Sunday, June 2, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Joshua-Ruiz

There's a scene in the movie Sin City, 2005's excellent comic book neo-noir, where Marv, the grizzled, beaten down tough guy (Mickey Rourke), tries to fight the elusive Kevin (Elijah Wood). Kevin is quicker, fresher, younger and has incredible athleticism; in the beginning Marv is no match. Kevin hits him at will. But Marv takes the punishment, blow after blow, all the while setting a trap. Kevin increasingly gains confidence. More shots follow. Eventually he moves in for the kill against his wounded prey. Kevin continues to pound Marv and the end looks certain, but then...a reversal! During the skirmish, Marv literally handcuffs himself to Kevin. And now the jackrabbit is finally captured; Kevin can no longer move away. Now Marv goes to work and lands a debilitating blow. Game over. Marv 1. Kevin 0. 

In the third round of Saturday's Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jr. fight, Ruiz has his own Marv moment. Early in the round, Joshua misses a right hand, but stays in close range. Both fighters exchange punches and Joshua connects with a sizzling right uppercut/left hook combination. Ruiz drops to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. The fight resumes after Ruiz beats the count and Joshua lands a thudding right hand. Again, Joshua stays in the pocket and a wild exchange ensues. Joshua is getting the better of the action. He thinks that he has Ruiz ready to go, but suddenly Ruiz lands a right hand and then a hard left hook to the temple; Joshua is staggered. A few more follow up shots later and now Joshua hits the canvas. And unlike Ruiz, he's badly hurt. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Similar to Kevin from Sin City, Joshua, the unified beltholder and heavyweight cash cow, underestimated his opponent. Ruiz, the underdog, overweight, with significant disadvantages in height and reach, needed the fight to be on the inside to have a chance to win. He was counting on wild exchanges where his faster hands could have their desired effect. If he had to take some shots to get Joshua where he needed him, so be it. Joshua fell for the trap and didn't realize the mistake he had made until it was far too late. 

Ruiz scored four knockdowns in the fight (two in the third, two in the seventh). The bout was stopped in the seventh by referee Michael Griffin, who didn't like Joshua's responsiveness after the second knockdown in the round. This wasn't a fluke victory for Ruiz or something that could be dismissed as a perfect KO shot, which is always a possibility in the heavyweight division. No, Ruiz systematically broke down Joshua with a combination of superior inside skills and an acute understanding of his own strengths and Joshua's weaknesses. 

At the post-fight press conference, Ruiz explained that the plan was to throw with Joshua and to get him to open up. Ruiz and trainer Manny Robles understood that exchanges provided their best opportunity. They were delighted that Joshua attempted to slug it out. 

But it wasn't just that simple. Ruiz displayed cunning ring craft as well. After Ruiz scored his first knockdown in the third round, he remained patient. He didn't rush in like Joshua did. Andy methodically went to work on Joshua with jabs and left hooks. At the end of the round, Ruiz shot a throw-away left hook (never intending to land it). Joshua overcommitted defensively to the punch and then Ruiz snuck in a powerful right hand to the head, leading to Ruiz's second knockdown of the fight. 

Ruiz stayed within himself, but also understood the enormity of the moment. He maintained the body attack in the sixth round with a variety of tactics: jabs, double jabs, left hooks and straight right hands. He didn't rush his work and kept his poise, no easy feat when the heavyweight championship of the world is within reach. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Overall it was an odd performance from Joshua, even before the knockdowns.  Joshua's jab was working, but he didn't commit to it. He wanted to mix it up, against his corner's advice. After the first round Joshua's trainer, Rob McCracken, told him to stay behind the jab. Immediately Joshua opened the second round by squaring up and throwing a wild haymaker. It didn't land and he wasn't immediately punished during that exchange, but that moment illustrated that Joshua was freelancing, ignoring his corner's instructions. 

In addition, McCracken also implored Joshua to avoid throwing lead hooks. And in the seventh round, Joshua got sparked after attempting a lead hook. Ruiz traded with Joshua and eventually landed a straight right hand; moments later Joshua hit the canvas for a third time. And whatever chance Joshua had of working his way back into the fight was forever ruined (the official scorecards before the stoppage were actually closer than they should have been).  

McCracken is an excellent trainer. He guided Carl Froch to a fantastic career and led Team Great Britain to unprecedented success in the amateur ranks. He consistently gave Joshua the correct advice on Saturday. But Joshua didn't listen to his corner. He didn't respect Ruiz's skills on the inside. On multiple occasions Joshua tried to slug it out in the middle of the ring and it cost him dearly. 

Perhaps Joshua isn't ready to face the reckoning that he's best on the outside, staying behind his jab. That fighter may not be as exciting in the ring, and certainly doesn't galvanize fans. But Joshua's advantages start to melt away the closer he is to an opponent. Hopefully Joshua will learn from this loss and make the necessary tactical adjustments. 

But even more importantly, Joshua must respect his opponents. Earlier in his career during post-fight interviews, he routinely mentioned his humility, how humbled he was by his situation, the fan support, and his lot in life. That all may be true (it could also be programmed bullshit), but he fought on Saturday like he didn't think Ruiz was worth a damn. And the failure to respect an opponent is a cardinal sin in boxing. Joshua had the tools and ability to win Saturday's fight, but he was arrogant in the ring, which led to Ruiz having a golden opportunity to pull off the upset. 

In the final estimation, one fighter executed his game plan to perfection, fully understanding what he needed to do to win. The other decided not to listen to his corner and failed to respect his opponent's skills. In the end, the most elemental reasons led to victory and defeat. Boxing can sometimes resemble chess, where subtle strategic decisions determine who is best. But the sport can also be far more basic, like checkers. Don't make stupid moves. Don't allow your opponent to get a king. 

And on Saturday, another king was crowned.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done AJ could use a snickers about now.