It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing when the seemingly invincible Anthony Joshua was beaten by Andy Ruiz Jr at the Madison Square Garden in New York in June. The completely unfancied Ruiz – who was filling in for another boxer who failed multiple doping tests – knocked down Joshua four times to take the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization titles.
On Saturday, they face each other in a highly anticipated rematch in Saudi Arabia. Despite the criticism of the event being held in Saudi Arabia, it will be worth the fighters’ while. Joshua is expected to earn $70 million while Ruiz will reportedly get $10 million from the rematch, and it’s not certain that there won’t be another clash between the two again.
Here’s what both fighters have had to say before the bout.
British boxer Anthony Joshua spoke to Associated Press‘s Steve Douglas about how he dealt with the shock loss by going back to his roots in Nigeria and starting out again.
Joshua spoke about how he’d gone to Nigeria for the first time in 17 years to visit the homeland of his parents and where he briefly attended boarding school at 11.
“In Nigeria, the people love you for you, not for what you have,” he said of the visit, during which he visited Makoko, a slum just off mainland Lagos that is largely a floating community of wooden homes on swampland.
“It was good to see hope,” Joshua said. “Anyone that can bring hope to you, they appreciate it and they appreciate my journey so far. That’s what I liked. We’re on a journey.”
Speaking about the shock loss, Joshua said he understood why it had happened. “I took it like a man, I’d say. I took it like a champion should. Because I understood my mistakes. And I’ve changed them, I’ve rectified them.”
“If anything wasn’t to go my way this time, I just have to say the man is better than me. He is a tricky customer but I think I’m a better fighter than him, even though I didn’t get the decision last time. I went straight back in. I didn’t say, `Ah, I need a warm-up fight.’ I knew where I went wrong. I know how to improve it, and I’ve done that,” he said.
Since the loss, Joshua says he has changed his sparring partners, his routines, and his mentality. However, he has retained long-time trainer, Rob McCracken, who has been with him before he won an Olympic gold medal at the 2012 London Games. The boxer has also become slimmer and seems lighter in the public workouts he has shown up for in Riyadh.
Joshua says the fight is like the first of the 23 he’s had so far, of which he’s won 22 with knockouts.
“I have erased the old fight from my memory and I’m approaching it like I’m fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world, which I am. I’m not looking at it as a rematch,” Joshua said.
Andy Ruiz Jr
An Associated Press profile points out that Andy Ruiz Jr has made the most of his new status over the last five months. He bought a car for his mother, a lavish new home in California that has a fountain and pool and met Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
“Basically doing things he could never have imagined when he used to mix cement for his father, Andres, as a youngster and, as recently as 2017, went a whole year without even fighting following a loss to Joseph Parker in his only previous world title bout. He was disregarded as a potential champion then, mocked for his flabby frame even though his fast hands and skills pointed to a boxer with talent,” the profile says.
But he’s very clear that he intends to remain the world champion.
“There’s no way I’m going to let these belts go… I’m going to die trying. It’s been a roller coaster but now I’ve finally made it all this way, there’s no way I’m going to let them go,” he said.
Portly but with a big heart, fast hands and unexpected power, Ruiz is still revelling in his status as the first fighter of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight title and has no intention of letting that happen.
“I know AJ’s (Joshua) is going to come with a different game plan, I know he is prepared and motivated,” he said.
“That’s what gives me the motivation, the edge to be more cautious. I know he lost weight, is going to try to box me around. It’s my job to prevent that. I’m ready for whatever comes my way,” he added.
with inputs from Associated Press