Boxing’s most decorated heavyweight champion will finally come to America on Saturday when unbeaten British star Anthony Joshua defends his IBF, WBA and WBO titles in his U.S. debut at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), quite possibly the sport’s biggest star globally, will face former world title challenger Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs) who took the fight on less than four weeks’ notice following a trio of failed drug tests from Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.
While Ruiz certainly isn’t as dangerous as WBC champion Deontay Wilder, whom the boxing world is waiting with baited breath for Joshua to finally face, the Mexican-American fighter is still a credible threat. Just how much of a threat he can be against Joshua, however, will be the key question when the two finally touch gloves inside “The World’s Most Famous Arena” on Saturday (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET).
One thing is certain, Joshua expects his 29-year-old challenger to present a much different challenge than Miller.
“[Ruiz] is from a boxing background; his dad is an ex-boxer [who fought] on the world stage as well,” Joshua said. “He is Mexican and we all know they can fight and it’s their heritage. He does not throw as much punches as Miller and is more selective. Ruiz punches with more intent to hurt and slow your opponent down so they are easier to hit. I think Miller was trying to outwork me and muscle me where Ruiz is looking for that one-shot knockout.”
Although Ruiz isn’t necessarily known as a destroyer, he does like to scrap and is no stranger to giving as good as he gets. The fight against Joshua represents a quick turnaround in the sense that Ruiz made his PBC debut in late April by stopping the much bigger Alexander Dimitrenko in an action fight.
What Ruiz is most known for as a heavyweight is his quick hands and deceiving agility for a fighter who has battled weight issues throughout his career and largely enters as the antithesis of the chiseled and hulking Joshua.
While the four-inch height disadvantage certainly won’t be an easy hill to climb for the 6-foot-2 Ruiz, the eight inches he gives up in reach to Joshua might prove even more daunting. Luckily for Ruiz, he’s comfortable fighting at close range and will certainly need to get inside Joshua’s jab to have any hope of success.
This is also not Ruiz first time on the national/title level. The Mexican-American went to New Zealand in 2016 to take on hometown phenom Joseph Parker for the then-vacant WBO heavyweight crown. Not only did Ruiz look strong while fighting in his opponent’s backyard, but some believe he did enough to earn the win despite losing on close scorecards.
Also on this card, super middleweight champion Callum Smith returns to action when he takes on Hassan N’Dam. Smith believes that a win on Saturday could set up a potential date with Canelo Alvarez later this year. Plus, Katie Taylor will battle Delfine Persoon to name a new undisputed women’s lightweight champion.
There are enough unique elements of Ruiz’s game to a make the style contrast between him and Joshua an interesting one. In fact, there’s an argument to be made he’s a more compelling opponent than Miller ever was. That doesn’t mean, however, oddsmakers are wrong by instilling Joshua as an overwhelming betting favorite.
Although Ruiz has good speed and decent power, he’s not overwhelmingly elite at both. It even wouldn’t be a stretch to assume he may be able to outbox Joshua at times in some of the early rounds. But ultimately the same conundrum will face Ruiz that all traditionally sized heavyweights currently have in this super-sized era for the division and that’s how he’ll overcome the size advantage of the 6-foot-6 Joshua.
Considering Joshua won his first world title in just his 16th pro fight, he has been forced to adapt and evolve on the job. Even though his 12-round stamina and slickness has been questioned at times, AJ has done a great job offsetting his flaws with steady improvement. But even if a somewhat flat version of Joshua showed up on Saturday, his power and ability to finish opponents with combinations once he has them hurt may be enough on its own to win the fight.
What that means is that Ruiz isn’t likely to get past the sixth round considering once he gets hurt by a big punch from Joshua, it will more than likely push him into a brawl that would speed up his exit.
WBC champion Deontay Wilder is the division’s biggest puncher and unbeaten lineal king Tyson Fury is easily the most skilled pure boxer. But Joshua may very well be the most complete of any and should have a chance to make a powerful statement in his U.S. debut.