NEW YORK — Midway through Thursday’s press gathering with Anthony Joshua, a British voice at the Beacon Theater asked whether the three-belt unified heavyweight titleholder felt like fight week in New York had gone flat. Joshua, putting on his most optimistic look, pointed to the controversy surrounding the change in opponent to Andy Ruiz Jr., the fight’s proximity to the other two top heavyweights’ bouts,
“It’s all about what’s next, isn’t it?,” the reporter interrupts.
“All about that,” Joshua responds, instinctively.
“This is the U.S. debut,” promoter Eddie Hearn interjects. “There’s nothing flat about Madison Square Garden.”
Saturday’s original opponent, Jarrell Miller, brought much more to a promotion with his over-the-top trash talk and intimidation tactics than the subdued Ruiz, but his participation in the DAZN main event became untenable once he failed not one but multiple pre-fight drug tests administered by VADA.
‘It would have been less flat with Miller saying he wants to do whatever he’s gonna do, but he couldn’t help himself,” Hearn allowed.
Joshua, chiseled at 6’6”, towered over the 6’2” Ruiz as they stared off on stage. Whereas Miller pushed Joshua at their stare down in N.Y., Joshua handed off his belts to Ruiz and his trainer Manny Robles to pose with in a moment that has underlined the lack of animus in this fight.
Much of the questioning on Thursday centered around a potential fight with Deontay Wilder, the one man standing between Joshua and having all of the world title belts, and less about Ruiz, the plucky underdog from Imperial, California who stepped into Saturday’s championship fight on a few weeks’ notice. Joshua (22-0, 21 knockouts) of Watford, United Kingdom himself admitted that his attention wasn’t solely on Ruiz, but rather, how he can build on the momentum should he retain his IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight belts.
“I’m not gonna lie, everybody speaks about ‘Oh, I’m fully focused on June 1st.” Well, I am, that’s what I’ve been practicing and preparing for, but you can’t not look at the bigger picture,” said the 29-year-old. “I’m not looking past him but I definitely put blinkers on to see the potential of, if I beat this guy what’s out there for me to keep me motivated to get in there on Saturday and put on a good performance.”
A meeting between Joshua and the WBC titleholder Wilder has been long anticipated, particularly given the violent nature of the American’s recent knockouts of fighters like Dominic Breazeale, Luis Ortiz and Bermane Stiverne, and the expectation is that Joshua coming to America makes their on-and-off discussions appear closer to an agreement. But after Wilder announced Tuesday that he’d be facing Ortiz in a rematch later in the year, the fight to declare an undisputed champion once again seems off the table for 2019.
Still, Joshua doesn’t feel the need to match, or surpass, the display put on by Wilder earlier this month in Brooklyn.
“I just feel like we’re separate, my competition is with myself,” said Joshua, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist at super heavyweight. “I look forward to matching Deontay Wilder in the ring, that’s better to compare, not with opponents, just me and him.”
Casual spectators may write off Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs) for his chubby physique but Hearn and Joshua are quick to point out that Ruiz, also 29, has faster hands than Miller, and is more of a puncher than is Miller. Ruiz turned pro in 2009 at 297 pounds, and has yo-yoed between the 240s and 270s throughout his career. He weighed 262 pounds a month ago when he defeated Alexander Dimitrenko after five rounds, and has won three straight since his sole defeat, a majority decision loss to Joseph Parker in 2016 for the vacant WBO title.
At one moment I wanted to give up because I was listening to those doubters tell me you’re too big to be on the big stage, you’re too big to become a champion,” said Ruiz, a former “Impe 13” gang member who turned his life around after representing Mexico in qualifying tournaments for the 2008 Olympics. “I’m gonna be remembering that and be like ‘I told you guys.’”
Assessing Joshua, Ruiz says “he’s a good fighter” before adding “with the speed that I have and the movement that I have, whatever he tries to do, we’ll make it difficult for him.”
Asked how he sees a potential Joshua-Wilder fight going, Ruiz brushed it aside, saying that he could be the one who ends up fighting Wilder instead.
While Joshua concedes that the longer wait builds anticipation for the Wilder clash, he says it’s not as important to make that matchup as it is to get all of the belts, even if it means facing Ortiz instead if he wins the rematch.
“Wilder is still building his profile so it’s not so much about Wilder, it’s about the undisputed [championship]. It could be Ruiz and Ortiz, it’s still a massive fight for the undisputed. It’s just that we’ve worked massively to build a profile outside of boxing so when it does happen, it’s already at the pinnacle of where it should be commercially,” said Joshua, who adds that he thinks Ortiz would be easier to reach a deal with than Wilder.
“It’s impossible for Wilder to stay champion for the rest of his time. He’s had close fights with [Eric] Molina, with [Tyson] Fury, with Ortiz…it’s coming close to a time when that belt should change hands,” added Joshua.
“I’m fighting decent fighters who are giving me problems and they’re gonna give risks. Why don’t I just fight Wilder who is gonna give me problems and give me a risk, anyway?…I’m still taking risks, and I’d rather take the risk against someone who brings a massive reward. Beating Ruiz is fine, but it doesn’t give me that massive (reward).”
Holding one hand higher and one hand lower, Joshua illustrates the disparity in reward for a Wilder and Ruiz win.
“I would rather just go down that route and fight Wilder.”
The door appears to be closed on it happening in 2019, but Joshua believes better opportunities are on their way now that he’s broken into the American market.
“A good win keeps us at the top of the sport. We look forward hopefully to Fury, there’s [Aleksandr] Usyk, Michael Hunter, Kubrat Pulev, Dillian Whyte,” Joshua said before turning to Hearn to see who he had missed. “Then there’s the up and coming fighters, [Joe] Joyce, [Filip] Hrgović. Even though it’s not the Fight of the Century as they call it, or the mega-fight, the possibilities of still being in the mix as the champion is what keeps me motivated.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryansongalia.
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