a left hook. Though Ruiz went over clean, the neurological pathways suffered no great disruption. Not so in the case of Joshua. Ruiz was caught with two more big right hands but somehow stood his ground and with a reactive left hook smacked Joshua on the side of the head. The champion was turned to jelly, his arms and legs acquiring a life of their own.
What happened thereafter was a consequence of that blow. Though boasting an impressive one pack about his middle, Ruiz is as game as they come, and knows his way around a ring.
Over the next couple of rounds he sensed the transformation in Joshua from opponent to fear to a boxer on the ragged edge.
Ruiz had Joshua out on his feet in the sixth. In the seventh, Johsua’s reign was over, heavyweight boxing demonstrating yet again its unparalleled capacity for violent inversion and bloody romance.
Joshua must now adjust to the new setting. He is arguably more interesting as a flawed fighter as opposed to the superhero specimen hitherto cultivated. He is, therefore, momentarily returned to pastures old, a big lad with a point to prove. The imperative is to be honest about his failings and seek the right remedies. “Trust me, where I was in life, I’ve dealt with more shit than this, with some real big losses, and bounced back.”