Anthony Joshua Fight: Given the sport’s unpredictability, it can be a slippery slope to assign too much meaning to a single fight in a boxer’s career. When you’re talking heavyweights, where one punch can end a fight at any time, it’s even more difficult.
Yet it’s hard to ignore just how damaging a loss would be for former unified champion Anthony Joshua on Saturday when he looks to regain his trio of world titles against Andy Ruiz Jr. in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia (DAZN, noon ET). Given how potentially damaging his June upset loss was to his psyche and invincibility, it’s also not out of bounds to suggest this weekend’s result will be the defining moment of the 30-year-old Joshua’s career.
As the biggest star in global boxing and a veritable rock star in his native England, Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) wasn’t alone in expecting his U.S. debut at New York’s Madison Square Garden eight months ago against the late replacement Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) would go differently. One left hook to the ear, however, crippled Joshua’s equilibrium in Round 3 and triggered a lengthy implosion that — unfairly or not — called into question whether he ever was as great as his level of popularity suggested.
By choosing to activate his mandatory rematch clause, Joshua showed plenty of pride in doubling down on himself. But given the almost audacious fight purses he has regularly commanded fighting in front of upwards of 90,000 fans in U.K. soccer stadiums overflowing with rabid fans, many have questioned whether a second straight loss sends Joshua away from fighting for good.
Joshua’s rumored windfall of $85 million on Saturday, which played a big part in the fight being staged in a 15,000-seat outdoor stadium that was built just for this event over the past three weeks, certainly doesn’t hurt that argument. But AJ has dismissed such a notion in recent days following a fight camp held at the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia that saw Joshua largely seclude himself from the eyes of the media.
The exact state of Joshua’s mentality has become the overwhelming narrative entering this fight, turning boxing writers into armchair psychologists while looking to assess which fighter should be the favorite. The oddsmakers have liked Joshua from the beginning and if one is looking for extra reasons to believe, the 6-foot-6 slugger emerged from seclusion during fight week with longer hair and an unkempt beard, suggesting a mindset less of global humanitarian and more of refocused fighter.
Joshua also kept on-site photographers at his public workout when he unveiled a physique that was noticeably leaner than the nearly 250 pounds of sculpted muscle he typically fights at. It’s a decision that Joshua had balked at the suggest of for years, but a change that was seemingly necessary given how well Ruiz, despite a four-inch height and eight-inch reach deficit, relied on his speed to break Joshua down.
“I was asked if this [fight] will be a special moment and I said no because I know I belong there. It’s not special, I’ve been there, I know what I’m doing,” Joshua said. “When I regain those belts, I will probably keep calm and stay focused. It’s not a time to celebrate, it’s time to keep that challenge, mindset and find the next target, so one by one I’m picking them off. I’ve been doing that since I started boxing and Ruiz is just my next target on my list.”