Clash on the Dunes

Photo Credits: Bryan R. Smith/GETTY

After a long wait, arguably the most anticipated fight of the year finally arrives this Saturday, 7 December 2019. This time, it is not the MGM Grand Garden Arena, nor Wembley Arena, which holds boxing’s biggest upcoming event. This spectacle will instead be a “clash on the dunes”, taking place in Diriyah Arena, Saudi Arabia, in what will be the nation’s first time holding a world heavyweight title bout. The fight? None other than Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz Jr II. 

On 1 June 2019, one of the biggest upsets in boxing history occurred. All eyes and ears were on a potential fight between Joshua and Wilder, overlooking what was set to be a routine victory for AJ against who many saw as simply an overweight, unfit, last-minute replacement for Jarrell Miller in the form of Andy Ruiz Jr. This fight was meant to be nothing more than a stepping stone for AJ, setting up a huge clash with the Bronze Bomber, whilst boosting his popularity stateside. 

Indeed, this is how the fight, held at Madison Square Garden, New York City, looked to be heading early on. With still two minutes and seventeen seconds remaining in round three, Joshua knocked down Ruiz. It appeared as though we were heading for an unsurprisingly early finish.

However, the Mexican, who had remained calm and confident throughout the build-up, got back to his feet with relative ease, appearing unfazed. Then, the unthinkable happened.

Ruiz fought fire with fire and came back at Joshua with a flurry of punches, including that famous left hook to the head, forcing Joshua to the canvas. AJ managed to rise, but was on the defensive, and was dropped again later in the round.

Rounds four, five and six consisted of minor exchanges between the two heavyweights, indicating that AJ had perhaps recovered from his shock knockdowns. Round seven, however, was a different story.

With two minutes and twenty-seven seconds remaining in round seven, Ruiz would again drop Joshua following a short sequence of heavy blows. Joshua rose but was dropped for a fourth and final time with one minute and fifty-nine seconds left in the round. Almost immediately after being knocked down, Joshua spat out his gumshield before getting to his feet, turning his back to the referee, and then walking over to and glancing at his corner. AJ then turned towards the official, addressing him. The soon-to-be-former champion’s responses to the referee were deemed insufficient, with Michael Griffin waving the fight off, awarding a round seven TKO victory to underdog Ruiz.

Once the dust had settled, it was soon announced that a rematch would take place on 1 December, giving Joshua the chance to regain his belts and set up an undisputed clash with Wilder. Ruiz has been given far more of a chance this time around by boxing fans and experts alike. As expected, Joshua looks far slimmer now, having lost some of the bulky muscle which many believe have caused him issues with agility and speed in his career. However, Andy Ruiz Jr, looking to make his first successful defence of his world titles, has also appeared slimmer in recent weeks, compared to how he was in June. Some, including Eddie Hearn and Mike Tyson, have questioned why the heavyweight champion has done this, given that his extra weight clearly did not cause him any troubles in his last fight.

In terms of verbal sparring, Ruiz Jr has vowed to “make history again” after claiming that Joshua “quit” in their first encounter, whilst the Brit, who has typically been humble under the spotlight, has said “when I beat him, I want everybody to bow to my feet and tell me how great I am”. For AJ to emerge victorious this time around, he will have to change his tactics from the last fight. Once Ruiz was knocked down, he rushed in, looking to finish the fight, and in doing so left himself far too open for Ruiz’s fast and dangerous hooks and overhands. Joshua must look to use his boxing ability, which he clearly possesses given his success as an amateur, to outbox the man he has referred to as his “arch-nemesis”, whilst remaining defensively alert given the speed and power of Ruiz. The champion, on the other hand, would relish a slugfest with AJ, which would allow him to use his superior hand speed to land heavy overhands to the temple of his taller opponent.

Whichever way this fight goes, it will have a remarkable impact on the make-up of the heavyweight division. A win for Joshua would see his stock and reputation rise again, but a loss would be catastrophic.

Will AJ come to Saudi Arabia and box smartly to emerge victorious, or will Ruiz drag him into another dogfight and defend his belts? Let us know how you see this huge rematch going in the comments below.