Anthony Joshua had to hit rock bottom to appreciate what being world champion meant to him. He is now back on top of the world - the question is can he remain there when he defends his titles against Kubrat Pulev on December 12?'
Anthony Joshua quickly rose to the top of the boxing game. He made light work of his first 18 professional opponents, his toughest fights were against Dillian Whyte and Dominic Breazeale who both took him to the seventh round. He became the IBF heavyweight champion by knocking Charles Martin out in the second round, and his 19th pro bout saw him win the vacant WBA (Super) and IBO heavyweight belts by stopping Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round at Wembley. He was on top of the world, but it slowly started to crumble and in the end he lost his belts to a relatively unknown in Andy Ruiz Jr – was the Anthony Joshua story over?
Joshua v Pulev Preview: The Fall Of Anthony Joshua
You could say that Joshua’s crown as the darling of British boxing was starting to slip after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko. He put in a less than impressive performance against Carlos Takam in 2017 and was pushed hard by Alexander Povetkin before getting him out in the seventh.
He was still winning, but the publics perception of him started to change. Tyson Fury was making his comeback from weight problems and mental health issues, and all the focus seemed to be on Fury. I’m not saying this had an effect on Joshua, but from the outside looking in he didn’t look as hungry as before.
His next title defence was scheduled to take place in America at Madison Square Garden against Jarell Miller in what would be Joshua’s first fight in the States. Miller was forced to pull out of the fight after failing a drugs test taken by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.
This meant Andy Ruiz Jr threw his hat into the ring, and despite fighting Joseph Parker for the vacant WBO title in 2016, not a lot of casual fans knew who this guy actually was.
Now knowing the outcome of that fight at the MSG on June 1, 2019, I’m not sure even Joshua knew who he was. In the ring, this was a Joshua no-one had ever seen before. Joshua knocked Ruiz Jr down in the second and everyone thought it was over, but he became lethargic and clueless and kept allowing Ruiz Jr to come forward.
Ruiz Jr regained his composure and floored Joshua with a blow to the temple in the second round, before trapping him in the corner with some hammer blows and send him to the mat in the third. That was a fight changer, Ruiz Jr was in the ascendency and Joshua was already beaten. Joshua was on the canvas again in the seventh and despite beating the count, he hit the deck for a fourth time and the referee called it off with Joshua clearly in cuckoo land.
Everyone was in shock, remember this wasn’t the guy that Joshua should have been fighting/ What went wrong? Was he over-confident? Did he just think he had to turn up? Who knows, but Anthony Joshua was no longer the heavyweight champion of the world.
Was this the end?
Joshua v Pulev Preview: The Rise Of Anthony Joshua
Joshua and his team immediately said they were invoking the rematch clause and their title bout was scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia on December 7, 2019 and it was named the ‘Clash on the Dunes’.
Ruiz Jr had nothing to lose in the rematch, if he lost then people said he was lucky in the first fight and Joshua is the greatest, but if won he would be the main guy in boxing. Joshua had everything to lose.
Joshua needed to not just win the fight, he needed to put on a performance to elevate his name at the top of the boxing world. A scrappy showing would see him once again written off, while a defeat could have ended his career.
Whether or not Joshua underestimated Ruiz Jr in New York, he made sure that wasn’t going to happen again. He got his head down and worked hard in the gym and ensured he was ripped in the body and went on to box Ruiz’s ears off for 12 rounds.
AJ looked calm and composed, he cut Ruiz Jr early in the fight and from then on, he continued to glide around the ring and picked Ruiz Jr off at will. Joshua knew that Ruiz Jr was capable of throwing a knockout punch, so he kept away from him and did enough with the jab to claim a unanimous 118-110, 118-110, 119-109 victory to become champion yet again.
Joshua was back, he sent a message to all his doubters that he was the worthy king of boxing. It was now up to all the challengers to come chasing AJ once again.
Joshua v Pulev Preview: Can AJ Avoid Another Upset?
Personally, I cannot see Pulev causing Joshua any real problems on December 12. AJ looks to have got his swagger back and I cannot see him looking past an opponent ever again.
If Joshua is too lose another fight in his career, it will because he was beaten fair and square, not because he got complacent. The thought of losing those belts again will spur Joshua on and he will be too strong for Pulev.
Pulev is a strong fighter and he is capable of going the distance with AJ. I don’t think that will happen. I’m going for AJ to stop the Bulgarian in the eighth round. There will be no quick knockout in this one, Joshua will be keen to show that boxing clinic he put in Saudia Arabia was no fluke and he will put on a performance before ending it in the second half of the fight.