“The 1st Time Was So Nice, I Had to Do it Twice!”: Anthony Joshua at Clash on the Dunes

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Anthony Joshua emerged triumphant and reclaimed his three world titles in style with a unanimous points decision against Andy Ruiz Jr in the Saudi Arabian desert on Saturday evening, just six months after Ruiz shocked the boxing world by knocking the champion down four times at Madison Square Garden.

AJ looked tense in his understated ring walk, coming in at his lightest weight of 16st 13lb. Ruiz, on the other hand, seemed full of confidence, lapping up the limelight and atmosphere in the packed stadium. Stomach in knots, I sat through the never-ending national anthems (where is Simon Cowell when you need him?!); so strange to see AJ in the red opponents corner…

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I needn’t have worried – AJ and his team had done their homework this time. From the first bell it was a boxing masterclass, Joshua dancing rings around Ruiz and jabbing cleanly with the left, drawing blood above Ruiz’s left eye at the end of the first round. Despite suffering a cut himself from a clash of heads in the second, it was like a perfectly executed game of chess with AJ moving with such grace and lightness, never allowing Ruiz to come in close where he is at his most dangerous with those fast hands. It was only in the fourth round that he got close to Joshua with a flurry of quick jabs, but the former champion recovered his composure quickly and settled back into his game-plan, winning round after round until the eighth when Ruiz caught Joshua with a decent hook. Once again we were reminded of the potential danger of the Mexican champion, despite his lethargy with the extra weight he was carrying.

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With AJ fans chanting to the Seven Nation Army tune, the former champion never faltered with his well-timed jabs to the head and body whilst keeping Ruiz at arm’s length until the end of the final round. Humble and respectful as always at the final bell, AJ knew the IBF, WBA and WBO titles were coming back home. When the great Michael Buffer announced the unanimous scorecards of 118-110, 118-110 and 119-109, the crowd went wild as AJ jumped up and down in celebration. I must admit to going a tad mental at home too…..

He now joins a small group of tremendous heavyweights including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis to have reclaimed his world title. Or, as he said, “the first time was so nice, I had to do it twice!” We are only now aware that AJ had a long-term health issue before that shock defeat in June that required later surgery. So refreshing to see a sportsperson who doesn’t hide behind excuses in defeat. AJ, you are my hero – bring on Deontay Wilder and let’s unify this division!

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