Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

Clash on the Dunes: Pressure well and truly on Anthony Joshua against high-flying Andy Ruiz Jr

Heavyweight showdown in Diriyah will also give us a taste of what to expect from Saudi Arabia in the future

Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua face off once more on Saturday, in the historic 'Clash on the Dunes' in Saudi Arabia. Joshua will be attempting to reclaim the WBA, IBF and WBO titles he lost in a shock defeat to Ruiz in June. Here we take a look at some of the main talking points.

Can Joshua withstand the pressure to perform?

Anthony Joshua has cut a pretty focused figure in Saudi. Tuesday’s public workout was kept to a minimum; two minutes of staged shadowboxing, then media commitments fulfilled, and he was off. At the final pre-fight press conference the following day, the Brit doubled down. He was forthright, firm, apparently fuelled purely by the desire to snatch back his belts. It’s required.

It feels strange to suggest, given Ruiz Jr holds the titles, but it’s widely regarded that the pressure's on Joshua heading into the fight. It’s a stretch, admittedly, to insist another defeat could end his career, but it would certainly represent a considerable roadblock to Joshua's boxing aspirations.

He was clearly not right before and during the initial encounter, something he has repeatedly referenced while not elaborating. Almost, this matters more to the former champ. With the stress and the strain that brings, no matter the laser-like focus, Ruiz isn’t his only opponent to conquer.

Has Ruiz Jr been affected by fame and fortune?

Evidently, the Mexican-American has been enjoying his time in the spotlight, as well he might. Since Madison Square Garden, when he shocked the sport to inflict Joshua’s first pro defeat, Ruiz has spent time with Mexico’s president, trailed America’s talk-show circuit, and generally done what most people would do had they pulled off one of sport’s greatest upsets.

There’s the lavish new residence, the sparkling new Rolls Royce. On Wednesday, Ruiz’s generous diamond ring gleamed under the press-conference lights. With the trappings of success, though, come the questions. Has he maintained his motivation? Will the newfound status strip him of his drive?

Predictably, Ruiz has brushed those off, that he will “die trying” in keeping the belts on Saturday. A huge underdog in June, he is expected still to get dispatched in Diriyah. The resolve to prove his victory was no fluke should compel him. He knows he can hurt Joshua. He needs to display the hunger, too.

How will Joshua deal with his rival’s skillset?

Make no mistake, Ruiz represents an accomplished heavyweight. He may not have Joshua’s chiselled physique, his marketability, or his opponent’s aura, but he certainly has the tools to register another seismic success. He has lost once in 34 pro fights. Ruiz impressed again during the open workout on Tuesday, his speed obvious, so too the balance and the ballast. His left hook is an obvious concern for Joshua, as well as his potent and purposeful jab.

The challenger, meanwhile, looks visibly slimmer, a result of his decision to get back to boxing basics. How that affects him constitutes one of the most intriguing plotlines going into Saturday. A more mobile Joshua will give Ruiz an additional headache. It’s just whether the Olympic gold medallist possesses enough might and mettle to deal with and damage his opponent.

Will 'Clash on the Dunes' prove a success for Saudi?

The clamour for the event, as the week winds up to Saturday, has been growing steadily. The international press corps is sizeable – BBC and Sky News have sent television crews – reflecting the magnitude of the moment, not only for the boxers, or for boxing, but for Saudi’s place on the sporting map. The event forms part of the Diriyah Season festival, which includes the just-passed Formula E and the upcoming Tennis Cup.

In the coming weeks, Saudi hosts Juventus and Lazio, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Plans are reportedly in place for Saudi to soon rival Las Vegas, New York and London as hubs for elite-level boxing, however ambitious that appears. Eddie Hearn, CEO of promoters Matchroom Boxing, has claimed – loud and at length – that the Kingdom “could change everything” when future fights are discussed. Speak this week to those in the know, and Ruiz-Joshua 2 is said to be merely the beginning.

Updated: December 5, 2019 07:05 PM

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