With the rain, came the redemption.
On an all-round thunderous night on the outskirts of Riyadh, Anthony Joshua vanquished the demons of his summer surrender to Andy Ruiz Jr to once more stand tall as the heavyweight champion of the world.
A unanimous decision did it, Joshua, boxing clever and calculated, at times sent shudders not only through the Mexican-American’s ample body, but through the 15,000 capacity Diriyah Arena. By the end, his arms were raised in triumph, the WBA, IBF and WBO belts that he relinquished on June 1 soon draped from them.
Dubbed the “Clash on the Dunes”, Joshua emerged from a potential sinking sand of a skirmish to cast off the doubt and the deniers. It was deserved, dogged, dominant. The cards underlined it: 118-10, 118-110 and 119-109, transforming the challenger into the champion once again.
“This is about boxing, I’m used to knocking guys out,” Joshua crooned. “I wanted to put on a master-class and also show the sweet science of this sport. It’s about hitting and not getting hit. As I always say, stay hungry, stay humble.”
Joshua’s desire was there from the off. He cut Ruiz as early as the first round, an outstretched right to the temple that sliced open the champion’s left eye.
Yet the Brit would suffer the same fate in the second, Ruiz landing a right hand in the clinch to draw blood. It served as a reminder of the power that felled the Joshua oak tree once before, a first professional defeat that fostered half a year of introspection.
In the fourth, Ruiz doled out some more, and at one point appeared to rock Joshua. A shot to the back of the head did it, although the California native was later warned by the referee. It would not be the only time.
Like rising champions are supposed to do, Joshua responded through the trunk of the bout, fending well behind his jab, striking with the odd overhead right. However, he was turned on his heels in the eighth, as Ruiz roughed up and riled his rival.
Back came Joshua in the next, snapping Ruiz’s neck with a left, another combination registering the same result. Joshua was boxing smart; adhering to the strategy he trumpeted in the build-up. In the championship rounds, he evaded and he escaped. The dramatic weight loss, the 20 less kilograms than his opponent that Joshua lugged around the ring, no doubt played its part. The game plan was executed to perfection.
With the belts again in his possession, Joshua joins Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis as the only men to have regained the world heavyweight title in the direct rematch. That represents some company, indeed.
In the card’s penultimate bout, Brit Dillian Whyte emerged from an at-times bruising affair against fellow heavyweight Mariusz Wach, convincing all three judges to award him the victory. So Joshua remains the only man to take out the current WBC interim champion, who only this week was given a reprieve by UK Anti-Doping having failed a drugs test in July.
"I boxed nowhere near my standard,” Whyte said. “My mind hasn't been in the right place with all I've had to put up with these last six months. I came in about a stone and a half overweight, I wanted to stop him but he's tough. I've been screwed over the last couple of months but I've stuck at it - I am as tough as old boots.
"I went from being a hero to being a nobody. My team have stuck by me and I thank them for that and for getting me out here for this show. I feel great to have made because it was a dark place a few months ago."
Earlier in the night, Saudi boxer Zuhayr Al Qahtani proved the darling of those who braved the elements from the onset, the Saudi boxer recording a gritty and gutsy points victory to claim the WBC Middle East lightweight belt. The kingdom’s first professional fighter, Al Qahtani took a unanimous decision 80-72, 78-74, 77-75 to climb to 8-0 for his career. “This is just the start,” he enthused. “I’ve put Saudi boxing on the map.”