Column: Heavyweights are suddenly fun once again

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

By TIM DAHLBERG

AP Sports Columnist

(AP) -- Just when things were starting to make sense in boxing and the heavyweight division was shaping up nicely, a fat guy with blazingly quick hands wiped away most of the preconceived notions of where it would all eventually lead.

Andy Ruiz Jr. didn't just upend heavyweight boxing. He threw it a body punch that left the division gasping for air.

Whether that is good news or bad for boxing depends on where you live and how it plays out. If nothing else, though, Ruiz scored one for the ordinary guy when he shocked Anthony Joshua and the rest of boxing with the fight of his life Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

He not only beat the man most considered the best heavyweight in the world, but he gave him a beating in the process. When it finally ended after a flurry of punches in the seventh round that had Joshua unable - or simply unwilling - to go on, there was a new world order among the big men in boxing.

Now the task is sorting it all out again.

On one side of the pond is a new heavyweight champion, with belts big enough to fit his portly frame. Ruiz is an American from the California border town of Imperial who claims Mexican heritage, and as the first Mexican heavyweight champion he can pretty much write his own ticket to fame and fortune.

Down in Alabama is Deontay Wilder, who holds one of the big belts himself. Wilder is coming off a first-round knockout of Dominic Breazeale last month and has not been shy about setting his own schedule no matter what competing promoters might want him to do.

There's Joshua, of course, who hadn't lost before being upset by Ruiz and is a national hero of sorts in England. Joshua has a tremendous following, and the odds are he will get a chance to regain his title at home in a November rematch with Ruiz.

And then there's Tyson Fury, who claims to be the lineal heavyweight champion and might be the most interesting of them all. The 6-foot-9 Brit suffered an emotional breakdown after beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and seemed to be out of boxing before fighting to a disputed draw last December with Wilder.

In a perfect world, both the Joshua-Ruiz and Wilder-Fury rematches would take place, with the winners fighting for the undisputed heavyweight title.

But this is boxing, and nothing is ever that simple.

It's a story as old as the sport, with competing promoters and broadcast outlets all battling it out for the millions of dollars the heavyweights generate. It's why Joshua was facing the unknown Ruiz instead of finding a way to fight Wilder in the bout boxing fans really wanted to see - a fight that now has lost some of its allure after Joshua's defeat.

In a division where one punch can change everything, one punch did. Ruiz landed a punch to the top of Joshua's head after getting knocked down himself in the third round, and from then on it was simply a matter of when the fight would end.

"It's boxing," Fury told me last week. "You can't go swimming without getting wet."

No sooner had Ruiz's hand been raised in victory than some in boxing began comparing the magnitude of the win to Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson in Japan in 1990 as a 42-1 underdog. But Joshua was no Tyson, and Ruiz was talented enough to make some boxing experts wonder why Joshua's promoter picked him as a late replacement for Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, who tested positive for steroids.

And while Douglas ate himself out of boxing after his big win, Ruiz already packs 268 not-so-well-placed pounds on his frame and hasn't seemed worse for the wear because of it.

Joshua had a rematch clause in his contract with Ruiz, and promoter Eddie Hearn said Tuesday on Twitter that the rematch would take place in November or December. It likely will be in Britain, though it's also possible it could be a pay-per-view event in the U.S.

In the meantime, Fury fights Germany's Tom Schwarz next week in Las Vegas and Wilder has announced a rematch with Luis Ortiz for September.

No, it's not one mega fight for all the marbles, as it was shaping up to be. The greed of promoters and broadcasting outlets kept that from happening, as it often does in boxing.

But all the heavyweights want to be active, and all have a case they want to make. They can all talk a bit, too, which should make it even more fun.

Actually, the fact people are talking about the heavyweights once again is fun all by itself.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Updated June 4, 2019