Anthony Joshua goes the distance to win world titles back from Andy Ruiz Jr

The British fighter won unanimously on points after a much-improved performance to regain his WBO, IBF, IBO and WBA heavyweight titles

On a night when a storm raged across the Saudi Arabian desert, Anthony Joshua becalmed the Mexican tempest in front of him to make history and a whole lot of money by regaining his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles.

But after his wide points victory over Andy Ruiz Jr, Joshua risked more controversy after being criticised by human rights groups last week by using the word decapitate when talking to the US broadcaster DAZN in a post-fight press conference.

I know that my fans like to see me knock people out and I can do that but sometimes with certain fighters you have to box smarter, said Joshua. I understand what Andy brought to the table so I had to decapitate him in a different way.

The fight itself was far from a classic. But Joshuas cute transformation from gunslinger to boxer was effective enough to befuddle and neutralise Ruiz. Two judges had it 118-110, which felt about right, with a third scoring it 119-109.

It means that Joshua becomes only the fourth man in the 127-year history of the world heavyweight title to successfully regain their title in a direct rematch, from the 10 fighters who attempted it: Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis are the others. That is the company the Briton now keeps although he will have to kick on smartly to get anywhere near Ali and Lewis in the pantheon.

I can box, I can really box but I like to fight, Joshua said afterwards. Im a warrior at heart. When you are used to knocking a man out, sometimes it may happen to you. I knew I would correct my wrongs, Im a man who learns from his mistakes.

He certainly did. When Ruiz ripped the belts from Joshuas grasp in New York in June he disrupted one of boxings most indomitable laws that a good big fighter usually beats a good smaller one by stopping Joshua in seven. This time around the natural order reasserted itself as the Briton used an eight-inch reach advantage and better side-to-side movement to keep his opponent off balance.

Man the first time was so nice, I had to do it twice! added Joshua. A man like me makes no excuses, this is about boxing, Im used to knocking guys out. I got caught last time, no excuses, I gave him the credit. I respect Andy and his trainer so much, I wanted to show the sweet science of this lovely sport.

It was hard to dispute any of that. But he was certainly helped by Ruiz, his belly sagging over his shorts, being every bit as ponderous as his 20st weight had advertised. As the final bell rang, he beat his chest angrily and said fight me. But deep down he knew he had been outfoxed and out-prepared.

As the Mexican-American admitted afterwards: I dont think I prepared as good as I should have. The three months of partying affected me. I should have trained harder. I gained too much weight and I wasnt able to throw my combinations.

But I dont want to give no excuses. I believe I hurt him a few times but he was boxing his life out. He won, he boxed me around but if we do the third, [you] best believe I will come in the best fucking shape of my life.

When asked why he didnt train harder, Ruiz admitted: There was a lot on my plate. Food, no doubt.

Anthony Joshua was disciplined throughout and restricted Andy Ruiz Jrs opportunities to break through his defence. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

For much of the night the skies above Diriyah, on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh, were soot black as rain soaked the 15,000 spectators to the bone. The city usually gets less than 10cm of rainfall a year. Much of it seemed to come in one sustained burst.

At one point, as the wind whipped around the open air arena and wobbled the giant screens above the ring, there were even some concerns that the fight might be in jeopardy. Fortunately the threat of electrical storms had dissipated by the time Joshua and Ruiz faced off, just after midnight here.

Both men had shown plenty of respect for each other in the protracted buildup and the fight started cautiously, with Ruiz stalking his prey and the Briton on the back foot. But shortly before the end of the opening round a nasty right hand from Joshua suddenly bloodied his opponent above his left eye.

The old Joshua might have scented blood and immediately gone for the kill. This time, however, he had clearly loosened his addiction to chaos. Instead he was content to dance on the outside and allow his jab attempt to dominate although he did pick up a small cut himself over his right eye at the end of the second round.

The pattern had been set. The Briton kept jabbing and moving from side to side. In truth it sometimes looked mechanical, like someone dancing in public for the first time, but with Ruiz so slow it kept working.

Joshua usually prepares for a fight by spending hours each week pumping iron, developing a body with muscles that could turn heads on Venice beach. This time he came in at under 17st his lightest weight for five years in a bid to counter Ruizs speed.

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Sometimes, though there was a sense that the Briton was allowing Ruizs roughhouse tactics to get to him and that he wanted to trade too much. In the eighth he paid the price as the Mexican-American landed with a good left hook followed by a right hand. But it was Ruiz, with his granite chin, who was still taking more big punches as the fight went into the championship rounds.

The crowd, who had paid between 105 and 10,000 for tickets, certainly enjoyed it. And so, clearly, did Joshua. Earlier in the week he had been warned that he was being duped by a Saudi regime that was sportswashing its reputation. He will continue to face criticism from human rights groups. But with so much in the bank, and with three world titles back around his waist, he will hardly care.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/dec/07/anthony-joshua-goes-distance-win-world-titles-andy-ruiz-jr-points-unanimous-decision-boxing

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