Six months ago, Andy Ruiz Jr. authored one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history by knocking out Anthony Joshua.
As a substitute opponent on a month's notice for Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, who had been booted from the fight for failing four random drug tests, Ruiz was given virtually no chance by anybody to upset three-belt world titleholder Joshua, one of boxing's biggest stars, when they met on June 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York for Joshua's heavily hyped U.S. debut.
Early on it looked as if Joshua would take out Ruiz easily when he floored him in the third round. But Ruiz survived, dropped Joshua twice later in a candidate for round of the year and scored two more knockdowns in the seventh round for a shocking knockout victory to become the first fighter of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight world title.
Ruiz's victory immediately moved alongside of such memorable heavyweight title upsets as Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, and Hasim Rahman drilling Lennox Lewis in their first fight.
Joshua, who had made six successful defenses before facing Ruiz, quickly exercised his contractual right to a rematch, and the sequel goes down Saturday (DAZN, noon ET, with the main event at about 3:45 p.m. ET) in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
Can Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), 30, of Imperial, California, who is again the underdog, pull another upset and convince people that his first victory was no fluke? Can Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs), 30, turn the tables and regain the belts the way his British countryman Lewis did in 2001 in his immediate rematch with Rahman?
This is your Ringside Seat for one of the year's biggest fights:
Joshua was widely considered the No. 1 heavyweight in the world when he first faced Ruiz. But given what happened in June and how definitively Ruiz won, many have questioned Joshua's chin and whether he will be able to mentally handle the pressure of the rematch.
Others might argue that he simply took Ruiz for granted, and because Joshua suffered a concussion in the third round, the fact that he could keep going into the seventh before the fight was finally waved off with him on his feet illustrates an enormous heart -- even though some have said that he quit.
Joshua did not resort to pressure from some to fire career-long head trainer Robert McCracken. Instead, Joshua took the loss like a man, didn't complain or make excuses.
"It's what I done to myself, not what he done to me," Joshua said. "I'm back to that young killer mindset inside me. He's done me more good than he's done me bad."
Joshua reasoned that he was perhaps one punch away from ending the fight in the third round.
"I was 50% of the way there and I got caught," he said. "This time I have to walk the fire with a bit more grace, more caution. I can't get carried away. I have to be careful and make sure I am victorious.
"I can believe the man took so long to get me out of there. If I concussed a fighter, he ain't lasting 'til Round 7. I was fully concussed."
Joshua also refused to say he overlooked Ruiz.
"I give the man his credit. I just got beat," he said. "I just needed to make some changes and I've made them. I'm in a good place and I'm definitely ready. I know where I went wrong and I know I'll regain the heavyweight championship of the world. After I beat him, I will tell you personally [what changes were made]. I lost because I got beaten by the better man and I have to give the man credit. But I know where I went wrong."
Joshua told ESPN his prediction is that he will knock Ruiz out in the ninth or 10th round.
"Apparently I'm fighting the quickest hands and the best fighter in the division. So once I beat him I want everybody to bow to me," Joshua said. "We've had plenty of time to prepare for the rematch. I'm in for a tough fight, but I don't have any fear of Andy. I'm not gun-shy, I'm ready to swing and trade."
For the June fight, the 6-foot-6 Joshua weighed a rock-solid 247¾ pounds. For the rematch he slimmed down to a still-ripped 237 pounds but appeared a little less muscular because he said he spent more of his camp -- upon advice of former heavyweight champion, friend and former rival Wladimir Klitschko -- on boxing drills and sparring than on running and rowing.
Ruiz is another matter. Generously listed at 6-2, he was 268 pounds, the heaviest he had been for a fight since an eight-rounder in 2014 (272¾ against Kenny Lemos). Ruiz calls himself a "chubby kid," and many looked at his soft body and figured there was no way could he could beat somebody built like Adonis. But despite Ruiz's physique he's a very good fighter. He has stamina, two of the quickest hands in the division and underrated power.
When he and trainer Manny Robles began training for the rematch, they discussed Ruiz's weight. Initially, Robles wanted him to be a bit lighter, in the mid-250s.
"I want to be strong. I don't want to worry about the weight," Ruiz said.
Ultimately they decided to let Ruiz be Ruiz and plan for him to again be around 268. It worked the first time, after all.
"We had to figure out where he felt best -- 255, 260? Where can I get Andy Ruiz to feel at his best and perform at his best," Robles said. "We decided to stick at this weight, what he is walking around at and where he feels strong. He's still quick as he's ever been -- his footwork, his upper-body movement. I don't think the weight has anything to do with it. We got him to drop a bit of weight, but he wasn't feeling good or strong."
Robles' plan to have him weigh 268 again, at which he said Ruiz would be as late as Thursday, was blown out of the water at Friday's weigh-in, where Ruiz was a staggering 283.7 pounds, though wearing clothes and a sombrero. It was the heaviest of his 10-year career since he was in the mid-290s for his first two professional fights.
No heavyweight has ever entered a title defense heavier except for the 7-foot Nikolay Valuev, who was at least 310¾ pounds for each of the defenses he made over two reigns in the 2000s.
Robles brushed off the public body shaming of Ruiz.
"Let's face it: It doesn't matter how much weight he drops, he will never look like Anthony Joshua," Robles said. "It doesn't mean he's not in good shape. Andy's in great shape, physically and mentally."
Is Ruiz for real?
Robles has heard comparisons made between Ruiz and one-hit wonder Douglas.
"Andy's definitely not another Buster Douglas. Andy is in shape, you will see that," said Robles, alluding to the fact that Douglas was grossly out of shape when he lost the title to Evander Holyfield in his first defense. "We have to be real and understand that Anthony Joshua also wants to win this fight. He's also in great shape and wants to recover what he once had. We will do our best to win the fight, but we got the guy on the other side who wants to win. I believe in my boxer."
Ruiz admitted he had a long victory celebration. He made media appearances, visited the president of Mexico and enjoyed the millions he earned by buying a mansion, fancy cars and an assortment of jewelry.
Once he got into a three-month camp, the fighter and trainer said he was as dedicated as he could be.
"He stayed grounded and focused, still hungry," Robles said. "We've worked extremely hard for this fight. He's got to fight the fight of his life to make sure he keeps those belts. It's gonna be a huge challenge and it's gonna be a lot of fun."
Ruiz says he is motivated by all the doubters.
"Of course I have that motivation, because everybody is still doubting me to this day," Ruiz said. "And probably if I win they're still probably going to be doubting me. But I think that's what gives me that hunger to prove everybody wrong.
"I think the pressure is more on him. All the cameras are on him on how he's gonna come back, how he is mentally. So I think there's just too many things that they're talking about him and he's too worried about what other people are saying."
Robles said they worked on inside fighting, which Ruiz is already very good at, defense, footwork and giving Joshua angles.
Ruiz picked apart Joshua's game. He said Joshua can't fight backing up and had a hard time dealing with his pressure and hand speed. In his camp, Ruiz said he worked on "being small and working the body and throwing combinations. I think it's gonna be hard for him shooting down low. I think that will give me the advantage.
"He's still a dangerous fighter, an ex-champion, As long as I stick to my game plan, do what I got to do and have fun out there, I think we're gonna win."
The fight is where?
Initially, the rematch was going to be back at Madison Square Garden or at the 80,000-seat Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, which Joshua has filled twice.
But a company with massive backing from the government of Saudi Arabia offered tens of millions of dollars to Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and Joshua to bring the fight there. They took the money, despite extensive criticism for doing business with a government with a long record of human rights violations and oppression of women and minorities.
"We were very close to going to Cardiff, and very close to taking this rematch back to Madison Square Garden in New York. We even looked at Mexico," Hearn said. "I had finally made the decision to keep the fight in the U.K., but then I got the call from Saudi. I told them not to waste their time because we were taking the fight to Cardiff. But the passion they had to bring this fight to Saudi Arabia was unmatched, and within four or five days we have an agreement to stage this fight here. Sometimes there was shock and criticism, but this was an absolutely wonderful decision."
So the first heavyweight world title bout to take place in the Middle East -- dubbed "Clash on the Dunes" -- will happen in Saudi Arabia in the city of Diriyah, located on the outskirts of the capital city, Riyadh. The fight will be held at a temporary 15,000-seat open-air stadium built just for the fight in a little less than two months. Construction began on Oct. 7 and required nearly 300 tons of steel and a crew of about 175 that this week has been putting the finishing touches on the stadium, which will take about a month to take down.
"It's amazing, man. It's crazy how they built everything in a month and a half," Ruiz said. "It's amazing to be fighting over here. It's going to be really historic, and I'm planning to make history over here. It's a lot different. When I first got here [for a news conference in early September] none of this was here, so it's unbelievable."
Rafael's prediction: This is a huge rematch and there is huge pressure on Joshua after what happened in June. But I think he overlooked the late replacement Ruiz and paid the price. No way he does that this time. I think Joshua is a better athlete, a better puncher and he's bigger. Ruiz might have been a little distracted given all the hoopla over his victory. I think Joshua will be as prepared as he can possibly be and will get the job done by late knockout.