• British boxer wins on points after much-improved performance
• Two judges scored fight 118-110 for Joshua, third called it 119-109
On the night when rain and wind spat and scudded across Saudi Arabian desert, Anthony Joshua whipped up a minor storm of his own to win back his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles from Andy Ruiz Jr.
In their first encounter in June, the Mexican-American had been able to disrupt the validity of boxing’s oldest and most indomitable laws – that a good big fighter usually beats a good smaller one – by stopping Joshua in seven. This time the tables were turned as the Briton used his eight-inch reach advantage and improved footwork to much better effect to claim a wide points victory.
It was not a classic. But for the most part Joshua was able to keep the fight at distance and use his stiff left jab as a cattle prod to keep him his opponent at bay and rack up the points. At the end the judges’ scores, with two of 118-110 and one of 119-109, seemed about right.
Ruiz, the belly sagging over his shorts, was dangerous whenever he got in range. But his 20st frame was not quick enough to repeatedly chase down Joshua, who switched from side to side to keep his opponent off balance. As the final bell rang Ruiz beat his chest angrily and said “fight me”, knowing he had been outfoxed.
Before Saturday night only three fighters in the 127-year history of the world heavyweight title had successfully regained their title in a direct rematch, from the 10 fighters who attempted it: Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis. That is the company Joshua now keeps – although he will certainly have to improve to be mentioned in the breath as Ali and Lewis in the pantheon.
Both men had shown plenty of respect for each other in the protracted buildup and the fight started cautiously, with Ruiz stalking his prey and the Briton on the back foot. But shortly before the end of the round a nasty right hand from Joshua suddenly bloodied his opponent above his left eye.
The old Joshua might have scented blood and gone for the kill. But he remained content to dance on the outside and allow his jab attempt to dominate proceedings. But just before the end of round two a double left hand by Ruiz left Joshua too with a cut over his right eye – although his corner did an expert job of stemming the blood.
Joshua remained unperturbed and kept pawing out his jab, which was acting almost as a praetorian guard for his chin. He probably took the third but in the fourth Ruiz finally got much closer to his man and landed several times – including on the back of the head.
But the familiar pattern reverted in the fifth and six. Before the fight Joshua had promised to go back to fight school and learn the sweet science and he proved as good as his word, jabbing and moving to good effect.
Now and again though there was a sense that the Briton was allowing Ruiz’s roughhouse tactics to get to him – and that he wanted to trade too much. In the eighth he paid the price as the Mexican landed with a good left hook followed by a right hand. But it was Ruiz, with his granite chin, who was still taking more big punches as the fight went into the championship rounds.
The crowd, who had paid between £105 and £10,000 for tickets, certainly enjoyed it. And so, clearly, did Joshua.
Earlier in the week Joshua, who earned around £60m from the fight, was warned that he was being duped by a Saudi regime that was using it to sportswash its reputation. He will continue to face criticism from human rights groups. But with so much in the bank, and with three world titles back around his waist, he will hardly care.