Andy Ruiz, Jr. knocked out IBF, WBA & WBO title holder Anthony Joshua in a stunning upset Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The loss ends Joshua’s reign as an undefeated champion and the hope of a unification bout with Deontay Wilder in 2020, but little else. Former HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg explained that heavyweight boxing is unpredictable – even the great ones (think: Ali, Louis) have been knocked out – and “careers are defined by the comeback. A.J. will have the chance to comeback bigger than he was and become a champion again.”
Howie Long-Short: Saturday night’s historic result is definitive proof that a single punch (occurred in 3rd round) can alter the best of plans. Even with the loss, DAZN’s decision to build their fight sports lineup around A.J. was the right one. The English boxer was already a mega-star in the U.K. (selling out 90,000 seat venues) and at the age of 29, in the prime of his career. The 3-fight deal (one remains) guaranteed the upstart streaming service tent pole cards for their U.S. expansion, credibility with other fighters and a compelling reason for fans to sign-up – the annual price point is less than a pair of PPV events (and Joshua fights 2x/year).
On the surface, Ruiz’s 7th round stoppage of Joshua would appear to be a crushing blow to both DAZN and Matchroom Boxing (his promotion), but a single defeat doesn’t destroy a fighter’s value – Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield, Pacquiao and McGregor all earned record paydays with blemishes on their record – and the shocking result has given the upstart platform significantly more domestic exposure than they would have received had A.J. disposed of Ruiz in an orderly fashion as anticipated.
Joshua’s loss also gives DAZN/Matchroom a big date for the fall calendar. Boxing fans south of the border are going to adopt Ruiz as a favorite son – he’s the first Mexican heavyweight champion – and the heavyweight division usually “works its way into ratings or in this case subscription buys”, so the rematch should prove to be fruitful.
That doesn’t mean DAZN execs were celebrating on Sunday morning. Boxing is different than other sports in the sense that “a loss can not only derail a year, but a career.” Greenburg says there’s no reason for the streaming service to panic right now, but “a second loss [in the rematch] will hurt – losing the heavyweight champion would be a body blow” (assumes if he wins, he re-signs).
A.J. banked upwards of $25 million for the Ruiz fight, so it’s tough to say the night was a total wash, but the June 1st showdown was supposed to be little more than a “brand-building exercise” to introduce the U.K. champion to the U.S. boxing fan and while the fight made headlines, it failed to serve as the showcase needed to force the Wilder fight. In fact, Greenburg doesn’t even believe U.S. fans would buy a Joshua-Wilder showdown “unless he comes back and destroys Ruiz – he has to win that fight.”
Even if Joshua had won, a fight with Wilder remained in the distance. The WBC champion is scheduled to fight Luis Ortiz next and announced – within hours of A.J.’s North American debut – a 2020 rematch with Tyson Fury (though I’m not convinced that fight is a done deal, it has been suggested Wilder’s camp may have floated the story to upstage the Joshua fight); there is also a bout scheduled with fellow PBC heavyweight Adam Kownacki. Then of course, there are network relationships that prevent fights from being made. Stephen Espinoza needs to retain Showtime’s relationship with Wilder and Haymon, while the same goes for DAZN with Joshua and Eddie Hearn. It’s a very difficult fight to negotiate regardless of how they split the money.
Fan Marino: Haymon has a potential “golden goose” on his hands with a Mexican heavyweight champion, but Greenburg warns “just because you knock out a star, doesn’t mean you’ll become one. There have been many flashes in the plan – guys like Oliver McCall and Buster Douglas – who failed to make a dent once they held the title. Now, if he beats Joshua a 2nd time and he loses a bit of weight he’ll begin to achieve that star power.”
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