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Anthony Joshua and the brutality of Saudi Arabia

It seems almost laughable now to hope seriously for sport to allow questions of morality to inform decisions about how best to make money

December 8, 2019

1:42 PM

8 December 2019

1:42 PM

Quite the weekend for blood sport fans in Riyadh, who are forced normally to make do on a diet of entertaining if one-sided public floggings, crucifixions and beheadings in Chop-Chop Square. It’s not every day the heavyweight championship of the world rolls into town.

This second meeting of Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr, staged at great expense in Saudi Arabia as part of the kingdom’s public relations push to make the world forget about the brutal torture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi scarcely a year ago, was fascinating chiefly — let’s face it — because Ruiz is so fat. Where Joshua has a strong claim to possessing the greatest physique of any male human in history, likable Ruiz with his shirt off resembles nothing so much as a tattooed Oompa-Loompa. His defeat of Joshua in their first meeting in New York in June to relieve him at a stroke of his four Championship belts was immediately hailed as one of the all-time great boxing upsets. Here, then, was the chance for Joshua to reassert the natural order — to put the Mexican back where fat people are meant to belong: the butt of the joke, not the punchline. It was a prospect deemed sufficiently delicious to attract a global audience of millions. Deep down, it turns out, virtually everyone loves to see fatso get stuffed.

Not me. I paid to have the fight streamed onto my television because I was convinced Ruiz would win. So convinced, in fact, that I told everyone I knew he would do it. ‘Ignore the bookies and the experts’, I told them, ‘yes, he is comedically spherical, but Ruiz is by far the superior fighter. Put the school fees on it.’

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It had not crossed my mind, of course, that Ruiz would cope with the shock of his victory in New York in the same manner that anyone whose relationship with food can be deemed troubling copes with trauma of any type, which is to shovel everything they can find to eat into their gullet. While Joshua trained morning, noon and night to the enter the ring looking less the bodybuilder of old and more the Michelangelo-sculpted prize-fighter, Ruiz stuffed his face. For this dream-shot opportunity at greatness, the Mexican tipped the scales at a horrifying 283lb, more than a stone heavier than he had been for the first fight.

The two men fought on a canvas black as oil in the sand. Ruiz’s feet, straining under the weight of a thousand pies, seemed stuck. Not Joshua’s. He pranced lightly around the ring, raining bone-saw effective jabs down upon his opponent from all angles, making his greater height and reach work unanswerably to his advantage. One such punch opened Ruiz’s eyebrow in the first round. ‘Look at that,’ a companion said as the blood gushed out, ‘pure gravy’.

There were glimpses of the Ruiz who had blown Joshua away at Madison Square Garden. In the brief moments when the fighters got close enough to brawl, the Mexican’s quicker fists gave him the upper hand and made Joshua seem momentarily worried. But, on the whole, the British fighter was content to punch from distance, causing great tsunamis of flab to erupt across Ruiz’s torso, and to keep moving. Other than briefly vicious flurries in the fourth and eighth rounds, the fight was one-sided. Ruiz hoped Joshua would walk into his trap, but his obesity made it impossible for him to force the issue. Instead, Joshua stuck to his plan — turned in his most accomplished fighting performance to date — and emerged victorious. Not to mention $100 million richer.

There is now talk of more high-profile sporting events being held in Saudi Arabia, never mind the human rights stuff. Obviously, it is morally indefensible for these events to be used to legitimize a regime that in many respects is barbaric and cruel. However, it seems almost laughable now to hope seriously for sport — or business, for that matter — to allow questions of morality to inform decisions about how best to make money. If Joshua v Ruiz II was a glimpse into the future of sport, one in which virtually no women could be seen in the live ringside audience, then perhaps we should just accept it for the con job it is, and be thankful that no broadcaster has thought yet to bid for the rights to what happens in Chop-Chop Square.


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