The suspense in the misty air of Diriyah Arena turned to an atmosphere of celebration as Nigerian-born British heavyweight boxer, Anthony Joshua, reclaims his titles. Joshua’s tense rematch with Andy Ruiz remains one of the most significant moments in 2019 for the world of boxing.
Andy Ruiz stunned the world six months ago at the Madison Square Garden in New York after a big upset that ended in a technical knockout. Ruiz, an underdog, knocked Joshua to the canvass four times before the referee stopped the fight in the seventh round after a flurry of punches. On that night, Ruiz made history as the first boxer of Mexican descent to become a heavyweight title winner.
In Saturday night’s rematch, the world saw a different Anthony Joshua with rare mettle and prowess required for success in the boxing ring. His athleticism, technicalities, and sportsmanship were on display as the world stood still to watch a resilient fighter reclaim his lost titles. It was an emotional moment for Joshua, who had a sweet return to the number one spot in the heavyweight boxing division. He won in style and became a two-time world heavyweight champion with a unanimous victory over Andy Ruiz.
During the build-up to the match, there were fears if Joshua had the mental fortitude to fight his demons and go for a win. On Saturday, he reassured his teeming fans and answered lots of questions. Those answers came with quick jabs, timely hooks, and calculated movements, all delivered in a 36 minutes show of clinical finish.
With the comeback victory, Joshua joined Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson in the league of men to have reclaimed the world heavyweight title. In this historical moment, there are lessons to learn from a man that came back from the dead to knock out the same person that gifted him his first career defeat.
Fela Kuti lives on
Ahead of his much-anticipated fight with Ruiz in Saudi Arabia, Joshua paid homage to his Nigerian roots. The British boxer with Nigerian parents chose a tune by Nigerian multi-talented musician, Fela Kuti, as his entrance song.
The song, Water No Get Enemy by Fela, a trailblazer of Afrobeat music and a fearless human rights activist, was perfect for the occasion and a precursor for a historic night. During Joshua’s visit to Nigeria in July, he stopped by at Fela’s shrine in Lagos, where Femi Kuti showed him around. This victorious match reminded everyone of Fela’s undying legacy.
Stay hungry for a win
There are no friends in the ring, and the best way to come out of the ring victorious is by inflicting damage on the opponent. In the first match in New York, it was apparent that Joshua lacked the hunger needed for victory. After hitting the canvas in the third round, Joshua appeared lost and uncoordinated; he struggled through the remaining rounds before the referee waved the fight off.
In the rematch, it was evident that Joshua was hungry for a victory. He was there to prove a point and retrieve his lost belts that were on exile in California. The hunger reflected in the superb head and body movement aimed at dodging Ruiz’s punches. If there were anything Joshua learned after his defeat, it would be to stay hungry in the face of any opposition.
Stick to the game plan
Before his first match with Ruiz, everyone was used to Joshua decapitating his opponents before the final round with an exception for the bout with Joseph Parker. For many of the fans, they wanted to see an angry Joshua in the ring with a shower of punches to revenge his humiliating loss in June. It was not a big ask from a man that has 21 knockouts out of 22 professional wins. Let the “champ” do the magic again. While that seems like a brilliant plan that could drive the fans wild, it would have placed Joshua in a vulnerable position resulting in a second defeat. It would have been a blatant display power without tactfulness.
It is quite understandable if the critics wanted a spectacular match, but often, the key to victory is taking calculated risks and not doing what everyone expects. Joshua understood the difference between showmanship and professionalism. He took the stance of a professional pugilist and displayed a tactical understanding of the sport to wear out his opponent.
Boxing is all about taking well-timed punches and avoid getting hit. That was the game plan, and a disciplined Joshua stuck to the plan from start to finish. Joshua never allowed Ruiz to lock him a close range that is advantageous to a speedy boxer like Ruiz. He made use of his long legs by pacing in the ring, which not only frustrated his opponent but prevented Ruiz from landing his punches in a close range. Those powerful jabs courtesy of Joshua’s long-range paid off in the match against his Mexican rival. Joshua practically animated Mohammed Ali’s words, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”
Stay focused on the prize
On the road to success, the focus is paramount. In the build-up to the rematch, Joshua was under immense pressure, and he could not afford a second defeat. In the ring, it’s hard to stay focused on a plan after suffering a devastating hit. However, it pays to stay focused and avoid any unexpected complications from surprise hooks. Before the rematch, Joshua was hard on himself with a laser-focused training regimen. He trimmed his weight to 237 pounds, his lowest in five years (lost 10 pounds in six months). It takes focus and discipline to do that.
In sharp contrast to Joshua’s approach, Andy Ruiz added 16 pounds to his chubby frame, which impacted his movement in the ring. It’s hard to keep up with six months of uninterrupted media attention and sudden fame.
Bouncing back from an embarrassing loss is hard. But Joshua forgot about the mixed feelings of the past and focused on the next 36 minutes of his life in the ring – the moment that decides what happens next in his boxing career. With eyes on the prize and a heart bent on winning, he earned his titles back amidst cheers and applause from a satisfied audience.
Punch your fears in the face
Preceding the match in New York, Joshua was an undefeated unified heavyweight champion. Although he had a close shave with defeat in his match against Wladimir Klitschko, he bounced back after a knockdown in the sixth round. His first taste of defeat in his professional career was against Ruiz in June, and he lost to an underdog that was unknown to anyone before the match.
The fears of losing again must have haunted Joshua in the past few months, but his fighting spirit during the rematch showed the traits of a champion. Former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, once said, “Fear is just like fire; it can be helpful if you know how to use it. If not, you will get burned.”
Our fears are as strong as the belief we put in them. Joshua stepped into the ring and used his fears to his advantage; he faced his demons and punched them until they got exhausted.
Osho, a mechanical engineer, award-winning writer and public speaker writes from Canada