If Anthony Joshua already needed to deliver an impressive performance on his American debut then that has been made all the more important by the replacement of his initial opponent, Jarrell Miller, with Andy Ruiz Jr.
Ruiz has had significantly less time to prepare so there can be no excuses for Joshua, who takes to Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday, just two weeks after fellow heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder dispatched Dominic Breazeale inside the first round.
It took Joshua seven rounds to knock out Breazeale, who has now suffered defeats at the hands of both current world champions, but a unification battle between two titans of the division continues to prove elusive.
Saturday night’s fight presents the Briton with an opportunity to raise his profile and value in the US market, and move a step closer to the clash with Wilder that fans around the globe are waiting to see.
But first he must win. Ruiz has a respectable record of 32-1, winning 21 by knockout, while his one defeat came in a battle for the vacant WBO belt against Joseph Parker in 2016, who would then lose that very belt to Joshua 15 months later.
The American has only fought three times since, against boxers some way off the current IBF, WBA and WBO champion’s level.
Just how ready he is to face Joshua will only be known when he steps into the ring this weekend, but Joshua has warned fans not to judge his opponent on his overweight appearance.
“It’s not about what you look like – it’s a craft, a skill,” he said. “What’s in your heart and head matters in the end. Andy has shown he has all that, he can fight and box. That’s what matters.”
Naturally, there is a desire from Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn to make something of this next-to-nothing fight.
It should add another notch to his winning record, and if all goes to plan will become his 22nd knockout in 23 fights. But more importantly it will help to increase his stock in America – a market he is yet to tap in to – and increase the pressure on Wilder to agree a deal.
Building his profile
Joshua’s relative lack of currency is part of the reason that a fight with Wilder is yet to happen.
While there is a huge appetite for the fight in the UK and other parts of the world, there remains a despondency among US fans toward the heavyweight division, and few boxing fans are likely to have watched Joshua‘s bouts.
The US has grown disillusioned with the sport over the last decade or two, with its appeal some way off the heyday of Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno, Lennox Lewis and George Foreman in the 1990s.
By growing Joshua’s profile and value, they can hope to attract more pay-per-view customers than if the fight had been agreed last year, with the Watford fighter now also signed up with over-the-top broadcaster DAZN in the US.
Hearn has admitted as much, saying: “AJ against Wilder last September might have done 300-400,000 buys in the States. Now it does over a million.”
Part of that is down to Wilder too, as he continues to put in knockout performances as well as an unforgettable – and somewhat controversial – draw with Tyson Fury in Los Angeles late last year.
The Alabaman’s 10th-round knockout victory over Luis Ortiz in March 2018 was another in which he came close to losing his belt before rallying to a win, and he has now confirmed a rematch with his fellow American for this autumn.
On announcing the Ortiz fight, Wilder said he wanted to deal with all his “controversial” fights. For Joshua, despite his wooing of American fight fans, that is likely to mean the wait for their meeting will rumble on into 2020.