Trip Of A Lifetime: AJ/Ruiz – One Year On
By Ian Aldous: As we approach the first anniversary of one of the greatest upsets in modern boxing history, I felt it was a suitable time to recollect my experiences of a wonderful weekend in NYC:
I’d covered fights from ringside before, but never anything like this. London, Sheffield, Leeds, Derby, and Stevenage had been a few of the, some glamorous, some not so glamorous locations. Out of the blue, the editor of the site I was writing for at the time, offered me the chance to attend a fight on June 1st, 2019. It was Anthony Joshua defending his IBO, IBF, WBA, and WBO World heavyweight titles against unheralded Mexican challenger, Andy Ruiz Jr. I was blown away! I’d never been to America, let alone the Mecca of boxing – Madison Square Garden – for Anthony Joshua’s Stateside showcase. A dream of mine was within jabbing distance.
It was supposed to be the Briton’s coming-out party and few fans, if any, thought it would be anything other than a comfortable night. Ruiz Jr. failed to heed the script Eddie Hearn had written for him.
In the weeks that preceded the fight, I was in a constant state of fear that anything could go awry, and my trip of a lifetime wouldn’t come to fruition. Let’s not forget that Ruiz Jr. was a replacement for Jarrell Miller following his trio of positive drug tests. Fights fall through all the time. To my pleasure, fight week went smoothly, and I was scheduled to leave the day before the heavyweight clash.
I left home at approximately 4 am and arrived at my hotel around 17 hours later. On the flight over, I found myself seated next to a fellow media member who had prior experience of The Big Apple. He’s still a friend of mine to this day. That night, we took in a few of the sights and sounds before attending the JD Sports party on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square. This was a glorious locale to partake in a few alcoholic beverages, a world away from any typical British pub that I like to frequent back home.
On the morning of the fight, I wandered for miles and miles around a city I’d only ever seen through the lens of a television camera. Midtown Manhattan felt more like London than New York City. The Brits had traveled in considerable numbers to support one of their own – as they always do. An all-English Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham was taking place on the same day. Many of the traveling Brits, including myself, packed the local bars to watch a historic football match. Without yet knowing, we would subsequently experience a historic fight too.
I entered MSG before the football ended as I was due to cover all the fights taking place that night. Upon entering the hallowed boxing venue, it soon dawned on me that my vantage point wasn’t the greatest. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t suitable to give my play-by-play take of the action. Those watching on TV would have had a superior view. I notified the editor who wasn’t particularly bothered as he had been more interested in the aforementioned Champions League final. Instead, I was able to soak in the fights purely as a fan.
As the atmosphere built, the arena filled with an endless supply of British sports fans, much like Manhattan had earlier felt like London – MSG felt more akin to the O2 Arena. Joshua Buatsi beat up Marco Antonio Periban; Tommy Coyle retired after a brave stoppage loss in a good scrap with former World titleholder, Chris Algieri and Callum Smith destroyed Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. But, the thrilling standout on the undercard was the IBF, WBA, WBC & WBO lightweight World title fight between Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon. Ireland vs. Belgium in the U.S.A. Some say the wrong pugilist walked away with all the gold, but both enthralled those in attendance and watching at home. It was the definition of beautiful brutality. Taylor made sure Irish eyes were smiling.
It led to the moment we’d all been waiting for. Fever pitch set in as AJ’s ring walk began. My friend from the flight sat next to me, commented on how unusually relaxed the unified champion looked. A little too laid back? We thought no more of it. Hindsight would illustrate that he wasn’t himself. Two rounds of sizing-up and measuring the distance saw little action.
It began to feel a little tense. Would it be as straightforward as predicted?
Round three came, and BANG, down went Ruiz Jr. from a sweet left hook. Normal service had been resumed. That was true until, in the same round, a left hand to AJ’s temple discombobulated the champion. The near 20,000 crowd were in disbelief; jaws wide open. He was on wobbly legs and was felled again. The defending champion never regained his composure and shockingly succumbed to Ruiz Jr. in the seventh round when Michael Griffin called a halt to the contest.
This was this generation’s gargantuan heavyweight upset. Andy Ruiz Jr. was imitating Buster Douglas while Anthony Joshua masqueraded as Mike Tyson.
A few scuffles broke out around us. Some who couldn’t handle their alcohol, clearly couldn’t handle the result either.
I noted this the following morning in my post-fight summary:
‘Myself and the thousands of Britons in attendance at Madison Square Garden wandered away from the world-famous arena quietly and almost sombrely.’
‘It turned out to be a special night, not for British boxing, but for Ruiz Jr. and Mexico – now its first world heavyweight champion.’
As a boxing observer, it is a night that I will never, ever forget. A whirlwind 48hrs flew by, and I was on the plane home with a story to tell for many years to come. It wasn’t just a plucky Mexican heavyweight whose dreams came true on June 1st.
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