NEW YORK — For nearly three decades, Buster Douglas’s knockout of Mike Tyson stood as the biggest upset in heavyweight boxing history.
Andy Ruiz just gave Buster Douglas a run for his money.
In a stunning upset, Ruiz, an 11-1 underdog entering Saturday night’s heavyweight title fight against Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden, scored a seventh–round TKO, handing the heavyweight kingpin the first loss of his career and making Ruiz the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent.
What a night. What a fight by Ruiz, scorched by social media for his flabby physique, lampooned for how he looked standing next to the chiseled frame of Joshua, Ruiz is now a three-belt holder and owner of the biggest upset in decades. The first two rounds were quiet, with Ruiz applying pressure and Joshua trying to line up Ruiz for big left hooks. In the third round Joshua landed a crushing left hook, sending Ruiz to the canvas. Smelling blood, Joshua raced in to finish Ruiz off.
Only Ruiz answered, rallying to drop Joshua twice with savage combinations. Joshua survived the third but was on shaky legs throughout the fourth. He appeared to recover in the fifth, as the pace slowed down. Then came the seventh, and two more brutal knockdowns that sent Joshua careening to the canvas.
After the second knockdown, Joshua spit out his mouthguard. He stumbled to the corner, leaning against it. Referee Michael Griffin asked Joshua if he wanted to continue. Joshua said yes, but refused to move forward. Some context here: In the third round, Griffin cut Joshua some slack. He refused to move forward when Griffin told him to, giving Griffin license to stop the fight. But that was Joshua’s mulligan. With Joshua refusing to move out of the corner, Griffin waved off the fight.
Ruiz raced to the center of the ring, all 6'2", 268 pounds of him leaping in the air. His trainer, Manny Robles embraced him. His team engulfed him. The near capacity crowd—more than half Brits who made the trip overseas to support the hometown star—stood in stunned silence.
“I wanted to prove everybody wrong,” Ruiz said. “All the doubters, thinking I was going to lose in the third round, first round. I was looking at comments as well. But what do you know? I’m the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world.”
He is, and let’s start there. If Ruiz was underestimated, there was reason. He was a late replacement, officially signing on for the fight a month ago. He was coming off a solid win over Alexander Dimitrenko, but was three fights removed from losing his first title attempt against Joseph Parker—the same Parker that Joshua handled with ease last year. He isn’t known for concussive power and had never been tested by anyone with anything close to Joshua’s pop.
But then, you remember: Ruiz was once a rising prospect, a fighter signed to Top Rank’s stable early and held in high regard. Conditioning and what Top Rank perceived as a lack of effort in training caused them to cut him loose, when Al Haymon picked him up. He won three in a row after the Parker fight—a fight, he says, he trained himself for—walking down the 6'7", 259-pound Dimitrenko in his last fight, a blueprint for how he would face Joshua. His power is amplified by his handspeed, and his ability to throw punches from a variety of angles.
You remember that boxing isn’t a bodybuilding contest, and for nearly seven rounds Ruiz looked like the better conditioned fighter.
“The better man won,” Joshua said. “Respect to Andy. I never underestimated him or anyone. When people box me they box 15-20% better. These guys are coming to win, he was the better man for the job. This is my own fault. I got caught on the top of the head but didn't recover in time.”
Any Joshua career eulogies—Deontay Wilder, who seems to be making a full WWE-style heel turn of late, later tweeted that Joshua’s career consisted of “lies, contradictions and gifts,” a bizarre claim from Wilder, a fighter with a significantly weaker résumé than Joshua’s—are premature. Joshua was defeated, but there is a rematch clause in his contract. Joshua told me in the ring he “100%” will exercise it, and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, said the rematch will take place in the UK before the end of the year. Losses are grossly overblown in boxing, a sport where some of the all-time greats suffered several defeats.
But Joshua does need to change. He is 6'6" but fights like a man six inches shorter. He couldn’t keep Ruiz off of him with a jab, because he has never developed an effective one. He has a reputation as a composed and ferocious finisher, but when Ruiz wouldn’t give in, Joshua didn’t know what to do with him.
He must improve. His longtime trainer, Rob McCracken, has done an excellent job getting Joshua to this point, but if he can’t expand Joshua’s game, Joshua needs to bring someone in who will. In 2003, Wladimir Klitschko suffered a crushing knockout loss to Corrie Sanders, a similarly Dad-bod shaped contender with good speed and thudding power. Soon after, Klitschko teamed with Emanuel Steward, who taught Klitschko to fight behind a long, potent jab. A decade of dominance followed.
Anthony Joshua needs his Manny Steward.
The stakes will be high for the rematch. Win, and Joshua can resume his chase for the undisputed heavyweight championship, can keep hopes for a mega fight with Wilder alive. Lose again, and it could be unrecoverable. Andy Ruiz exposed the flaws in Joshua and there is no reason to believe Ruiz won’t bring the same kind of pressure again. This version of Joshua can’t beat Andy Ruiz. He will have to become something different.
Chris Mannix is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and on-air analyst for DAZN.