How Does Anthony Joshua Rank in Boxing Ability?
By Will Lott
With talk of the rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua being formally announced next week, Ruiz Jr has spent time recently talking down Joshua’s ability as a boxer.
‘The only thing he can do is run around, he’s not good at boxing’ the new champion has been quoted as saying this week.
This is of course an overstatement but it is not an entirely unfounded opinion. Having started boxing at an earlier age with a grandfather who owned a boxing gym, the sport has been ingrained in Ruiz’s life for a longer period than the former unified champion Joshua. With more time training and more amateur fights under his belt, his technique is of course more ‘ring tuned’.
For someone who started the sport at the age of 18 and gone on to Olympic success and world titles it is foolish to say Joshua can’t box. There are flaws in every fighter’s technique and here I will assess examples of strengths and weaknesses in Joshua’s game.
There have been periods in most of his later title defences and unifications where he has had to box smart to ensure the win. None more so than in his unification win over former WBO champion Joseph Parker, the only time he has heard the final bell.
With Parker displaying good head movement, slipping Joshua’s attempt at a jab, this occasionally put Joshua on the back foot. He had to regain his composure and continue to move quickly or as Ruiz calls it ‘run’. This was a chance for Joshua to show he could box and move. His footwork remained tidy, following Parker well but also retreating and fighting off the back foot when needed. He used his reach mostly to his advantage whilst continuously trying to track down the New Zealander who insisted on fighting almost to survive.
Although Joshua was gifted most of the early rounds he still had to box and move to stay out of range and finish the job.
His combination punching is another strength. Whereas the likes of Deontay Wilder has unbelievable one punch knockout power, Joshua tends to drop fighters off the back of a combination. Against Povetkin it was a left hook which stunned the Russian immediately followed by a crushing right hook to down his opponent.
Joshua is able to fight well on the inside, something he did against Ruiz and something he tried against Parker. This led to his only knockdown of Ruiz. A left hook round the back of the head which opened Ruiz up to allow two more blows including a short right hook to the head which put him on his back. Strong combination punching on the inside and out is an important way of gaining the respect of opponents.
Even in this fight though, you could see examples of what is for me Joshua’s main weakness. The lack of an effective jab. When you consider the likes of Tyson Fury and future Hall of Famer Wladimir Klitschko, both have one thing in common. A stiff jab. They have the ability to keep a fighter on the end of it and ‘jab them to death’ which is why both have been described in the past as ‘boring.’
Even in the Parker fight, on the few occasions where Parker decided to fight on the front foot and chase him, Joshua didn’t always have the ability to keep him away. Rather, you saw Joshua put his arm out whilst retreating to try to keep him at distance but without any stiffness or strength behind it, it was easy for Parker to slip it and release a combination or a hook.
Against Ruiz this proved the most costly with Joshua unable to keep the shorter Mexican from fighting on the inside. As a fighter it is considerably easier to punch up against a taller opponent than down giving Ruiz an advantage when he could get inside Joshua’s jab. Ruiz was still able to slip Joshua’s jab allowing him to unleash power punches throughout the fight.
Furthermore, occasionally Joshua forgets to even use a jab rather choosing to engage from close range with his opponents. When slightly stunned or facing a barrage from Ruiz he chose to just cover up as opposed to retreating and using his jab again to try to regain composure.
A final weakness of Joshua’s which has led to Tyson Fury calling him robotic in the past is his stiffness. A week or so ago, we saw Fury sitting on the ropes and avoiding four rapid fire hooks from Tom Schwarz purely through head movement alone. This is something Joshua has never had in his arsenal.
Defensively there have always been weakness which were most recently exposed by Ruiz. This may be due to his build which has been compared to that of a bodybuilder or it may be something he hasn’t spent long enough working on but Joshua is not able to move his head separately to the rest of his body, if that makes sense. When you see him avoid a punch, he tends to either move backwards or sideways but with the whole of his upper body.
Muhammad Ali was of course the best example of lateral head movement and this is something Joshua needs to learn soon, to at least make up for a slightly weak defence.
To say Joshua can’t box is a harsh statement to make. He has tidy footwork with strong combinations but his size advantage and power has so far seen him through his career. Now, coming in as the challenger, this is the time to regain focus, work on his head movement and try to employ a stiff jab to keep Ruiz at the end of. If he doesn’t manage this, it will be another knockout win for Ruiz and most likely an earlier finish than the first.