Diriyah Diary

Sunday 8th December

A Saudi experience

Joshua back on top

In the early hours of Sunday morning (local time) amidst the hospitality, splendour and pageantry of Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, the British heavyweight Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KO’s) regained the WBA, IBF and WBO world titles he lost a little over six months ago in a stunning upset in New York City.

In defeating Andy Ruiz Jr (33-2, 22 KO’s) by scores of 118-110, 118-110, 119-109 he joins an elite group of men who have regained the heavyweight title. He enters the high territory of Patterson, Ali, Tyson, Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

In many ways this was a surreal evening. The titles being taken to the Middle East for the first time, and being welcomed by spectators clad in ‘pack a macs’ watching in front of Saudi royalty, in moments of silence in the desert after midnight. It was however a tense bout with so much on the line for both combatants.

It will go down in boxing history as the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ to rival those exotic titles of bygone heavyweight years. However, it was not so much a clash as a ‘dash’. The challenger chose to revert back to his amateur skill set and adopt what many saw beforehand as his sole route to victory. Work off the jab, follow up with power punches and move. If you get in close and get tagged, then hold on for dear life.

It would be poor to criticise Joshua though. In essence this was a boxing masterclass by him, perfecting the art of hitting and not getting hit. The wide scores reflected this dominance but were exaggerated by the Mexican champion’s lack of conditioning and inability to sustain any meaningful attack.

Joshua controlled the fight at distance and Ruiz conditioning and poor footwork didn’t really allow him to get in the fight. Whilst some would say he made the fight, working from the centre of the ring throughout, he was just plain ineffective.

The Brit to his immense credit nailed Ruiz on many occasions in the fight, backing up his tactic with big powershots.

It was a fight of no knockdowns, missing the drama of the first encounter, and only two early cuts to each fighter. None becoming a factor in the bout.

Throughout the contest there were cheers of AJ and “Oh Anthony Joshua”, clearly the local favourite, and met with a lesser reply of “Mexico, Mexico”. This was pumped up by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez being in attendance. But Andy Ruiz on this night just couldn’t rise to the challenge.

In the post fight interviews Ruiz admitted “I didn’t prepare how I should have” an indictment on his ability to stay motivated after hitting the jackpot in June. Joshua was ecstatic in victory, clasping hold off the belts and saying “This was about boxing. I’m used to knocking guys out…but I said I was gonna correct myself and come again”.

This was the night Joshua made history and captured the hearts of the Middle East. Another frontier almost conquered. Despite references to a third encounter to end the arguement, the big money and challenges of Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury await the British world champion.

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