“It is easy to do anything in victory, it is in defeat that a man reveals himself.”
Anthony Joshua may now fully grasp the words of Floyd Patterson, the first man to ever reclaim the heavyweight world title.
Patterson was smashed to the canvas seven times in the third round alone as he gave up his belts to Ingemar Johansson in 1959.
Joshua touched down twice in his own third-round hell in June when he was floored four times in all by Andy Ruiz Jr.
There are few lonelier places than the canvas as millions watch a fighter’s pride get assaulted in the name of entertainment. To come back, while staring the fear of humiliation in the face again, takes true courage.
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In Saudi Arabia, as he danced around the hapless Ruiz to follow Patterson into the ‘two-time’ club, Joshua made a six-month rebuild look straight-forward.
“Simplicity is genius,” he declared afterwards.
It was anything but.
A desire to put it right
First came the subtle put downs, as Ruiz branded his rival “not a good boxer” within weeks of his own triumph. Joshua was seen shadow boxing on a tennis court around the same time.
Then came the one lingering opinion he privately found hard to shoulder – that he quit against the Mexican. He stayed silent and soaked up what was becoming a mental beating.
All was not well in the background before the New York loss. His father – who was seen berating promoter Eddie Hearn after Ruiz had shocked the world – is said to have continued his tirade back stage at Madison Square Garden. He felt his son had been let down by the choice of opponent.
There are often said to be two types of people in boxing – ‘boxing people’ and ‘television people’. Ruiz was, in the mind of some close to Joshua, a late stand-in chosen to satisfy the latter. The ‘boxing people’ knew it was a risk.
In beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2017, Joshua entered a bottleneck. There could be no turning back to face mediocrity. Fans would not pay to watch the careful development of a fighter who held titles that said he was already developed.
And as the pressure grew, Joshua, behind closed doors, felt his skillset was not progressing at the pace he wanted. It took Ruiz’s New York hammering to jolt change.
In came new pad men, new sparring partners, new weight loss and new hope. Joshua was not told to change, he pushed for it.
The time-consuming media events he could avoid or, at the least, shorten, were axed or trimmed respectively.
“You’ll be asking me very different questions on 8 December, I’ll beat Andy this time,” Joshua told BBC 5 Live’s Mike Costello two weeks before his date in the desert.
He is still yet to publicly say what he feels went wrong before his ugly defeat. He has hinted he wants to, only to again avoid offering clarity when asked after his Saudi win.
“The better man won,” he simply said regarding his summer mishap.
The fruits of the changes he has made since were obvious in the strange surroundings of Riyadh. He circled Ruiz like a roundabout while the accuracy of his jab and his judgment of distance prevented any car-crash finale.
“He was absolutely clinical and he never wasted a shot,” said 5 Live’s Steve Bunce. “He got it right in spectacular fashion.”
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Ruiz – unprofessional or understandable?
Whether Joshua got it right in boxing in Saudi Arabia is another matter. Some were angry, others curious, at the move. Both men, undoubtedly, were out of their comfort zones in answering questions on doing business with a controversial regime.
Chants of “AJ, AJ, AJ” and “Andy, Andy, Andy” showed how they brought joy to a new live audience. As time passes, and more sporting bodies come to this land in exchange for riches, frustrations over the fighters’ decision to do so may wane.
Ruiz has frustrations of his own.
The late Patterson also once said: “When you have millions of dollars you have millions of friends.”
His line on the trappings of success may ring loudly in the ears of Mexico’s first world heavyweight champion.
“Once I get him in the gym I know he is mine and I have control of the situation,” Ruiz’s trainer Manny Robles told me when we spoke during fight week.
At the time, it felt like a statement based on frustration. In truth, it was slightly alarming.
So it would prove as Ruiz weighed in heavy, moved that touch more slowly and, in his own words, paid the price for “partying”. Some will question his professionalism. They would have a point, as would those who might ask if he showed a lack of desire.
But few have walked in his shoes. One who did, Mike Tyson, describes the heavyweight title as a “crown of thorns” given all that comes with it.
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James ‘Buster’ Douglas – who like Ruiz gained weight after stunning Tyson – lost his world title next time out and spent nearly six years retired. He was the same age as Ruiz is now when he hung his gloves up for a while.
How do you prepare for life after a shock world-title win you probably didn’t even see coming yourself? Perhaps the scale of the surprise makes the months that follow even trickier to navigate.
A new, exciting, silkier Joshua
Discussing Ruiz’s initial win, one of Joshua’s team said this week: “Let’s be honest, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.”
His diminished tank in Riyadh was therefore something of a shame. It should though, in some way, remind us of Joshua’s own long-term application.
He got it wrong in New York but has got it right time and again. Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Klitschko and other greats who reclaimed world heavyweight titles all took losses along the way.
Joshua’s response to defeat was to deliver his best display of boxing to date.
“His trainer Robert McCracken should be given a huge amount of credit,” said 5 Live’s Richie Woodhall.
Promoter Hearn added: “It was a way of boxing that people didn’t believe he could do.”
The ‘new’ Joshua, lighter, silkier, perhaps even hungrier, has added tools to offer an exciting future.
Expect him to next satisfy one of his mandatory challengers in either Oleksandr Usyk – who holds the position with the WBO – or Kubrat Pulev – the man in play for the IBF.
Ukraine’s Usyk, so skilled and experienced, would pose a serious threat. And, as 2020 progresses, Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder may step forward from their own rematch as a mouth-watering option.
The chess moves can wait. For now, Joshua is back on track.
“A prizefighter who gets knocked out or is badly outclassed suffers in a way he will never forget,” Patterson once said.
Ruiz must deal with the suffering. Joshua learned his lesson.
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