Anthony Joshua faces the biggest test of his boxing career on Saturday as he attempts to reclaim his world heavyweight crown from Andy Ruiz in a controversial rematch in Saudi Arabia.
Six months after suffering a shock knockout defeat to Ruiz at Madison Square Garden, Joshua will climb back into the ring with Ruiz seeking to win back the IBF, WBA, and WBO titles.
A leaner, meaner Joshua told reporters this week he is “hungry, determined and focused” for a bout that is expected to get under way at around midnight local time (2100 GMT Saturday).
The stakes could not be higher for Joshua, who would face a long road back to the pinnacle of the heavyweight division if he loses a fight being hyped as “Clash on the Dunes.”
Victory, by contrast, would re-establish his credentials in the division, opening the door to money-spinning fights against WBC champion Deontay Wilder or fellow Briton Tyson Fury.
“I am not here to put on a show, I am here to win,” Joshua (22-1, 21 knockouts) said.
Joshua has blamed a “lack of experience” for his defeat to Ruiz in June, when he was knocked down four times en route to a seventh-round stoppage.
For the rematch, the 6ft 6in (1.98m) Joshua has invested heavily in quality sparring partners, hiring boxers of similar stature to the 6ft Ruiz to prepare for the fast-handed Mexican-American.
“We had to bring in hard, rough sparring partners,” Joshua said. “I brought in the toughest and roughest.”
Joshua is also believed to have shed considerable bodyweight for the fight.
In June, Joshua weighed in at 247.8 pounds (112.4 kg) but has said this week he expects to tip the scales significantly lighter, having cut muscle bulk in order to improve his mobility around the ring.
“I may be less than 17 stone (238 pounds),” Joshua said of his expected weight.
“Before I was trying to bench press a house. I used my body to get where I needed but then I started realising the sweet science of the sport,” he said. “I am punching like a horse kicking backwards right now.”
Ruiz, whose slick, swarming combinations rocked Joshua in their first meeting, says he is ready for the Briton’s likely change of tactics.
“I know (Joshua) is going to come with a different game plan, I know he’s prepared and I know he’s motivated,” said Ruiz (33-1, 22 knockouts).
“I know he’s lost weight and will try to box me around, but it’s just my job to prevent that. I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”
Win or lose, Saturday’s eagerly anticipated heavyweight battle could signal the dawn of a new era for boxing.
The rematch will be taking place in a purpose built 15,000-seat arena in Diriyah on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia secured the staging rights to the rematch after reportedly offering an astronomical purse to promoters and fighters.
Joshua’s take is reported to be around $60 million while promoters Matchroom Boxing were handed an eye-popping $40 million site fee to award the fight to Saudi Arabia.
Ruiz, who was locked into a rematch at a set figure as a condition of his first meeting with Joshua, is expected to receive $9 million.
Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn believes Saudi Arabia has the potential to rival Las Vegas as a venue for boxing’s biggest fights.
“Every boxer and every manager wants to fight here,” Hearn told The Guardian newspaper.
“(Manny) Pacquiao and Canelo (Alvarez) are coming. The talk is (Floyd) Mayweather is too. They want a piece of the action.
“The plan is to make Saudi Arabia the home of mega boxing. All due respect to Las Vegas, but this place has the ability to bring any fight they want here.”
Yet the decision to stage the fight in Saudi Arabia has left the event mired in controversy.
The Saudis faced intense diplomatic fallout over last year’s murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the conservative kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has also mounted a sweeping crackdown on dissent which has seen dozens of women activists, journalists and political dissidents jailed during the past two years.
Activists accuse Saudi rulers of using glitzy concerts and sporting extravaganzas as a tool to try and soften their international image, so-called “sportswashing.”
Promoter Hearn has shrugged off the criticism however, insisting that “no-one has the right to tell a fighter how and where they can earn their money.”
Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20 – World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.
“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.
“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”
With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.
There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.
There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.
That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.
South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.
“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.
Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?
Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.
England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.
Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.
Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.
The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.
Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.
South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.
Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.
“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.
But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.
While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.
The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.
First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.
But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.
Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19
Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections
Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.
Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.
The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.
Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.
Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.
Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.
More to follow