Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn
Ring-walks 8.45pm tonight
Last Updated: 07/12/19 7:21am
Anthony Joshua must face his demons; he will have to take a punch, throw back without hesitation and he might even have to climb off the floor to reclaim the gold and the glory that he maintains is “rightfully his”.
This was never part of the AJ masterplan but here we are, the first world heavyweight championship fight in the Middle East is just hours away, with Joshua reduced to challenger against the only man to have beaten him, Andy Ruiz Jr. It is Joshua’s aura and how he will be remembered that is truly at stake in this compelling examination of boxing’s poster boy.
We have heard the conspiracies and debated the reasons for Joshua’s awful night in midtown Manhattan but these are the hours of peace, before the fight breaks out, where both men are tortured by their own thoughts.
Quietly, a new Joshua has emerged after weeks of sleepless nights and soul searching. This is not the over-confident champion who let his challenger touch the belts at a pre-fight meeting last time, before Ruiz Jr picked his pocket and went home with those prizes.
The man that steps into the ring tonight, at 8.45pm live on Sky Sports Box Office, is a totally different individual to the one who crashed to the canvas four times in the first fight. Outwardly he is slimmer and less polished, not fussed by his scruffy hair or unshaven beard, while inwardly there is obvious intensity that was absent last time.
He is the result of a revamped training camp featuring a crop of “championship-level sparring partners” that mimicked Ruiz Jr’s dimensions and skills, and two new pad-men who helped hone new punching routines. The focus has been finesse not fitness. It is, essentially, a complete 180 from his preparation to face Ruiz Jr the first time. He is lighter than any of his previous world title fights which “can be detrimental”, according by Dillian Whyte.
The way to avenge his shocking defeat to Ruiz Jr six months ago is simple, depending upon who you ask.
Joshua has to be careful and stick to his jab, or he must bully and overpower Ruiz Jr. The changes in his preparation are either a masterstroke or a sign of instability.
The truth is, nobody truly knows.
This version of Joshua must be rock-solid in his own beliefs of how to win the rematch of a fight that has given him nightmares since that awful night on his US debut. There cannot be any deviation from whatever plan was hatched, there must be no emotion inside those ropes, Joshua needs to be cold and calculating.
The battle is two-fold, mental and physical – Joshua must address the ghosts of the first fight, and also needs to trust in his technique.
For three rounds Ruiz Jr will be a wrecking ball, picking up straight from where he left off. The big clues to watch out for: how does Joshua react to being clipped? Can he quickly knock some of the bravery out of Ruiz Jr?
Before then, it will be fascinating to watch the ring-walk for clues of Joshua’s mood – six months ago, his entrance left clues as to what was coming. The advice after the first round from Rob McCracken, the trainer that Joshua staunchly defended, is a subplot worth following.
Both fighters have visited the Diriyah Arena, the 15,000-seat purpose-built facility that was constructed within two months and will be deconstructed and vanish back into the desert much quicker. They have visualised, they know history is at their fingertips.
At its core this is a fight where Joshua and Ruiz Jr could both hit the deck, blood will spill, composure will surely be overtaken by heart and guts. The world heavyweight championship and, more importantly, Joshua’s legacy are on a knife-edge.
Andy Clarke’s verdict
They were both convincing at the fighter meetings. AJ sounded different to how he generally does at pressers or has tended to recently. What he and Rob said about training, weight and mind-set all rang true. It was good to hear them say that he had to take the centre of the ring, that you can’t beat Ruiz by jabbing off the back foot, hitting and moving.
Ruiz Jr was very chilled out. He’s enjoyed spending some of his money. His dad told me on the podcast that he picked the round seven stoppage and bet on it, as did a number of family and friends and that they all won a lot of money. It was the first time I’d heard that. Ruiz intends to be aggressive and weighed-in over a stone more than the 19st 2lbs he tipped last time, despite Manny Robles saying at the London press conference that he was keen to get him between 17st 12lbs and 18st 3lbs.
Both of the additions to Team AJ, Angel Fernandez and Joby Clayton are in the corner with Rob McCracken and Ian Gatt.
AJ weighed in at 16st 13lbs, the lightest he’s been for a world title fight by a distance (previous lightest for a world title fight was 17st 4lbs vs Joseph Parker).
Ruiz Jr did look tighter, though, not as fat. I know he didn’t take his shirt off but I was right next to him for about five minutes before he got onto the stage and had a good look at him and he seemed in better shape despite the extra weight.
Watch Ruiz Jr vs Joshua 2 on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from 5pm. Book it via your Sky remote or book it online here. Even if you aren’t a Sky TV subscriber you can book and watch it here.