NEW YORK — Dressed in a replica Knicks jersey with his surname on the back and seated in front of a trio of world titles, Andy Ruiz Jr. summed up the surreal reality ofat Madison Square Garden.
“I’m still pinching myself to see if this is real,” Ruiz said in his post-fight press conference. “Wow. This is amazing. This is amazing. What do you know? I just shocked the world, and I’m the first Mexican heavyweight champion.”
Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), who got up off the canvas as a substantial betting underdog to floor Joshua four times en route to a seventh-round TKO, reminded a sold-out crowd just how unpredictable boxing’s glamour division can still be by dismantling the sport’s biggest global star in Cinderella fashion.
“Mom, I love you and our lives is going to change,” Ruiz said. “We won’t have to struggle no more thanks to God. Everything happened for a reason. Everyone has been doubting me from the beginning. Nobody thought I was going to win, nobody did. But whoever bet on me is going to win some serious money.”
It’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction to say that Ruiz’s violent flipping of the script is a warning about the pitfalls of marinating on big fights that can be made immediately simply out of hope that delaying them can produce a higher financial gain for all parties.
Let’s not forget that thousands of British fans chose to cross the pond to invade “The World’s Most Famous Arena” not so much to see Joshua-Ruiz but rather cheer on Joshua in his long-awaited U.S. debut against a pudgy fighter who just happened to replace Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller on four weeks’ notice following a trio of failed drug tests.
In some ways, Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) could’ve fought anyone on Saturday. Joshua-Ruiz wasn’t the focus as much as the goal was to establish AJ’s brand on American soil and get one step closer to the biggest fight the sport could make between Joshua and unbeaten WBC champion Deontay Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs).
By publicly negotiating a fight for two years that seemed like a no-brainer to book — leaving fans frustrated by the inability of the promoters, managers and networks representing Joshua and Wilder to make it happen — it would seem as if Ruiz’s upset win would be the worst thing that could happen to the division.
The reality is that this development likely ends up being for the best as Ruiz turned the division upside down in one night, shifting the balance of power and creating yet another exciting and marketable character for a division that’s undergoing a much-needed renaissance period.
Without question, the old adage still rings true: As the heavyweight division goes, so does the sport of boxing from the standpoint of attracting mainstream and crossover sports fans.
The only thing lost in Ruiz’s win is the glossy ability to market an eventual Joshua-Wilder fight as unbeaten champion versus unbeaten champion for the title of undisputed king.
The reality is that the positives of Ruiz’s win far outweigh the negatives for the division at large. Not only did the California native of Mexican-American descent (which remains boxing’s most loyal and important fan base) create a viral moment that instantly elevated the brands of himself and the all-sports streaming app DAZN, it provided with division with another must-see fight when Joshua likely kicks in his mandatory rematch clause this fall in Great Britain.
With Wilder announcing this week that he will face Luis Ortiz on pay-per-view in a September rematch of their thrilling 2018 bout before entering another blockbuster rematch against lineal champion Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) in early 2020, it appeared for a second as if Joshua might be the odd man out. Instead, Joshua gets a shot at regaining his titles in front of upwards of 80,000 adoring fans while giving former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs) more time to acclimate himself to the division.
Like Hall of Fame countryman Lennox Lewis before him, Joshua’s opportunity to regain his world titles after such a disastrous setback may end up making him an even bigger star should he ultimately be successful. History has taught us that a shocking loss such as this doesn’t actually hurt the viability of a long-awaited fight that fans have clamored to see.
It may have felt like five years too late when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally squared off in 2015, but Pacquiao’s scary knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez three years prior did nothing to limit the financial possibilities of that bout. The same can be said about the blockbuster PPV between Lewis and Mike Tyson in 2002.
Let’s not forget that Ruiz even getting this fight was a refreshing curveball to business as usual within the sport. After signing with Premier Boxing Champions before his April win over Alexander Dimitrenko, Ruiz seemed as unlikely as Wilder to cross the political street and end up on DAZN facing Joshua.
Now he’s the most decorated heavyweight champion in the world following a win that was a reminder about how fun and uncertain the division can be. A new player has emerged as we continue down the road to one day seeing the dream of another undisputed champion become reality.
Be sure to subscribe to the State of Combat with Brian Campbell podcast where we will break down the fallout from Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua and look ahead to Gennady Golovkin-Steve Rolls on Monday’s show.
Sources from CBSSPORTS