Anthony Joshua will “draw on the history” of iconic venue Madison Square Garden, which has staged some of the biggest fights in history, to produce an inspirational start to his Stateside sojourn in defence of his three world heavyweight title belts against Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jnr on Saturday.
Among the great nights here were fights involving British exports Ken Buchanan, Lennox Lewis, Naseem Hamed and Joe Calzaghe. None of it is lost on Joshua, who last fought abroad in 2012, in Hungary, having made stadiums in London and Cardiff his fortresses in his rise and reign as a champion. Now it is time to break a new market.
Joshua admitted after a red carpet affair in a Manhattan loft on Monday that his United States bow, underwritten by digital broadcasters DAZN, has “big deal” writ large given his debut appearance at the venue where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had the first meeting of their trilogy, in 1971. But the Briton lives for this kind of pressure.
“It’s a good venue. I want to draw on the history. When I went to watch the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez fight [in December 2018, against Liverpudlian Rocky Fielding], it’s so loud in there,” said the undefeated holder of the IBF, WBA and WBO titles. “There’s not a bad seat in the house and this is the moment to post my name through the letter box alongside all those great singers, entertainers and fighters who have performed there. It’s a really good feeling.”
On the huge screens outside The Garden, here in the city, two enormous neon billboards display Joshua modelling suits by Hugo Boss. The endorsements will grow if Joshua can conquer the crowded United States market. The big man, 22 fights into his career, and undeterred by the prospect of facing a late replacement in Ruiz, has soaked up the mood thus far, with trainer Rob McCracken explaining to Telegraph Sport yesterday that “walking the city is easy, because AJ doesn’t get stopped on every street corner like he does in the UK”. That, indeed, means a different kind of fight week build-up, and Joshua is visibly refreshed by that.
“I want a knockout, heavyweight boxing is about knockouts,” Joshua said. “I always want to do that for the fans, but the bottom line is to get a win, however it comes.”
The truth is that to make a major impact, to set pulses racing, nothing less than a knockout here will suffice. It will also follow hard on the heels of the brutal right-hand knockout his greatest rival Deontay Wilder, the WBC champion, inflicted in Brooklyn last weekend against fellow American Dominic Breazeale. These things do count.
“Yeah, I will use the energy that The Garden has. I’ve got to prove myself in America because I don’t think they will come out and accept you easily,” added Joshua. “If you want to be respected out here, you’ve got be the real deal.
“They’ve had the best champions flying their flag, so I’ve got to stamp my name in the American books. But I get a really good reception. They embrace the English, that’s for sure.”
So to Ruiz, who revealed in an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport that destiny is calling him to become the first Mexican heavyweight to claim a world title.
Ruiz has lost just once in 33 fights, in a bid to win the WBO heavyweight crown against Joseph Parker. Joshua is not foolish enough to lack respect for the challenger. “Anyone who fights me will be 20 per cent better than we’ve seen before, so I’ll expect the best Ruiz,” said the 29-year-old from Watford. “He has a very good punch selection, doesn’t waste shots, or energy. I haven’t seen him get tired in a fight yet either, and has a one-track mind when he’s fighting, to pick that shot which will do some damage. He’s still a bit unknown because he didn’t get the win over Parker, so he’s still a challenger.”
Clearly, Joshua has not joined in the critique of the Ruiz physique, which is ample. “People are just going by his look. Put a six-pack on Ruiz and some pecks, then they’ll say he’s OK, he’s a future world champion. That’s how it goes. You could put 15 body builders in there, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be champions. It’s not about aesthetics. It’s what’s inside you that matters.
“He has the mentality and the heart. Ruiz works hard, he’s dedicated, he’s had 30-odd fights. He’s done it time and time again and this is his chance to prove to the world he’s a force to be reckoned with.”
Spot on, and on Saturday night, that is the attitude Joshua must channel to the finish. A New York state of mind.