AJ took his first “L”, but will it be his last?
Heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua’s first loss will forever be defined by the phrase “pressure bursts pipes.” In his U.S. debut that was marred by trash talk, stained with PED usage by his original opponent, and ultimately an upset loss, Joshua had pressure stacked to the gills.
The fighting pride of the United Kingdom had gone from Olympic gold medalist to global superstar in a matter of four years. After defeating Charles “The Prince” Martin To Become the IBF Heavyweight Champion, Joshua began a knockout streak that seemed invincible.
His huge 6’6 muscular frame, good looks and great personality made him marketable beyond his wildest expectations. The tenacity of his promoter, Eddie Hearn, made him first a British celebrity and then a global superstar on his way to becoming one of the most bankable brands in sports.
However, the AJ hype train derailed last Saturday when relative unknown, Andy Ruiz, Jr., took the fight on short notice and delivered a shocking seventh round TKO at Madison Square Garden.
The win made Ruiz the new holder of the IBF, WBO, WBA and WBO titles as well as ethced his name in the history books as the first heavyweight boxing champion of Mexican descent.
Ironically, just days before, Joshua willingly handed his belts to Ruiz, Jr. in front of the media at their final press conference at the Beacon Theater on New York City’s Upper Westside.
It was a chivalrous gesture if you’re not a person of superstition, but for those who are, it could have been a sign of things to come.
Or maybe a sign of things we’ve seen in the past.
On June 20th, 1980, Roberto Duran was on top of the world.
He battled America’s boxing sweetheart, “Sugar” Ray Leonard for 15 rounds and emerged as the new WBC, The Ring, and lineal welterweight champion.
This was after already having had a storied lightweight career and bringing global attention to his small native country of Panama.
”Sugar” wanted a rematch right away to get the salty taste out of his mouth. While his people were negotiating, Duran went home and partied like the king he had become.
He blew up in weight and when he was told that the rematch was made, it was a little over 30 days before the fateful November 25th, 1980 bout. Duran was susceptible after cutting so much weight and Leonard knew he could exploit that and Duran’s macho sensibilities.
After seven rounds of clowning Duran in the ring with the utilization of mental adroitness, at 2:44 of the eight round, Duran stopped fighting.
The referee heard him say, “No mas” (no more) and with his hands down and body language in full defeat, the fight was stopped and Leonard reclaimed his belts.
It is one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, one that forever tainted the life story of Duran. And while Duran became a champion again in 1989 after defeating Iran Barkley for the WBC middleweight title, “No más ” would be integrated into pop culture history.
“No Más” 2019?
History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Fast forward almost 39 years later to MSG on Saturday June 1st, and Anthony Joshua, after being knocked down four times, decided in the seventh round that he wanted no more.
His mouth said, “Yes” but his body language, eyes, and arms resting on the ropes said a resounding, “No”. There was just something different about the fighter on June 1st. He came out late to the ring walk. As he strolled through an amazing audience of supportive Brits in the sold out Madison Square Garden, his eyes lacked that signature twinkle.
Even as the British National anthem of “God Save The Queen” was bellowed, Joshua still wasn’t there. You could see it in his eyes. It was the same look he had when, after knocking down Ruiz in the third round, he touched the canvas for the second time in his career at the hands of a determined Ruiz.
Joshua took seven seconds to get up off that canvas in the first knockdown. But in the seventh, he decided it was over.
With a rematch in place for later this year in the U.K., Joshua needs a win to both rebound and reclaim his ethos of dominance. However, with the heart and speed of Ruiz, Jr., now bolstered by an entire country feeding him the pride of “La Raza”, it will be no easy feat.
One need to look no further than the back to back pair of fights between Tony “The Tiger” Thompson vs. David Price to see where this could wind up.
Thompson, the former Washington, D.C., heavyweight contender, knocked out the highly touted Brit in his native Liverpool twice in the same year. Although it was revealed that Thompson tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide after the rematch, the win still stands.
Price’s career never fully recovered and the intangible glow that surrounded his brand was forever dimmed.
Now we must wait to see if this will be his David Price moment or his Roberto Duran.