In heavyweight boxing, the story almost always is about the title fight that isn’t taking place rather than the one that is, and that will be the case when unified champion Anthony Joshua of Great Britain makes his U.S. debut against Andy Ruiz Jr. Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
California native Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs) stepped in as a replacement for Brooklyn’s Jarrell Miller, who failed three drug tests to blow his chance against Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), who holds the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles. Of course, the elephant in the room is WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, who holds the one major belt Joshua needs to become undisputed champion.
Two weeks ago, Wilder scored a dramatic first-round KO over Dominic Breazeale at Barclays Center, but negotiations between his camp and Joshua’s have gone in circles for well over a year without discernible progress.
However, it’s fair to say Joshua’s decision to come to the Garden for his first fight out of the U.K. is one small step to pave the road to Wilder. If their negotiations ever turn serious, Joshua said location “is not a deal-breaker. I’m OK in the Garden or London. I’ll just be happy to get the fight.”
Alabama native Wilder is well-known to American boxing fans, while Joshua routinely draws upwards of 90,000 fans to Wembley Stadium in London but now has the chance to broaden his appeal. “It’s my opportunity as a fighter at Madison Square Garden, and it helps my numbers and where we should do the (future) fight,” Joshua said. “Coming to America is a massive part of the bigger picture of becoming undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”
Timing is everything, and the longer Joshua and Wilder wait to share the same ring, the more risk there is that something might ruin their plans. Two fights earlier, Wilder got a split draw against England’s Tyson Fury, and many commentators felt Fury deserved the win despite suffering two knockdowns. Incidentally, Fury is another top heavyweight who remains on the to-do list for Joshua.
Asked if he feels some urgency to make a deal with Wilder, Joshua said, “He’s been calling my name out for the last year or so, and I’ve been calling his name. Whenever he’s ready because I’m definitely ready.”
So, what has been the holdup in negotiations? “Let me just say one thing,” Joshua said. “He can’t come to the table and tell me what he thinks is right. I come to the table with four belts. He comes with one.”
So, in the meantime, Joshua must focus on Ruiz, who is a decided underdog and is four inches shorter than the 6-6 Joshua, who has an eight-inch reach advantage. Only one of Joshua’s fights has gone the distance, but he said he’s under no pressure to score a spectacular KO.
“I think knockouts are inevitable,” Joshua said. “It’s a boxing match. Whether it goes 12 rounds or one round, on the record sheet, it is a win. That’s what’s most important is focusing on getting this win on June 1. Every win sets up for a great opportunity.”