Andy Ruiz Jr., a replacement opponent from the gritty border farming town of Imperial, Calif., pulled off the biggest heavyweight upset of his generation Saturday night, ruining the U.S. debut of England’s three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua by seventh-round technical knockout.
Ruiz (33-1, 22 knockouts) became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent by knocking down Joshua four times — twice each in the third and seventh rounds — to strip away the World Boxing Assn., World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Federation belts from Joshua (22-1).
The victory at Madison Square Garden was nearly as stunning as James “Buster” Douglas’ 1990 knockout of Mike Tyson in Japan.
“This is what I have been dreaming about. This is what I have been working hard for. I can’t believe I just made my dreams come true,” Ruiz, 29, said in the ring as Mexican music blared.
The son of an immigrant contractor, Ruiz said victory came “because of the Mexican warrior I am. I have that Mexican blood in me.”
The end came 1 minute 27 seconds into the seventh after Joshua was first dropped and showed exhaustion as a result of Ruiz’s pressure, delivered by a 12-punch flurry that included two vicious shots to the head.
Joshua got up but sustained a follow-up attack that dropped him again. Joshua arose, but retreated wobbly legged to his corner, where he was asked to respond to a command by referee Mike Griffin.
Ruiz raised his arms in victory, his rotund, 268-pound body bouncing in a joyous, stunning celebration over perhaps boxing’s most physical specimen.
“It means a great deal for me, and for Andy, but it’s about more than us,” said Robles, who prepared Ruiz through a rushed camp in Norwalk only six weeks long after Ruiz won a co-main event in Carson on April 20.
Ruiz was needed after Joshua’s original foe, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, submitted three positive drug tests.
“It’s for all of Mexico,” Robles said. “This has never happened before. It’s history, and it’s a great feeling.”
The amazing outcome from the 11-1 underdog was made more impressive by the fact he was knocked down to start the third round on a right uppercut and left hook to the head. It was the first time Ruiz had been dropped in his pro career.
“It made me stronger. It made me want it more,” Ruiz said of hitting the deck.
The outcome shook up a heavyweight division that had long anticipated a lucrative superfight between Joshua and World Boxing Council champion Deontay Wilder.
“He wasn’t a true champion. His whole career was consisted of lies, contradictions and gifts,” Wilder tweeted.
“Facts and now we know who was running from who!!!”
Now Wilder prepares for upcoming rematches against Luis Ortiz and unbeaten Tyson Fury, while Joshua faces uncertainty beyond the focus of his next fight.
“Heavyweight boxing, baby,” Joshua said. “I am never one of those fighters to disrespect a referee … he called it off when he thought I couldn’t fight. It’s a shame. But I don’t want anyone to drown in their sorrows. It’s the long game, not the short game.”
Coming back “will show I have the power and the strength.”
Joshua added he will “100%” invoke his right for a rematch. Promoter Eddie Hearn said he’s planning a rematch around November or December in Britain.
Ruiz, familiar with title-fight pressure after journeying to New Zealand 2½ years ago to suffer a narrow loss to local fighter Joseph Parker, brushed off the drama and reconnected to the strategy laid out by Robles.
Seven times before Saturday, a heavyweight of Mexican descent had fought for a heavyweight title and lost.
“We had a great game plan: stay low, don’t fight tall, work behind the jab and under Joshua’s jab,” Robles said. “Either fight on the inside or stay away. As soon as Joshua felt that big shot, he really slowed down.”
By letting fly heavy right hands after exercising early caution against Joshua, who possessed four-inch height and eight-inch reach advantages, Ruiz uncorked a left hand followed by a hard right to the top of Joshua’s head to knock him down for the first time in the third.
The sold-out, pro-British crowd of 20,201, who’d watched their country’s sporting hero introduced in a white robe after a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” was in shock and Joshua immediately was deteriorating.
Another Ruiz right landed, and in the sport’s round of the year, Joshua went down to the canvas again.
Final punch statistics showed Ruiz landed 39 power punches to Joshua’s 23.
Earlier, in a bout that affirmed the grit of high-caliber women’s boxing on its most significant stage, Ireland’s Katie Taylor survived a ferocious rally by Belgium’s Delfine Persoon and claimed a four-belt unification of the women’s lightweight division by majority decision scores of 95-95, 96-94, 96-94.
“It was a very, very close fight,” Taylor said in agreeing she owes Persoon a rematch after the loser exited the ring quickly, shaking her head in disappointment. “I feel like I did enough to win the fight. Persoon was a fantastic champion and she is very, very strong.
“It all made for a fantastic showcase … I knew this was going to be the biggest and hardest fight of my life.”
Judge Allen Nace, who scored the bout for Taylor, was alone in giving her the seventh round while John Poturaj was the only judge to give Taylor the second round on his 96-94 card. Don Trella scored the bout even.
Taylor (14-0) won four of the first six rounds on all three judges’ cards, getting the better of former WBC champion Persoon (43-2) with combinations and boxing that was more impressive than Persoon’s counter punches.
But Persoon, cut over the right eye with her left eye swollen, roared back by relentlessly operating as the aggressor during the later, action-packed two-minute rounds, a strategy that allowed her to back up former Olympic gold medalist Taylor in the eighth round.
Having not lost since 2010 with 10 consecutive title victories, Persoon also landed a hard right hand to punctuate a gripping exchange that thrilled the crowd.
Persoon swept the 10th as Taylor was withering, and a second combination of blows seemed to wobble Taylor’s legs, with Persoon complementing the damage with forceful blows that left Taylor marked under the right eye.
Punch statistics showed Persoon landing 116 of 586 punches while Taylor landed 103 of 410 thrown. Taylor landed 93 power punches to Persoon’s 83.
England’s Callum Smith (26-0, 19 KOs) impressively retained his WBA super-middleweight belt in the co-main event by knocking down Hassan N’Dam (37-4) in each of the first three rounds, finishing the challenger with a smashing right hand to the jaw in the third.