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Why Anthony Joshua's defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr feels more than 'a minor setback'

Anthony Joshua says that his shock defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr is only 'a minor setback', but losing in such fashion could have long-term ramifications for the former champion.

Andy Ruiz Jr caused one of the all-time heavyweight shocks on Saturday night as he dropped Anthony Joshua four times on the way to a seventh-round stoppage win, with the Mexican-American getting his hands on three of the four recognised world titles. The result and the manner of the victory has reverberated around the world as comparisons are made with surprise losses for the likes of Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, but this was not just any defeat for Joshua. The 2012 Olympic Gold medallist was quick to play down his disappointment, insisting that it was just 'a minor setback', but Joshua will return to England having had his flaws exposed on the biggest stage of all.

Very few gave Ruiz Jr any real chance of success at Madison Square Garden. The narrative was seemingly set for the 29-year-old to make things difficult for Joshua in the early rounds before the British fighter ultimately proved too strong. However, Joshua made the mistake of buying into that theory, instead deciding to box on the back foot and take his time. Joshua showed signs of improving his discipline in the fights with Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin, but the suggestion was there during the early stages that Joshua was caught between building on those measured performances and reverting to type, a fan-friendly fighter who wanted to entertain and make a statement in equal measure.

Anthony Joshua on the floor on June 1, 2019© Reuters

That is how he lost this fight. Rob McCracken would have instructed Joshua to box a proactive, smart fight, but it quickly became apparent that any limited patience had gone out of the window once Ruiz had been dropped with an explosive combination. Joshua wanted to match Deontay Wilder's highlight-reel knockout of Dominic Breazeale - for both himself and the American audience - and it is difficult to dispute why Joshua felt confident in achieving that with a 95% knockout ratio. Nevertheless, this was the third time that Joshua had needlessly gotten himself into a firefight in a desperate bid to close to show after the lucky escapes against Dillian Whyte and Wladimir Klitschko, and his luck simply ran out.

Joshua's legs never recovered from the first knockdown. The Watford man deserves a certain amount of credit for making it through to the seventh round, although it showed how susceptible Joshua he is when taking a big shot. He pointed to this in his post-fight comments, claiming that opponents only focus on landing the bout-changing punches, but a cavalier attitude to getting his own power off when a glimmer of an opportunity arises has put him in a vulnerable position. It is something which will only become an increasing problem going forward because Joshua is now going to be in an area of uncertainty when letting his punches go. All of his current and future rivals have witnessed a small heavyweight take his best shots and effectively wipe him out with his own. It is not an exaggeration to describe losing to Ruiz as a disaster.

Andy Ruiz Jr celebrates taking Anthony Joshua's belts on June 1, 2019© Reuters

Joshua will get his rematch towards the end of the year, most likely at Cardiff's Principality Stadium in front of 70,000 fans. Last night will not change the fact that Joshua will be favourite to reclaim the IBF, WBA and WBO belts, but it puts him in a position where he needs to put business before pleasure. He managed that with a low-key triumph over Parker to unify the division, and he will likely have to go against his natural instincts once again in order to become a two-time world champion. It would do little to improve his standing at the negotiation table when it comes to discussing showdowns with Wilder and Tyson Fury, but a second successive loss to Ruiz would be catastrophic from all angles.

Would it be the end of Joshua's career at the top level? Not necessarily, but it would gift Wilder or Fury - even Luis Ortiz - a chance to put together an undisputed fight against Ruiz with relatively minimal fuss, and that may be even harder to accept than being stunned in New York this weekend.

Sports Mole has partnered with JD Sports to offer in-depth coverage of Anthony Joshua's US debut against Andy Ruiz Jr.


Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jr - Click here for more stories

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Anthony Joshua pictured during a press conference on February 25, 2019
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