How Anthony Joshua Can Learn From Lennox Lewis In A Bid To Bounce Back From His Shock Defeat To Andy Ruiz Jr
The heavyweight division was blown wide open when 14-1 underdog Andy Ruiz Jr stopped the previously unbeaten Antony Joshua to claim the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world titles, in what many are describing as one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing history.
Whether we can compare the magnitude of this upset to that of Mike Tyson’s shock loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo nearly 30 years ago is another debate but what we can say is that many great heavyweights have been beaten in what were considered routine wins against so-called “lesser opponents” and bounced back.
Tyson would go on to win world titles again following his infamous shock in Japan, Wladimir Klitschko had to bounce back three times from defeats to Ross Purrity in 1998, Corrie Sanders in 2003 and Lamon Brewster in 2004, whilst his big brother Vitali had to do similar in 2000 when he retired against Chris Byrd in Germany.
Any of these examples should be enough to fuel AJ’s desire to come back stronger but it’s the example set by another Brit, Lennox Lewis, he should follow as he begins the long road to recovery.
Lennox was the last great heavyweight born on these shores and as the last boxer in the sport’s marquee division to hold the undisputed title - his shadow still looms large over the current crop of British heavyweights.
It wasn’t plain sailing for the man born in West Ham and he too had his fair share of setbacks in the ring. His first came in the fourth defence of his WBC crown in 1994 when he squared off with the talented Oliver McCall at Wembley.
‘The Lion’, a 5-1 favourite, was stunned by a crushing right in the second round of their bout and, despite getting up at the count of six, referee José Guadalupe Garcia was forced to put an end to the fight when Lewis stumbled into his arms, seemingly unable to regain his balance.
Lewis was unsurprisingly distraught at the early stoppage and protested that the fight was stopped too soon but it made little difference, his WBC title was now on a direct flight back to the States.
A change-up was needed and after firing his coach Pepe Correa, Lewis turned to Emanuel Steward, legendary trainer, the mastermind of McCall’s win over Lennox and the man behind the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit.
Under Steward’s tutelage, Lennox Lewis came back stronger than ever and would win 13 of his next 14 fights - a hugely controversial draw with Evander Holyfield at Madison Square Gardens, the only blip.
By the end of that run of fights, Lewis had regained his WBC crown, avenged his defeat to McCall and added the IBF to his collection too.
Lewis was the number one heavyweight in the world but unfortunately, boxing is the cruellest of all sports and a trip to South Africa would provide the British-Canadian with one more set-back in the form of Hasim Rahman.
Rahman’s win over Lewis is as much a part of boxing folklore now as Buster Douglas’ triumph over ‘The Baddest Man On The Planet’ in 1990.
Lennox Lewis was the 20/1 favourite against Rahman in a fight dubbed the ‘Thunder In Africa’, so when Rahman unleashed a right cross that caught Lewis on the jaw and sent him sprawling to the canvas, the boxing world went into raptures.
It was complacency that beat Lennox on the night. While Rahman had been in South Africa for about a month to prepare for his title shot and adapt to the high altitude, Lewis was taking time off to film the remake of "Ocean's Eleven" in Las Vegas.
Lewis immediately sought out a rematch with Rahman but with his former foe now promoted by the one and only Don King, he was much harder to get back into the ring than he’d hoped. It would take a court case before Rahman and King were forced to honour the rematch clause in his contract.
Once again, Lewis came back better than ever in a rematch and he battered and outclassed Rahman for four rounds before bringing an end to proceedings with a monstrous right hand.
Lewis would fight just two more times, recording wins over both Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko, before hanging up his gloves for good. With everything all said and done, Lewis had recovered from two devastating losses, avenged both, beaten everyone he’d ever faced and retired the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.
If Joshua needs any motivation when it comes picking yourself off the canvas and coming back stronger than ever, Lewis wrote the blueprint on how to do it.
As for what AJ’s next move is, it’s pretty much in the air and for the first time in his professional career, the ball isn’t in his court. Should Ruiz Jr take up the rematch clause then the IBF and potentially WBO could plausibly strip him of their belts with mandatories taking precedence over any rematch.
Should the IBF request Ruiz fights their mandatory it would be Kubrat Pulev, whilst the WBO could look to organise a title defence against their number one contender, Dillian Whyte, in September.
If Ruiz decides to fulfil his mandatory obligations then we’re unlikely to see an AJ rematch in 2019 and even if the two do meet again, there’s no certainty Ruiz will still hold all, if any, of the belts.
It’s a long, muddled road to recovery for Joshua but he has lost before, in the amateurs, and each time he came back a different beast - it remains to be seen if this is the case as a professional but if he can channel his inner-Lennox, we could one day see Anthony Joshua rise to the top of the heavyweights again.