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Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua will make his United States boxing debut after all. Reports confirmed that Joshua will defend his WBA Super, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles against Andy Ruiz Jr. on June 1 at Madison Square Garden.
The trip to MSG will be the first fight for Joshua on American soil since he turned pro in 2013, though Ruiz was not his original opponent.
Joshua was set to take on Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller until the latter was recently suspended for failing multiple drug tests for banned substances GW1516, human growth hormone and EPO.
Fans and pundits were looking forward to this fight as Miller and Joshua got into some heated exchanges during the press conference.
What is ironic about Miller’s drug tests and subsequent suspension is he had accused Joshua of taking steroids in the build up to their bout.
Ruiz is no slouch. The Mexican fighter currently sports a 32-1 record with 21 knockouts. His only loss came in 2016 in his first heavyweight title fight, losing to Joseph Parker. Since that loss, Ruiz has rode a three-fight win streak, which includes a first-round knockout over Devan Vargas, and most recently a fifth-ground stoppage over Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20.
In an interview with ESPN, Hearn said he wanted Joshua’s replacement opponent to have “fire in their heart,” and thought they could be heavyweight champion, and believed Ruiz will be a tougher challenge for Joshua than Miller. Ruiz was a part of a list that initially included Luis Ortiz, interim titleholder Trevor Bryan and secondary world champion Manuel Charr.
Even Joshua agreed that Ruiz provides a different challenge to him, though it makes no difference. As he said, “We have worked in the boxing gym week on week, and whomever is put in front of me at Madison Square Garden on June 1 will be dispatched in style.”
I liked Ruiz’s response about getting the fight, saying he would bring the pressure, speed and combinations to Joshua, as well as relishing in the opportunity to make history.
"The chills—I'm really excited for this fight," Ruiz said, in the ESPN interview. "There's nervousness in me, but they're happy nerves… I want to be one of those greats like (Julio Cesar) Chavez, (Mike) Tyson, (Evander) Holyfield, Lennox Lewis. I want to be in that category. Thanks to God for everything that he put in me. I just can't wait."
I know some folks were hoping for Miller to be Joshua’s opponent but circumstances were beyond the promoters’ control. It’s never good when a fight is canceled because of a drug test, but at least the matter was resolved now and not days before the fight.
I think more folks were hoping Joshua would have a memorable MSG opponent. His first fight on American soil is a trial run of sorts—a way to showcase Joshua in front of casual boxing fans.
From a promotional standpoint, Miller’s pre-fight trash talk made him a great candidate. Still, many fans and pundits believed Joshua would have steamrolled over Miller on his way to a fight with Deontay Wilder.
Yet folks shouldn’t count out Ruiz. The Mexican fighter has a chance to make history and become a heavyweight champion. He can hit hard and is deceptively fast. He also has a burning desire to bring the titles back to Mexico.
Providing a good challenge for Joshua, will not only raise the British boxer’s stock, but also his own. Even if Ruiz loses his fight to Joshua at Madison Square Garden, he will have built some equity among fans, and might receive more opportunities for having the courage to face the heavyweight champion.