Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world heavyweight titles with a masterful but nervous performance, keeping Andy Ruiz Jr. at bay with a long jab on Saturday in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
With victory, he moved to 23 wins (21 knockouts) against one loss, but, far more importanly, was able to banish a bad memory. Six months ago, it was a humiliating, crushing defeat. On December 7 in the rematch, with a disciplined and cerebral strategy, he out-thought, out-jabbed, and out-boxed Mexico’s first heavyweight champion.
Considering how easily he was dominated in the first fight, dropped twice in rounds three and seven, concussed, and beaten in his American debut, Joshua had much to adjust, download, and activate in the rematch.
It was not long into the “Clash on the Dunes” when Joshua’s strategy became apparent. With feints of his upper body, lead jab, even his footwork it was clear he wanted to use boxing acumen, box at range, and use the full space of the 22-foot ring to frustrate Ruiz Jr., the heavier champion, and make him move and not plant his feet through every minute of every round that the bout would last.
Having exchanged cuts in the opening rounds, Ruiz Jr. found that, when he was able to close the gap, punch in the clinch, he had success. The only problem for him was that it was a type of fight Joshua refused to engage in, happier to instead fight on the move.
With ring generalship, Joshua was able to win all four of the opening four rounds on Business Insider’s unofficial scorecard. It was clear he was wary of the champion, perhaps nervous about having to compete opposite the man who had humiliated him so badly just six months prior, a stiff and long jab alone was enough to win the rounds.
Varying his punch output, Joshua clobbered Ruiz Jr. with a mean hook in the sixth, a punch launched with enough venom that it snapped the Mexican’s head sideways.
Ruiz Jr. had his best moment in the fight in the eighth, swarming Joshua’s head with fizzing shots from fast hands, panicking the challenger completely. It was the first round of the night where the champion out-landed the challenger (12 punches to six), according to Compubox data .
The following round, Joshua did what he could to avoid similar confrontation, instead relying on a Wladimir Klitschko-esque jab-and grab landing his powerful orthodox lead punch, before initiating an embrace to prevent Ruiz Jr. unleashing a combination.
If the difference between fight one in June and fight two in December was not apparent by opening strategy alone, it was clear toward the final third of the bout. If Joshua landed, he would back off and return to the outside, rather than the inside, patiently waiting for another opportunity. If Ruiz Jr. landed, he would do whatever he could to evade rather than engage.
By the time the ringside judges’ scorecards were announced, it was clear it was the correct call. Joshua prevailed by way of unanimous decision with scores of 118-110, 118-110, and 119-109, reclaiming all of the world titles he had lost six months ago, exorcising the demons from humiliation in New York City.
“The first time was so nice, I had to do it twice,” Joshua said after the win, regarding his new status as a two-time heavyweight champion. “Stay hungry, stay humble. I’m humble in defeat, remaining humble in victory.”
Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn lavished praise on Joshua. “You’re the king, trust me!”