Anthony Joshua credited a perfectly executed game plan allied to his boxing IQ for victory in his rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia, when the Brit reclaimed the world heavyweight crown on points to become a two-time champion.
Joshua, 30, outlasted his former conqueror on Saturday night in the rerun of June’s shock encounter in New York, sealing a deservedly unanimous decision at the Diriyah Arena just outside Riyadh.
On an evening impacted by inclement weather, Joshua reigned supreme against his much-heavier opponent, eventually taking the fight 118-10, 118-10, 119-109. It avenged his surprise defeat to Ruiz at Madison Square Garden - the only blot on his 24-bout CV - and guaranteed Joshua reclaimed the WBA, IBF and WBO belts from the Mexican-American.
“Boxers will have good nights and bad nights in the heavyweight division,” Joshua said afterwards. “All I can do is try my best, make my prayers, stay dedicated and just do it for myself. If I box for the crowd, or box for people’s opinions I might not have been victorious tonight. I boxed on my own game plan, trusted my own process and now I’m the champion. So I’m just going to follow my own instincts while I’m boxing.
"There were times I looked in Andy’s eyes and I wanted to put my fist through his head. But then I thought this is boxing, I need to win for myself and need to show people that this is the sweet science of the sport as well.
"It’s not like a script, it’s not wrestling, this is real life. And it’s dangerous, so I have to box to my game plan. My coaches devised a great strategy and I trusted in them and I followed it through.
“I can knock people out when I want to and I can box when I want to. Tonight was just about winning and trusting my process. I know that I could have done more at times, but sometimes simplicity is genius, and that was the motto. Keep it simple and it’s going to lead to a genius performance.
“Outclassing the current champion, and just proving to myself that every time I step in the ring, sometimes I may take a loss, but if I prepare myself for it I don’t think anyone’s going to beat me. Let’s take it back to the old school, 70s style, boxing’s sweet science, hit and don’t get hit. That’s the main thing.”
Coming in at 20kgs lighter than the heavy-hitting Ruiz, Joshua kept the fight far from a slugfest, although he caught his rival throughout and was clipped himself at times. In the first round, a right hand opened a cut on Ruiz’s left eye, although the defending champion returned the favour in the next round to draw blood from Joshua.
Ultimately, Joshua won convincingly on merit, much to the delight of the 15,000-strong crowd that cheered him on at the purpose-built venue at the Unesco World Heritage site.
“I’ve always had it in me … it was maybe just the discipline,” Joshua said, reflecting on the initial defeat to Ruiz six months ago. “I knew what was always in me and on June 1 I just got beat by the better man but I just knew I belong at a championship level.
“So the belts spent some time with me, the belts have spent some time with Andy, and I think the belts realised they would rather be around my waist, so they came home tonight.
"As I always say, I’m only champion until the next time I go out, because you don’t live forever. I came today, I was victorious and then I have to put them up in the air for the next competitor. Looking at the card today, you see all the challengers are hungry. It’s just going to be an interesting time for the heavyweight division. I’m just loving boxing.”
Joshua talked up a third fight with Ruiz to complete the trilogy, but must first face either IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev or WBO counterpart Oleksandr Usyk, the latter within the next 180 days. Manager Eddie Hearn said his client would now take some rest, and let his management resolve the issue with the governing body.
But Joshua said: “Let’s rock and roll. No problem.”
As for another clash with Ruiz, who said he’s open to doing it again in Saudi, the freshly anointed champion said: “The great thing is, [Andy’s] view on Saudi Arabia, that’s a positive. He was a bit wary at first, but it’s nice to see that he’s changed his opinion. Everybody’s had a good time here, which is nice. It’s a neutral ground, neutral territory, so we'll see if he’s keen.
“Usyk, Pulev, Ruiz, I don’t want to mention the other guys names, you know who they are, when they’re ready. I’ve fought a lot of great names on my record and I’ve beaten some big names and I’m looking forward to taking on more challengers. Andy’s still on that list as well. I think we make good music; he’s a good dancing partner.”
Joshua, though, refused to be drawn on issues behind the scenes he has referred to this week as having played a role in his original loss, saying: “Andy just beat me; credit to the man, he beat me fair and square.
“He’s a great fighter, great champion; first ever Mexican heavyweight champion. He has something special about him. We just reclaimed what was rightfully ours. That’s all. It shows that we’re just as good as each other. He beat me, I beat him, and we move on, on to the next.”