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For Anthony Joshua, first loss lifts a weight physically and mentally

Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA
06
Sep

NEW YORK — After a brief delay due to an ESPN appearance, Andy Ruiz Jr., perhaps the most unlikely heavyweight champion since James Braddock, wore a festive sombrero as he made his way towards the stage for Thursday’s press conference. About twenty feet above him, Anthony Joshua, the slimmed down challenger seeking revenge, prowled the catwalk like the wrestler Sting in the late 90s, breaking character to laugh as former champion Shannon Briggs led his “Let’s Go Champ!” chorus for no one in particular.

A reporter who wandered into Capitale with little familiarity with the wacky world of pro boxing might feel a bit behind the eight ball. 

Joshua looked all business, much more so than he did last time he met face to face with Ruiz in New York, when he shadowboxed aimlessly on stage and, more inexplicably, handed the belts over to Ruiz to pose for photos. Ruiz wound up taking the belts home with him a few days later when he handed Joshua the first defeat of his pro career by seventh round knockout.

“They’re heavy as well, from my sixteenth fight I’ve been carrying them belts,” joked Joshua (22-1, 21 knockouts) in a private media session before the press conference, which was the second stop on a three city tour which began the day before in Saudi Arabia – which will host the fight December 7 live on DAZN – and will move on to London by Friday.

Would he do it again, breaking tradition by letting his opponent hold that which he hadn’t yet earned, if he could do it over? Joshua insists he would, saying that he won’t be “two-faced” and allow a defeat to change his character. Minutes later, he included that act among the symptoms of him having the wrong attitude heading into a fight against a late-replacement with nothing to lose who wasn’t there to do the honors for the visiting Briton champ in his American debut.

“You could kind of see from the swagger in the ring, hands down, moving around,” Joshua said, with trainer Robert McCracken and promoter Eddie Hearn flanking him. Joshua had Ruiz down from an uppercut-left hook combination in the third the last time they met and admits he thought the fight was over. As he rushed in to finish the Mexican American brawler, he walked into a shot high on the head that sent him on his own visit to the canvas.

“‘We’re gonna get it back,’” said Joshua of his thought process in that moment. “But it was a slippery slope from there.” The slope became an ice rink in slippers as he went down three more times before the fight was stopped. 

“The killer instinct hasn’t left yet, it worked the first time to a certain degree, like 25 percent of the way, I’m gonna build on that…until I know there’s no coming back,” said Joshua.

“See that 1-2 I landed?,” he continued, referring to the shot he landed after dropping Ruiz. “If I’d have landed another three of those from a distance it would have been better than trying to land an uppercut-left hook again in close quarters.”

Now, instead of being bulked up, Joshua says he wants to focus on being quicker. He says he doesn’t look at his weight, which tends to be in the 240s, and relies on how he feels. He says he was in the ring two weeks ago to spar ten rounds with another heavyweight and liked how he felt.

(Read: Eddie Hearn on Saudi deal controversy: ‘If I don’t do it, someone else will’)

Ruiz (33-1, 22 knockouts) said for his part that he also wanted to be lighter for the rematch, preferring to come in at 255 pounds instead of the 268 he was for the first fight.

More than just physically, Joshua has the mental burden lifted off his back of the constant talks about a showdown with WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder, which had never materialized despite being the most talked about fight since Mayweather-Pacquiao. 

“I’m not hearing about other fights right now. I’m hearing about Ruiz and that’s what’s important,” said Joshua.

“You asked me about who I’m fighting next, I’ll fight who I want. Don’t tell me about no Wilder or (Tyson) Fury. Take it how you want but that’s how I see about the heavyweight division.”

Great fighters in the past have lost, Joshua reminds, but in the era of Floyd Mayweather, the ‘0’ has more importance than it ever had before. His challenge now is to find the positive in the negative of that experience at Madison Square Garden several months back.

“Even though I don’t talk about losing as if it’s a good thing, I understand now it can happen. It’s not about staying down, it’s about pulling yourself back up when the whole world is against you and no one believes in you no more,” said Joshua, echoing the motivational recordings he says he listens to in the morning.

“Pull yourself up and climb back to the top no matter how long it takes.”

This time, it was Ruiz who walked in with the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight belts, and they never left his side, before or after.

“I know AJ, he wants his belts back…my job is for him not to win, not to get these belts,” said Ruiz, of Imperial, Calif.

As the two fighters stood face to face, Joshua projected the image of a man singularly focused on proving that was accepted as fact before their first fight would be proven true in their second go-around. The stare down lasted for about a minute, as Briggs, at the behest of no one, cut through the awkwardness with chants of “Lets go champ!” and “You ain’t scared!” Finally, Ruiz looked away and cracked up, saying “You’re making me laugh, man.”

Joshua, as much as he probably wanted to laugh, never creased his glare.

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