Anthony Joshua stopped a smaller, faster man in Alexander Povetkin in September, but encountered problems; Danny Flexen examines if Andy Ruiz Jr can take the Russian’s success a stage further
The old boxing adage dictates you are only as good as your last fight. If that is true of unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua then it offers both reassurance ahead of his American debut, and a degree of caution. Back in September, it was Anthony Joshua vs Alexander Povetkin, a decorated veteran thought to be perhaps slightly past his best and with significant disadvantages in height (four inches) and reach (seven). Despite these apparent handicaps, the Russian made his comparatively compact frame work for him early on and gave AJ problems at Wembley Stadium before ultimately being stopped in the seventh round. The big question therefore is whether Joshua’s opponent on June 1 in New York, Andy Ruiz Jr, the same height and with a similar reach to Povetkin, albeit much heavier, can take inspiration from the performance of a man 10 years his senior.
In a recent interview with JD Sports, Joshua seemed to forget the challenge he had in working Povetkin out early on, providing an impression of a one-sided fight that always remained in his control. "You’ve got to look at the ring and the space that you have," Joshua outlined. "What I did [against Povetkin], I looked on the outskirts rather than staying in the middle and fighting his game.
"It may not be going your way for the first 11 rounds, but in the 12th, if you’ve stuck in there and adapted, all it takes is one punch."
The latter point certainly holds up, but it ignores the success Povetkin enjoyed, certainly in the first three rounds. Using intelligent head movement, clever counter-punching with impressive handspeed, Povetkin was able to bloody Joshua’s nose and compel him to dictate the contest from the periphery. Joshua deserves credit for adapting in the right way and showing discipline and poise to get the job done, but this did not appear to be the initial strategy.
So what can Ruiz Jr take from this? He can make an advantage of his small stature, throwing punches from angles to which Joshua is unaccustomed and, if he is able to get past the superb AJ jab (more on that presently), has even faster hands than Povetkin, so has the speed and combination punching to make the champion think twice.
The problem Ruiz Jr has is that he does not move his head enough, preferring to take shots on a tight guard before countering. If Joshua truly has learned from the problems posed by Povetkin, and starts the battle from the outside, I can envisage Ruiz Jr finding it very hard - and gradually discouraging - to make his way into close quarters and, crucially, back out again without sustaining significant damage. Think David Haye (whose feet were much quicker than those of Ruiz) against Wladimir Klitschko, who was far from the fastest became a master of distance and timing. It is also doubtful Ruiz Jr hits as hard as Povetkin who, despite being a small heavyweight, has wiped out an array of world-level opponents in the largest division. When a fighter’s opportunities to land are limited, as we expect Ruiz Jr’s to be, it is vital they can make the most of these rare openings. Povetkin did, in spurts, but was still broken down. Ruiz is brave, but could get dispirited and beaten up sooner. It is hard, for this writer at least, to make a case for his upsetting the odds next week.