While unified heavyweight world titleholder Anthony Joshua and contender Andy Ruiz Jr. were in the midst of posing for photos following their final pre-fight news conference Thursday at the famed Beacon Theater on New York’s Upper West Side, Ruiz couldn’t help himself.
He had a big smile on his face throughout the event and it grew even bigger when they posed together as he slipped two of the belts off Joshua’s arms, took a good look at them and held them up.
Joshua, the British mega star making his United States debut, was good natured about it and had no problem. Ruiz can play with the belts all he wants, Joshua reasoned, as long as he walks out of the ring still as their owner when he makes his seventh defense on Saturday (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET) at Madison Square Garden.
“Right now I’m only champion until June 1 because that’s when I have to defend my titles,” Joshua said. “I’m currently heavyweight champion of the world. June 1 I put them up in the air and they’re up for grabs.”
Then Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), 29, turned to Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs), also 29, shook his hand and the hand of his trainer, Manny Robles, and said, “So, may the best man win. I wish you well. Good luck.”
Ruiz, the challenger from Imperial, California, said he wants to have the belts for real, not just as a prop for a photo. He is bidding to become the first Mexican to win a heavyweight world title. He has had one previous chance but lost a razor-close majority decision for a vacant belt to Joseph Parker on Parker’s turf in New Zealand in 2016.
“Been training so hard since my last fight with Alexander Dimitrenko,” Ruiz said of his fifth-round knockout victory on April 20, after which he got the unexpected shot at Joshua when original opponent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller was denied a license by the New York State Athletic Commission after failing four Voluntary Anti-Doping Association random drug tests for three different substances. “I think it came at a perfect time to fight Anthony Joshua. Those belts look really shiny, really good, man.
“I’m just ready. I’m ready to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world. Ready to bring those belts back to Mexico. Well, they’ve never been in Mexico, but they’re going to be.”
As serious as the business will be on Saturday night, Joshua and Ruiz showed nothing but class and respect toward each other during the news conference, the first time they have seen each other since the fight was made about a month ago after Miller was dropped.
“I don’t really have noting bad to say about Anthony Joshua. He’s a champion. I’m a fan of him,” Ruiz said. “I respect him, but inside the ring there’s not gonna be no respect, no fans, no friends. It’s gonna be a hell of a fight. I’m gonna give it all I got and we’re gonna win this for Mexico. Viva Mexico!”
Said Robles: “All I can tell you is my boy, Andy Ruiz, is ready. He’s ready for the challenge. He had a great camp. People think this was a short camp but the reality is it wasn’t. He’s been in the gym pretty much for 15 weeks and we had a tune-up fight in between. Of course, we got the big call and we’re going to take advantage of this great opportunity.”
After Miller was bounced from the fight, Joshua continued training while awaiting word of a new opponent. When Ruiz was brought to him, Joshua accepted and watched some videos of the smaller man with quicker hands.
“We’re not overlooking Andy or his team at all,” Joshua said. “Fighting Andy for me is just as dangerous as fighting Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury, because they both possess their own skills. So, I’m going to take Andy deadly serious. I don’t overlook him at all. I respect him. I respect his whole team and I really respect the fact that he put his name on the dotted line to take this challenge.
“No challenge is easy, no matter what the book makers say. Andy’s going to come in there and give me a real good fight and cause problems, and it’s down to me as a champion to think smart, box clever and out-skill, out-strength and out-muscle Andy Ruiz to get that win.”