On Saturday night, a global icon climbed into the ring at Madison Square Garden. He was there to face Anthony Joshua.
There might be reasons for you to dislike Andy Ruiz Jr.’s stunning heavyweight title win on Saturday—if you are Anthony Joshua himself, or his promoter, or a patriotic British boxing fan, or one of the boxers in line for a massive Joshua payday down the line. If you are any other human, your new king is the guy who got this fight as a last-second replacement by sending an Instagram direct message to Joshua’s promoter. He is the guy who spent fight week talking about his love of Snickers and, upon being asked whether it offends him to be compared to the child from Up, said it did not because “I kind of do think I look like him.”
He is 268 pounds, not in particularly good shape, and was an underdog of around 14-to-1 at most sports books. He can also hit the crap out of people, and has upended a sport because of it.
Ruiz was seen as a bit player in Joshua’s American debut, designed to increase the Brit’s stateside presence before the real action: a megafight with Deontay Wilder in 2020 or 2021. Instead, Ruiz became an inspiring star in his own right, the rare person to hold a championship press conference in a Knicks jersey, and has laid waste to all of the plans for the heavyweight division. Here is what we know for sure ended on Saturday: a Wilder-Joshua undefeated megafight, Joshua’s aura and people judging Ruiz by how he looks.
When future generations look into this fight, there will be a wave of people saying they called it. Let me clear this up: no one saw this coming. If you rewatch knowing the outcome there seem to be some hints something special might happen—the broadcast dubbed Ruiz “The Mexican Rocky;” they suggested that because in his lone loss, to Joseph Parker, Ruiz didn’t let his punches fly he might do so now; and there was the ridiculous Joshua boast that he could break the Drake curse, which we all know is unbreakable. But these sorts of upsets happen once a decade and there was not some great feeling this would be the one. Yes, Joshua looked a little too comfortable before the fight, waving to the New York crowd from the ring and spending fight week talking more about brand-building than the fight itself—yet all of these things are common and could be seen as a mark of cool confidence, not cockiness. No one saw this coming. Ruiz replaced Jarrell Miller just last month after Miller not only tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but also apparently did all of the drugs, failing three tests. I’m going to go on a limb and suggest that Ruiz is clean.
Before we get to what comes next—and there’s a lot that comes next in a sport that just changed overnight—let’s admire Ruiz’s performance. This was not a fluke. The most amazing part is how it happened. It was a complete destruction. Joshua looked sloppy. Ruiz swarmed. This is different from the great upsets in sports history. This is like if, in Hoosiers, Hickory won by 50. Joshua was gassed early and Ruiz looked fresh. After Joshua knocked Ruiz down in the third round, the champion looked on the verge of quickly ending the fight. Ruiz got back up and eventually hit Joshua with a left hook that clearly stunned him, a series of events that would lead to four knockdowns over the series of the fight. Ruiz was defensively sound and made Joshua look genuinely slow. Ruiz’s hands were just too fast. Ruiz said that he thought Joshua could have kept going in the seventh and final round, but that meant, he said, that he’d simply have finished Joshua in more explosive fashion—a knockout—than a referee’s stoppage. The technical term for what you’re feeling right now is called stanning.
If you think Ruiz’s win is bad for the sport of boxing, I cannot help you. Life is what happens while we’re making plans and Andy Ruiz just happened to Anthony Joshua while the promoters of the top three heavyweights in the world, all undefeated, were laying out plans for megafights.
It will be hard for anyone who wasn’t watching live, or who didn’t understand Joshua’s place in the boxing world, to grasp how surreal the entire fight was from Round 3 on. After Round 2, when British fans sang Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” in unison, I thought to myself that I was glad the crowd could have some fun before the inevitable early Joshua win. Even as Joshua wobbled through the remaining rounds it barely seemed real—Joshua still exuded confidence, even after getting knocked down, raising his eyebrows to his corner as if to say “I got this” even as his nose was bleeding. The commentary was surreal—as Brian Kenny noted that the fight might be coming to an end, he admitted that he assumed he’d be saying that around that time in the fight, but in Joshua’s favor. Ruiz was the aggressor: The broadcast was discussing what shots Ruiz was setting up, and how Joshua had to respect Ruiz’s power. Going into the sixth round, Joshua was throwing 28 punches a round, down from his normal average of 40. I wondered if I’d had too many IPAs during the Champions League Final earlier in the day. None of this seemed possible until the moment Ruiz was joyously bouncing in the middle of the ring as a heavyweight champion.
Boxing can be beautiful—it can look like chess. That’s why great literary heroes like Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Ernest Hemingway and A.J. Liebling have spent so much time on it. But sometimes it can just be unbelievably funny. Sometimes it’s not beautiful, it’s just a huge guy named Andy absolutely knocking the snot out of a global sporting icon.
There is a heavyweight upset like this about once a decade—the 2000s had Hasim Rahman’s stunning 2001 win over Lennox Lewis, and 1990 featured probably the biggest one of all, Buster Douglas defeating Mike Tyson. There are some common threads between these fights, most notably that they were all fought across the world from each champ’s home country in an effort to broaden global appeal. Richard Hoffer’s scathing column about the Tyson-Douglas debacle ripped Tyson for his extensive worldwide tour to increase his marketability. In that fight, Tyson’s cornermen didn’t even bring ice packs to Tokyo and were ill-prepared for a slugfest. There are no such known anecdotes about Joshua’s lack of preparation, though he clearly wasn’t ready for Ruiz. But to find common threads in these fights is to suggest they are predictable. They are not. This was a sports miracle and Andy Ruiz is our new god.
Boxing can seem like a remarkably dumb sport: Imagine if the Warriors and Raptors beat their conference finals opponents and then both stated they were in no rush to play each other, maybe had a few other opponents within their own division lined up and were thinking about fall 2020 or early 2021 to match up. This happens in boxing all the time. However, in a lot of ways, this is only logical given how the sport is set up. Max Kellerman, on Chris Mannix’s podcast last year, made the point that boxing fans and boxers’ interests are essentially at odds: Boxers want to get out of the sport with the least damage and the most money; fans want the best fighting the best at all times, which increases the damage and limits the money, since undefeated megafights would get rarer.
So it makes sense that fights like Joshua-Ruiz have to happen, even if most fans don’t want them. What is nice about Saturday night is that it reminded promoters there are no sure things. Whether anything will change in the post-Ruiz world is for now a mystery, but it can’t hurt for a sport that needed a good shakeup to its business model.
The upset ended an era for the so-called “Big Three” of the sport: Joshua, Wilder, and Fury. When the Joshua-Wilder fight does happen, it will not come with the nine-figure deals thrown around before the Ruiz fight. Wilder and Fury have a plan to fight in early 2020. Ruiz and Joshua have a rematch clause, and promoter Eddie Hearn said that fight will take place in the fall. How Ruiz’s win impacts Wilder’s timeline remains to be seen past the Fury fight. That all three had gone this long without a loss is a minor miracle, especially considering Wilder and Fury already fought each other last December to a thrilling draw. A wobbly Wilder looked like he was in trouble against Luis Ortiz last year. Joshua could have lost to Wladimir Klitschko in their rollicking 2017 bout. If you keep pushing fights back—the term “marinate” is used a lot—sometimes they get overcooked, and that just happened to Joshua.
After the fight, Joshua’s promoter Hearn wondered aloud if something was wrong with Joshua’s training camp or he simply got hit with one shot he could not recover from. The answer is that it doesn’t actually matter from a perception standpoint—the conversation around Joshua will change. His chin will be one of the most discussed body parts in boxing. His fundamentals will be ripped. Changes to his camp will certainly be made. If Ruiz made Joshua look this slow and could knock him down that easily, one shudders to think what that version of Joshua would look like against Wilder.
Boxing looks different now than it did yesterday; it has a fun new champion. He should not be treated as a novelty in his next bout—yes, he is funny, yes he plays along with jokes, yes, he and Fury are right, he does look like the kid from Up. But he also changed a sport on Saturday night, changed the career of one of the most famous people in sports, and changed his own life. My boss, Bill Simmons, wrote of boxing: “You never know. That’s the beauty of boxing. You never know.” We didn’t know on Saturday. We know Andy Ruiz now.