In 2013 Andy Ruiz Jr took part in two fights that were staged in Macao the country off the coast of China and known as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia.’ This was the first time that I got the opportunity to watch the Californian of Mexican descent as a professional and immediately it was clear to see that the short and dumpy heavyweight had a future in the sport. His fast hands and combination punches were spectacular to watch and his stance and defence were neat and tidy but he was easy to hit at mid-range with a good jab and right-hand.
His opponents in Macao were the then-unbeaten Joe Hanks (21-0-0) and Tor Hammer (21-2-0), both upcoming heavyweights that came to win but it was Ruiz Jr’s heavy punches, landed in lightning-fast combinations that accounted for both. Ruiz’s promoters back then were Top Rank who didn’t hesitate to put their young fighter in tough fights, they had belief in their boxer and put him in fights to get him on to the world stage.
Fast forward to December 2016 in Auckland New Zealand and Ruiz Jr received the opportunity to win a world heavyweight title. His opponent was local heavyweight Joseph Parker and the vacant WBO belt was up for grabs.
Andy Ruiz Jr has always held the belief that he deserved the decision that night in Auckland, but for me, he was too slow on his feet in the second half of the fight to effectively win enough rounds. When he opened up with his combinations he looked exciting but he never seriously troubled the big New Zealander and lost by majority decision, one judge marking it a draw and the other two giving it to Parker by 115-113. I had Parker winning by the same margin.
It is the Parker fight that Team Joshua should have learned all of Ruiz’s shortcomings from, even though he is a much-improved fighter under new trainer Manny Robles, some of the same traits remain to this day.
Mike Tyson had phenomenally quick hands for a heavyweight and the nearest big man with the same gift is Ruiz Jr, his turn of speed is amazing at times, but where Tyson excelled over Ruiz Jr is in the footwork department. Tyson had exceptional speed of foot and that is what set him apart from nearly every heavyweight in history, he moved his feet as quickly as he did his hands.
Ruiz Jr has learned how to creep into mid-range and then use his turn of speed to close the gap. The secret to these types of fighters is to use a hard accurate jab as he reaches mid-range and to change the angle rather than run from them. Parker did this pretty well in his fight with Ruiz Jr but Joshua should have the boxing ability to do it more precisely. Of course, you have to be relaxed and focused to do this for 12 rounds and the Mexican/American will be forcing the close quarter fight on the British Idol so Joshua needs to tie his man up quickly and efficiently as Ruiz can explode with vicious hooks on the inside.
Experience will always play a big part in these sorts of fights. Big-time boxing events bring with them nerves and expectations. Ruiz Jr has stated that he believes that it is Joshua who has all the expectation on his shoulders but if the 30-year-old loses badly in the rematch he will be the guy that got lucky in New York and thrashed in the return because the real Joshua showed up, that in itself brings pressure.
Joshua does have the weight of a nation on his shoulders but he has had ever since he won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games. For this fight, what he holds over Ruiz in terms of experience is his April 2017 win over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley. Ruiz has yet to take part in a fight of that technical level and magnitude. Joshua walked out to a crowd of 90,000 to face a man who held the titles for 10 years until Tyson Fury bamboozled him to defeat in Dusseldorf in 2015. The grit that Joshua showed that night proved too many including Wladimir himself that the Watford man belonged alongside Deontay Wilder and Fury as the best three heavyweights on the planet.
Add to the Klitschko experience, wins over the unbeaten Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale, and Joseph Parker, plus boxing Carlos Takam at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and the excellent and dangerous Alexander Povetkin back at Wembley and you start to see how Joshua will hold a big advantage regarding having fought on the biggest stages in world boxing. As much as MSG in June was a new experience for Andy Ruiz, there was no expectation on him to win, but the pressure on him to deliver in Diriyah will be on a whole new level.
When I first started to analyse this fight I saw the possibility of a fight where Joshua truly respected and even feared his opponent’s power and decides to jab, jab and grab for the 12 rounds, but Ruiz is only dangerous if you punch with him in range. The key for Joshua is mid-range. The second Ruiz’s lead foot lands in range he needs to jab. Jab to the head, chest, or body. He needs to vary the jab but concentrate for 12 rounds on Ruiz’s lead foot. He needs to pivot off his own front foot after he lands or misses with the jab, keep turning his opponent constantly.
Manny Robles is the key to Andy Ruiz Jr repeating his success at Madison Square Garden in June. Watch how Ruiz’s body attacks have risen in volume and variety, and his head movement on the way in. These two elements have raised Ruiz’s skill set immensely. He didn’t have to cut the ring off too much at MSG but when he does, he does so with very few wasted steps. Watch the Alexander Dimitrenko fight and you will see what I mean.
Another aspect that has become overlooked since June is Joshua’s power. I think the boxing world became immersed this year in the knockout power of both Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr. This might play to AJ’s advantage because we have very rarely heard anyone including Team Ruiz mention the danger that Joshua poses to Ruiz. True, Ruiz took a great shot from Joshua and rose to his feet without any signs of damage to turn the tables on him, but what happens if Joshua doesn’t get hit and go down, what if he keeps the fight long and drops his own bombs later in the fight? Ruiz measurably slowed down in the later rounds against Parker, this is where carrying all that weight could go against Ruiz. The man known as ‘Destroyer’ got up in the 3rd round in June, but what about in the second half of the fight when he is feeling the pace?
It is a long-held belief that Anthony Joshua lacks stamina but we saw in the Klitschko fight that he slowed in the middle rounds only to stop the 6’ 7” Ukrainian in the 11th round starting with a devastating uppercut. Some boxers need to get their second wind during a 12 round fight. With a more aerobic-based training camp, Joshua looks to have taken some muscle off his frame and that can only be good against a guy with scary punching power. He should move both more efficiently and quickly.
So, Joshua has clearly made big changes and Ruiz seems to have the mind-set that more of the same will reap the same result as June 1st at MSG. Who’s got it right?
The only things we know for sure are that Joshua has to keep the fight at long range and Ruiz Jr needs the opposite. Joshua needs to take the fight into the later rounds and slow Andy down, whereas Ruiz will want to end it as early as possible by knockout. Tactics and corner work will be crucial to both boxers.
May the best man win.