NEW YORK (AP) — On his way to his debut at Madison Square Garden, heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has hit a detour. His planned opponent failed several drug tests.
Unfazed by the switch from Jarrrell Miller to Andy Ruiz Jr., Joshua strode into an empty Garden on Monday and was right at home.
The holder of four heavyweight belts will face Ruiz on June 1 in Joshua’s first U.S. appearance. The fight is more about his making a mark in this country than his opponent. Miller had a penchant for mouthing off, his 23-0-1 record built against boxers with little to no chance of entering the ring for a title bout. Replacement Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs) has a slightly better resume and even a championship bout on it: Ruiz’s only loss was to then-WBO champ Joseph Parker in 2016.
“I wanted to beat down Miller, beat him down badly,” Joshua said, recalling some seriously off-color trash talking from the New Yorker who failed three drug tests. “Ruiz I want to beat down, but I have respect for him.”
Even more so, Joshua noted, is his respect for the arena that some call America’s boxing mecca.
“I know the history that has been here and the sports that have been here,” he said. “When I come in here to fight June 1, it will be very special.”
Joshua then joked with a colleague about making a name for himself in the United States. He laughed when told that New Yorkers on the street, even sports fans, rarely know of Joshua when asked.
So what will it take for Americans to become as accustomed to the undefeated Brit as they were to, say, Mike Tyson in his day?
“America is so vast,” Joshua said. “It’s beyond me in my wildest dreams. Maybe to get on YouTube and to go viral?
“Back in the day, the heavyweight champion was a global icon. Everybody knew who it was and where (he was from). Now, there are so many ‘superstars,’ and it’s harder to penetrate that.”
Knocking out Ruiz couldn’t hurt. Joshua has won all 22 bouts, 21 by knockout. He’s held at least one title since 2016, and the only belt not in his collection belongs to Alabaman Deontay Wilder — who also isn’t celebrated nearly the way a Tyson was during his reign.
Joshua-Wilder could be on the radar, even though Joshua has a contract with DAZN, the streaming service that will broadcast the Ruiz fight, while Wilder has steered clear of DAZN so far. Wilder puts his WBC crown on the line on May 18 against Dominic Breazeale in Brooklyn.
“I am ready for Wilder, I’ve been ready for Wilder,” Joshua said. “I’ve done a good job maintaining my place and he is the guy I want. He has a lot to live up to. I’ve got confidence flowing now. I am confident I will beat Ruiz and he is confident he will beat Breazeale. We can be confident in planning ahead.”
Joshua would want that fight to be late this year and back home, where he can sell out football stadiums. Ruiz might be the next step — and the first in the States — but Wilder would be the next leap.
“We have a five-to-10-year plan,” he said. “It’s not about being famous today but how I am regarded in the next five to 10 years. We’ll work hard with the platform we have to do positive things.”