By itself, Anthony Joshua’s U.S. debut heightens the revival of boxing’s heavyweight division.
Even as the madness of posturing over money by Joshua and potential foes Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury deservedly rankles the majority of followers, Joshua expresses patience with the process.
“The heavyweight division is going to be spoken about now, which is good,” the former Olympic gold medalist from England said this week as he prepared to defend his three heavyweight belts Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against former title challenger Andy Ruiz Jr. of Imperial, Calif.
Fellow unbeaten champion Wilder this week soured the anticipation for a showdown with Joshua by agreeing to take his next fight by the early fall against Cuba’s Luis Ortiz.
Joshua (22-0, 21 knockouts) said he’ll strive to answer Wilder’s first-round knockout of California’s Dominic Breazeale two weeks ago with a more convincing showcase of his own talent against Ruiz.
“I don’t care who you are. You can’t not look at the bigger picture, and that’s what keeps me motivated,” Joshua said, noting that even Ruiz, his rotund challenger who habitually eats a candy bar before his fights, might be envisioning how victory will lead to “his Snickers deal.”
Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs) was summoned as a replacement foe for Brooklyn’s Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller after Miller submitted three positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs in April. He credited a quick return to training camp from an April 20 fifth-round stoppage of Alexander Dimitrenko in Carson for leaving him in better shape (by his standards) for the Joshua bout.
Questions about that fitness remain, as seen Friday when 11-1 underdog Ruiz weighed in at 268 pounds after weighing 259 last month in Carson. Ruiz said the added girth was planned to compensate for the four inches of height and eight inches of reach he gives away. Joshua weighed in at 247.8 pounds.
“A lot of people Joshua fights are scared to go in at him. They kind of run away,” Ruiz said. “The kind of fighter I am, I’m explosive, fast, and I go forward. I attack.”
Doing so will expose Ruiz to Joshua’s formidable power, which dropped long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko and all others he’s faced except Joseph Parker.
“I’ve been getting punched since I was 6 years old, and by big guys,” Ruiz answered in defiance. “It only takes one punch for a heavyweight to change a fight, and I hit hard as well. It’s going to be a very exciting fight.”
Parker, who edged Ruiz by majority decision in December 2016 to claim the World Boxing Organization belt that he then turned over to Joshua last year, said Ruiz “starts fast and is willing to get punched to give punches, but he’ll have to be on [Joshua’s] chest to release those fast hands of his.
“It’ll be good … Joshua has the power to knock him out, but Ruiz hasn’t been stopped or dropped.”
That’d be an impressive claim for Joshua to make in victory, and his standing will also be enhanced by the expected spectacle of a packed Madison Square Garden, created by venturing to the U.S. in a climate where the public attention on the heavyweight division has reached a level not seen since Mike Tyson was fighting.
“Some of the criticism was that not enough people in America know Joshua … OK, we’ll change that this week,” Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn said of the fighter who has marketing deals with Under Armour and Hugo Boss, among others.
“You’ll see an unbelievable atmosphere Saturday night and when you see him up close, it’ll make your jaw drop.
“And if A.J.’s the true elite we see him as, he’ll crush Ruiz.”
Ruiz has charmed this week, using the attention to point out the value of those with Mexican roots who cross and reside in his border town.
“Donald Trump went over to my hometown to talk about the border wall. It’s hard for everybody in the world who is struggling, and there are people who are not letting Mexicans come over. We are the backbone of this country,” said Ruiz, whose father builds homes and apartments.
“But God willing, I win this fight and when I become the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world, I’m going to be helping out my people. If I win, I’d rather go to Mexico’s White House … if there is one.”
Joshua also mentioned Trump after noticing Trump Tower at Central Park and “a hell of a lot of buildings” owned by the president.
Joshua, of course, is plotting his own takeover, a conquest he envisions as a worldwide mission as soon as negotiations with Wilder and former three-belt champion Fury can bear fruit.
“Now, I’m in power,” Joshua said. “It’s just been a bit difficult with fighters who want a bit more than what’s expected … .”
Main Event: Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), England, vs. Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs), Imperial, Calif., for Joshua’s World Boxing Assn., World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Federation heavyweight belts
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Saturday; main card begins at 2:30 p.m. PDT
Television: Streaming on DAZN