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AJ, a boxer reborn

June 1st, Madison Square Gardens, Anthony Joshua stepped into the ring as the undefeated unified WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion. His opponent was only there because the original challenger, Jarrell Miller, had failed a drugs test. Andy Ruiz Jr was given no chance. Round 3 of this fight and everything changed. Joshua’s career flashed before his eyes.

With two minutes remaining in round three, Joshua knocked down Ruiz. Everybody thought that would be that but Ruiz rose to his feet, unfazed by Joshua’s power, he quickly resumed attacking. Despite being on the canvas just moments before, Ruiz caught Joshua with a blow to the temple which caused Joshua to stagger and fall to the floor. Joshua got up but was visibly disorientated. He went into his shell, desperately trying to just survive. Ruiz smelt blood and pummelled Joshua for the rest of the round. Just before the close of round three, Ruiz again managed to fell a clearly disoriented Joshua after forcing him into a corner and unleashing a series of powerful punches. The world was witnessing a sporting Earthquake and Joshua, at the epicentre, was now fighting for his belts and for his career.

We all know what happened next. Joshua would be floored twice more and eventually lose via technical knockout. The experts came out and said Joshua was done. Joshua himself recognised the upset but made no excuses “It’s an upset, isn’t it… But the better man won. Respect to Andy. Now I move forward.” And move forward he did. Joshua, wanting his belts back, went to work.

Weeks after his loss Ruiz claimed Joshua “was not a good boxer” but Joshua had already started training for the fight by shadow boxing on a tennis court when Ruiz would launch his verbal volley. Joshua was also accused of giving up, throwing in the towel and that he didn’t have the heart to be a champion. Rather than speak out Joshua stayed silent whilst receiving this mental beating. Joshua was busy making changes. In came new pad men, new sparring partners and a radical new weight loss programme. This wasn’t people instructing Joshua to change. This came from within. He recognised he needed to do something dramatic to salvage his career.

We’re used to seeing Joshua in the media but he kept appearances to a minimum and instead tried to stay out of the limelight. Ruiz on the other hand was lapping it up and enjoy a champagne lifestyle.

They’d been rumours that Joshua wasn’t right for the first fight. That his health wasn’t what it should be but he never gave the excuse instead he maintained the better man won on the night. However, there’s always been a nag that something wasn’t right. However, instead of throwing out excuses for what went before, he instead decided to focus on what would come.

The work Joshua had done was there for all to see at the Weigh-In. He came in almost a stone lighter and looked leaner, less bulky. He looked like he’d be nimble and quick whilst Ruiz, who had been expected to have weighed in less than what he had 6 months ago, weighed in a whopping stone heavier.

Joshua’s new body and the work he’d done since the first fight paid dividends. He circled Ruiz and kept working the jab and Ruiz could never get near him. You feel that if Tyson Fury had performed this way that the boxing world would have called a masterclass and it was, it was exactly that. “He was absolutely clinical and he never wasted a shot,” said 5 Live’s Steve Bunce. “He got it right in spectacular fashion.” From early on he opened Ruiz’s eye and it was hard to tell if his blurry vision was from that or the “three months of partying” that he openly admitted to.

At no point did Joshua look in trouble. In fact, he deliberately stayed clear of trouble as he patrolled the centre of the ring and didn’t allow himself to get caught on the ropes. He landed twice as many punches as Ruiz. Joshua averaged 23 punches a round whilst Ruiz just five. He proved he could punch from range, a criticism he faced from the first fight. In fact, he silenced all the critics with this display.

Joshua has now walked a well trodden path. Lewis and Tyson suffered shocks but came back as champions. Let’s be clear, Joshua had it all to lose in the Dunes but instead Joshua’s response to defeat was to deliver his best display of boxing to date. That is the sign of a champion.

“His trainer Robert McCracken should be given a huge amount of credit,” said 5 Live’s Richie Woodhall.

Promoter Hearn added: “It was a way of boxing that people didn’t believe he could do.”

For now, we’ll have to wait and see how Joshua faces next but one thing is for sure, Joshua learned his lesson and is back. Did he ever go away?

Joshua knew that he would be staring humiliation in the face and that should he lose again he’d possibly never fight again.