Anthony Joshua will make his U.S. debut on Saturday, putting his four heavyweight world titles on the line against Andy Ruiz Jr. at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), arguably the best heavyweight in the world, has risen to the top of the sport of boxing fighting exclusively in the United Kingdom. Already famous the world over, Joshua is broadening his horizons, bringing his fighting talents to new audiences.
His stateside debut is exciting, though it could be better. Joshua is not fighting America's best heavyweight, WBC world titleholder Deontay Wilder (and it's not going to happen anytime soon). The 29-year-old Englishman isn't even fighting his original opponent. That was supposed to be the trash-talking, Brooklyn-born Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller. The would-be hometown challenger failed multiple drug tests.
In steps Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs), a rotund journeyman from Imperial, California, who will easily get the biggest payday of his career by agreeing to box one of the scariest fighters on the planet on relatively short notice.
Joshua gets the chance to impress on new shores, but no matter the outcome Saturday night, fans will be left wanting more.
Joshua vs. Ruiz Jr. Fight Info
When: Saturday, June 1 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden in New York City
TV: Sky Sports Box Office (UK, pay-per-view)
Live Stream: DAZN (U.S.)
Odds: Joshua -2000 (bet $2,000 to win $100), Ruiz Jr. +1200 (bet $100 to win $1,200)
Odds courtesy of Oddschecker.com and updated as of Friday, May 31.
When we last saw Joshua in September, he was busy pummeling Alexander Povetkin to a seventh-round TKO win. Joshua overcame some early problems, as Povetkin started the match brightly and broke the champion's nose. Hurt but unfazed, Joshua steadily increased the punishment over the next few rounds, dispatching his challenger.
Povetkin is a solid pro, as is Ruiz. So a similar fate for the 29-year-old challenger should be expected. The match might even end sooner, depending on what kind of lungs the portly Ruiz has on him.
We've seen Joshua beat up solid pros time and time again. There's nothing wrong with getting into a groove and playing the hits, but at some point, fans start wanting something with some depth and excitement to it. Something that feels like it might shift the Earth on its axis, like Joshua's epic battle with Wladimir Klitschko that earned him his world titles.
Joshua is in danger of stagnating if he can't get a fight with the likes of Wilder or Tyson Fury put together soon. Miller was supposed to at least tide things over until the megafights are made, stirring up drama with his flashy persona and confident fighting style. Then he flunked out of the match. As HannibalBoxing.com's Carlos Acevedo points out, Joshua can't do much to burnish his credentials fighting Ruiz:
"If Joshua is extended by Ruiz, he will lose further ground in the marketing wars. (Not that it matters: the only roadblocks to fights among Joshua, Wilder, and Fury are avarice and short-sightedness, the usual boxing foibles.) This matchup became a publicity mishap the moment it was announced. The contrast between the pudgy, baby-faced Ruiz (given to photo-ops with Snickers bars as props) and the strapping Joshua—who looks like he stepped out of the pages of a Marvel comic—makes for what political consultants would call 'bad optics.'"
Joshua needs to move quickly after he, in all likelihood, beats up on Ruiz. Wilder has already scheduled a rematch with Luis Ortiz for later this year, so he won't cross paths with Joshua until at least 2020. With Wilder committed, Fury appears to be the target.
"I said I want to meet Wilder, chat to him, and the next day he announces a fight with no date or venue attached to it. I still say there is hope, but I think the next person I want then is Fury," Joshua said, per BBC.com's Luke Reddy.
Fury and Wilder have already fought to an entertaining draw. A Fury-Joshua matchup would become the battle of Britain and put all the pressure in the world on the winner to take on Wilder. This is the dream scenario the way things stand.
Boxing, of course, with its titanic egos and backroom shenanigans, is prone to disappointment. Joshua is one of the meanest dudes in the world, but not everything is up to him. For now, he and his fans will have to make do with what's in front of them.
Prediction: Joshua by fourth-round KO