An accompanying cross to bear for a lifelong fight fan like myself is that it’s jolly hard to resist the lure of the chance to watch a major championship bout contest from wherever in the world it is taking place and not least in the early hours of a Sunday morning.
Last night I spent over £20 to buy myself the high-definition version of Sky Sports Box Office’s presentation of British three-belt world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s US much-heralded debut against Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jnr at Maddison Square Gardens.
About twenty minutes ago I watched the end of the contest as to all intents and purposes Joshua capitulated in Round 7 after one of the most lacklustre performances I have ever witnessed from a leading world boxing contender, still less someone who had been built up as a monster unbeaten talent and indeed one of the biggest sports stars on the planet.
I shall leave the critical analysis to those better versed and qualified than myself, namely those who ply their trade as boxing journos and pundits.
All I shall record here is that throughout the period before the bout – beginning with images of Joshua arriving and getting prepared in the vaults of the venue, gradually making his way with his considerable entourage to the edge of the arena, then making his long walk to the ring, standing around inside it as the various formalities took place, the anthems were sung and finally the introduction of the fighters – the one thing that struck and slightly worried me was Joshua’s demeanour.
Standing around in his white with black trim ‘dressing gown’ as he observed the vast onlooking crowd and everything that was going on – and doing every little thing that he did along the way – he looked as calm, disinterested and detached from an imminent proverbial ‘fight to the death’ as if instead he’d just woken up on a Sunday morning after a heavy night and wandered from his bedroom to his rather expensive and luxurious kitchen to make himself an early morning cup of tea before the moment when his chosen newspapers were due to be shoved through his letterbox.
I cannot claim – with or without the dubious privilege of hindsight – that I ever saw the seeds of this morning’s catastrophe, described several times afterwards by a slew of pundits and commentators on both the radio and television as “one of the biggest-ever upsets” in boxing’s long and cherished history of biggest-ever upsets, but what I witnessed last night was definitely an extraordinary event.
From the first bell, Joshua moved like an automaton who had recently succumbed to a terminal case of ME. That was surprising and puzzling enough on its own when the context was Joshua’s first appearance in the American market which everyone interested knows is the Holy Grail for those desirous of world media and business domination in the Fight Game.
If it had been me, I’d have been buzzing with adrenalin, bouncing off the walls, jiggling my feet manically up and down. I’d have run all the way to the ring, at least attempted a standing vault over all three ropes getting into it … and would have had to have been forcibly held back by my handlers before rushing towards my opponent upon the sound of the first bell and making a determined effort to kill him with a blur of round-arm punches within the first 30 seconds.
As regards any determination to impress an intrigued US audience who’d paid good money either to be in the hall or in front of their television – that too was missing.
What went wrong? I can only guess but at the moment am having a hard time of it.
As the highlight of a bizarre and sensational third round, the point at which a wild swing from the challenger connected unexpectedly with the Joshua bonce, thereby scrambling his brain and motor functions in an instant as he collapsed to the canvas, stood out.
This had occurred just fifteen seconds or so after a clubbing left hook from the defending champion had put the (“never been knocked down before”) Ruiz on his backside.
It was the trigger-point for the disintegration of Joshua’s carefully constructed pyramid of playing cards. In an instant he was transformed from a supremely confident, supposedly composed and deadly coiled instrument of destruction to a timid pussy cat who hadn’t a clue to where he was or why.
I’d like to claim that I came up with the line that his demeanour was that of a man who fervently wished to be anywhere at all but where he was, but I suspect I heard it used first on the radio.
There was no drive, no spunk, no desperation to survive and then prevail left in his fuel tank. It seemed as if that morning somebody designated to do the task had failed to fill the tank up and he was now running on empty.
It felt like the biggest burst bubble of the 21st Century so far – and maybe indeed that is exactly what it was.
I feel sorry for the guy. He’s gone from an athletic god to a bum in less than 21 minutes of action.
Sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry.