AJ don't get no respect

By Robert Ecksel on September 5, 2022

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Joshua’s accomplishments deserve respect. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Having lost his third fight in his last four outings confirmed it. Anthony Joshua don’t get no respect. We know he started late. We know he was a petty delinquent, by background or inclination. But he had imposing size, frightful strength, and a steadfastness fit for a king. All he lacked was the ability to box. Though he continues to improve from fight to fight, it’s a deficit that still plagues him today.

 

Even the miserly agree that Joshua’s accomplishments deserve respect. He’s at least earned that much, along with the boxing titles, fame, attention, celebrity, money and women. But everything changed on June 1, 2019. Joshua lost his title to a 10:1 underdog named Andy Ruiz Jr. The Mexican-American Rocky from Imperial, California, was a late replacement for perpetual drug cheat Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. Ruiz was plump, but he was also pumped. Joshua, as usual, looked like a million bucks. Then Ruiz started hitting him. After three knockdowns, the ref stopped it in the seventh. It was a historic win. Hispanic fans went crazy. Joshua’s fans went crazy too, but in a different way. They went from adoring to fickle at the final bell. Only a handful of champions retired undefeated. Joshua’s first loss wasn’t the problem. It was how he acted after the fight that irked his fans.

 

Joshua congratulated Ruiz. He praised Ruiz. Joshua draped his arm over his victor’s shoulders. The lovefest put noses out of joint. Joshua said the right things. He said he had a bad night. He said the better man won. He was gracious beyond compare, which only made things worse. With the notable exception of Canelo Alvarez, who helps knocked out challengers to their feet, good sportsmanship has gone out the window. Joshua’s behavior was less curious than extreme. It was as if he was channeling Canadian light heavyweight champion Yvon Durelle. Not in the way he fought, but how Durelle regarded boxing: “If you were the best man you won. That’s the way I always took it, like a contest, a game.” Joshua stepped aside in deference to Ruiz’s moment. It was touching in a way, followed by a gas leak of toxic tweeting.

 

Joshua won two of his next three fights. He regained the title from Ruiz six months after the loss by boxing instead of slugging. He knocked out Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev in 2020. Then he lost his title again, this time Oleksandr Usyk in 2021. The slide aside, Joshua behaved himself after these fights.

 

The August 20 rematch with Usyk turned that standard on its head. Joshua boxed slightly better than he had in their first fight, but he could neither outbox nor outpunch his opponent. Despite the thousands of hours in the gym and decade fighting professionally, Joshua, a damn good fighter by any standar, is still green when it comes to fundamentals. When the split decision in favor of Usyk was announced, it came as no surprise to Joshua.

 

Joshua began pacing around the crowded ring. He stopped at Usyk’s corner, grabbed two of his belts from Usyk’s cornerman, and walked across the ring to drop them unceremoniously to the floor of King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

 

And AJ was just getting started.

 

He resumed pacing around the ring. Most people avoided him. He shouted angrily at someone and his team restrained him. Joshua stormed out of the ring. He moved quickly toward his dressing room. The cameramen couldn’t decide whether to record Joshua’s theatrics or the expression on Usyk’s face.

 

Joshua was intercepted before he entered the tunnel. Cooler heads prevailed. They convinced him to return to the ring. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

Climbing through the ropes to reenter the ring, he said to an ally, “Grab the mike,” as he moved toward Usyk to shake his hand. Usyk had a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag resting on his shoulders. Joshua removed the flag and draped it around his own shoulders. Maybe he wasn’t being disrespectful. Maybe he was expressing his support for Ukraine’s fight against the Russians. Maybe it didn’t matter. It didn’t seem to concern Joshua.

 

Usyk complimented Joshua. “You very strong guy,” he said, which was the last thing Joshua wanted to hear. 

 

“I don’t care about strong,” he barked. “I have to have skills. You’re not strong. Skills win boxing. How did you beat me? How?” Just as Joshua said the words, “I’ve got character,” someone handed him a microphone.

 

Joshua ranted for three minutes. Self-pitying and self-serving, his monologue seemed to go on forever. He told us things we already knew or had little interest learning. Whether it was a temper tantrum or meltdown I leave to the experts to untangle. But when he said, “That’s the story of my life. No respect,” I couldn’t help but wonder why.