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Saturday, 07 December 2019 09:10

Ruiz Jr vs Joshua 2: Anthony Joshua's chance looms to exorcise the ghost of Andy Ruiz Jr

Anthony Joshua must face his demons; he will have to take a punch, throw back without hesitation and he might even have to climb off the floor to reclaim the gold and the glory that he maintains is "rightfully his".

This was never part of the AJ masterplan but here we are, the first world heavyweight championship fight in the Middle East is just hours away, with Joshua reduced to challenger against the only man to have beaten him, Andy Ruiz Jr. It is Joshua's aura and how he will be remembered that is truly at stake in this compelling examination of boxing's poster boy.

 We have heard the conspiracies and debated the reasons for Joshua's awful night in midtown Manhattan but these are the hours of peace, before the fight breaks out, where both men are tortured by their own thoughts.

Quietly, a new Joshua has emerged after weeks of sleepless nights and soul searching. This is not the over-confident champion who let his challenger touch the belts at a pre-fight meeting last time, before Ruiz Jr picked his pocket and went home with those prizes.

The man that steps into the ring tonight, at 8.45pm live on Sky Sports Box Office, is a totally different individual to the one who crashed to the canvas four times in the first fight. Outwardly he is slimmer and less polished, not fussed by his scruffy hair or unshaven beard, while inwardly there is obvious intensity that was absent last time.

He is the result of a revamped training camp featuring a crop of "championship-level sparring partners" that mimicked Ruiz Jr's dimensions and skills, and two new pad-men who helped hone new punching routines. The focus has been finesse not fitness. It is, essentially, a complete 180 from his preparation to face Ruiz Jr the first time. He is lighter than any of his previous world title fights which "can be detrimental", according by Dillian Whyte.

The way to avenge his shocking defeat to Ruiz Jr six months ago is simple, depending upon who you ask.

Joshua has to be careful and stick to his jab, or he must bully and overpower Ruiz Jr. The changes in his preparation are either a masterstroke or a sign of instability.

The truth is, nobody truly knows.

This version of Joshua must be rock-solid in his own beliefs of how to win the rematch of a fight that has given him nightmares since that awful night on his US debut. There cannot be any deviation from whatever plan was hatched, there must be no emotion inside those ropes, Joshua needs to be cold and calculating.

The battle is two-fold, mental and physical - Joshua must address the ghosts of the first fight, and also needs to trust in his technique.

 For three rounds Ruiz Jr will be a wrecking ball, picking up straight from where he left off. The big clues to watch out for: how does Joshua react to being clipped? Can he quickly knock some of the bravery out of Ruiz Jr?

Before then, it will be fascinating to watch the ring-walk for clues of Joshua's mood - six months ago, his entrance left clues as to what was coming. The advice after the first round from Rob McCracken, the trainer that Joshua staunchly defended, is a subplot worth following.

Both fighters have visited the Diriyah Arena, the 15,000-seat purpose-built facility that was constructed within two months and will be deconstructed and vanish back into the desert much quicker. They have visualised, they know history is at their fingertips.

At its core this is a fight where Joshua and Ruiz Jr could both hit the deck, blood will spill, composure will surely be overtaken by heart and guts. The world heavyweight championship and, more importantly, Joshua's legacy are on a knife-edge.



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