Boxing's biggest fight of 2019 is on Saturday, and it's an epic world heavyweight title rematch few saw coming. Anthony Joshua will get a second chance at Andy Ruiz Jr., the late replacement who shocked the world in June when he fought back from an early knockdown and stopped Joshua in the seventh round, snapping up four heavyweight titles in the process.
The stunning win turned Ruiz—a doughy, baby-faced fighter begging to be underestimated—into a superstar overnight. The loss has reoriented Joshua's career arc. Suffer defeat against Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury? Sure, that's acceptable. This, however, wasn't part of the plan.
Ruiz is now out to prove he is more than a Buster Douglas, capable of defending the titles nobody thought he could win. Joshua is looking to avenge his first professional loss and show he can become one of the division's greats.
Billed as the "Clash on the Dunes," Saturday's bout will take place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, a town on the outer edges of the country's capital city of Riyadh. The venue is the Diriyah Arena, a 15,000-seat stadium that was built in a matter of weeks specifically for this fight.
The world will be watching. Here's how to tune in.
Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Anthony Joshua 2 Fight Info
When: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 12 p.m. ET (main event roughly 3:45 p.m. ET, per DAZN)
Where: Diriyah Arena in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia
TV: Sky Sports Box Office (UK, pay-per-view)
Live stream: DAZN (subscription required)
Odds: Joshua -200 (bet $200 to win $100), Ruiz Jr. +175 (bet $100 to win $175)
Odds are courtesy of Caesars and updated as of Thursday, Dec. 5 at 7 a.m. ET.
Part of Ruiz's charm is how thoroughly he incinerated most people's expectations of the bout. He was only in the ring because the original contender, Jarrell Miller, failed multiple drug tests. There were some solid wins on his resume, but nothing spectacular. With his round figure and short-ish arms, he looked perfectly cast to serve as cannon fodder to the tall, handsome, impossibly-chiseled Joshua.
But then Ruiz started punching, and aside from a second-round knockdown, he was clearly the better boxer. Ruiz dropped Joshua four times before the referee decided the champion had had enough. The spell was broken.
Ruiz, 30, is a great counter-puncher, a long-time student of the sweet science with a good head on his shoulders. Joshua has torn through most of his opponents with breathtaking ease, but nothing in the buildup to this match suggests he is treating the loss as a fluke. The first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent is not going to be easy to beat.
"As soon I got back from New York, I didn't lose any heart, I didn't lose any fire in my belly, and I went straight back to hitting the heavy bag at Finchley ABC," Joshua said, per the Guardian's Sean Ingle. "There is no fear in my heart, no fear in my eyes, no fear in my mind."
Some observers, like TheFightCity.com's Lee Wylie, feel Joshua needs to take care of the basics to win back his belts:
Lee Wylie @leewylieboxing
Exactly. If AJ steps forward with the jab, he makes it easier for Ruiz to slip inside and throw the overhand. How does AJ nullify Ruiz’s looping counters? By throwing off his timing with feints, mixing up his jab, and by not allowing him to set his feet. https://t.co/uNzwPFeBor
It does seem like the 30-year-old Joshua is preparing for a difficult, careful night of boxing, slimming down and shedding some of the muscles in the hopes of improving his stamina. A well-executed strategy combined with his height and reach advantage should allow him to win rounds. Ruiz will likely to be looking to throw swift combinations again and try to get through the holes in Joshua's defense. If Joshua does get into trouble, he did show he has the strength to send Ruiz to the canvas. It's something that might get easier if the Englishman can extend the fight.
While Joshua has had to plenty to think about over the last six months, Ruiz has had the comfort of knowing he can win in Riyadh if he can essentially repeat his strategy and tactics from June in New York City. In the final press conference before the fight, Ruiz made his part sound rather simple.
"I know he lost weight, I know he's gonna try to box me around, but it's just my job to prevent that, you know. So I'm ready for whatever comes my way and I'm ready to rock n' roll," he said, per Bad Left Hook's Will Esco.
Ruiz has fine hand speed for a heavyweight and should still be able to land shots even if Joshua brings a more disciplined jab to the fight. A couple of the rounds in the first fight were cagey, and Ruiz didn't really start firing until Joshua sent him to the canvas. He might be equally comfortable in a chess match or a brawl against Joshua.
Ruiz will certainly be motivated, because his star can fall as quickly as it rose. Despite being an affable, friendly figure, he's not as easy to sell to the masses as the other big names in the division. Lose to Joshua badly, and he'll likely have to navigate a few difficult fights before getting another title shot. If he wins, or maybe comes up just short, Ruiz can stay in the championship circuit and go after the likes of Fury and Wilder.
He wasn't supposed to be in this position, but that's irrelevant now. Ruiz is the champion, and it's up to Joshua, the contender, to stop him.