Anthony Joshua lands a jab on the way to regaining his belts. Picture: MARK ROBINSON/MATCHROOM BOXING.

Pru Palace wasn’t exactly rocking.

But our regular venue for watching the big boxing nights was full of admiration and delight for British icon Anthony Joshua, exacting his revenge against Andy Ruiz Jnr.

There were plenty of nerves inside the ring in Saudi Arabia and back home in Blighty before AJ went toe-to-toe with Ruiz in a rematch that nobody expected to see going into the pair’s first fight. 

That’s because everyone expected the Mexican to be steamrollered by the Joshua juggernaut that was seemingly heading towards a monster showdown with Deontay Wilder or another of the heavyweight division’s biggest names. 

Ruiz brought that momentum to a screeching halt with one of the unlikeliest victories we’ve ever witnessed first time out – one that was fully deserved nonetheless. So the fear of a second defeat loomed large, right up until Eddie Hearn’s biggest boxing star took command of the bout.

He did so in a way we’re not accustomed to as far as Joshua is concerned. It’s usually explosive, there’s usually a few scares along the way and it often ends in a knockout. But Saturday’s showing was none of the above.

AJ boxed. He danced. He outfoxed. He hugged. He stayed out of trouble. He got in, jabbed, and got back out. He found a way to beat Ruiz. For some, the non-purists, it wasn’t thrilling. Yet it was effective.

Six months after losing his belts he knew he needed to do something different. And that’s exactly what he did. 

Anthony Joshua with his belts.
Pictures: MARK ROBINSON/MATCHROOM BOXING.

Credit goes to his trainer Rob McCracken for coming up with a gameplan to avoid a defeat that could have left Joshua’s career in tatters. 

They’d both learned from the first loss of the Olympic hero’s professional career and showed incredible guile, heart and expertise to secure an incredibly convincing unanimous points decision that saw the IBF, WBA, IBO and WBO titles heading back to the United Kingdom.

Joshua became only the fourth man in the 127-year history of the world heavyweight title to successfully regain their title in a direct rematch. Two, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis, are as great as they come. Will AJ ever reach those heights?

If he can keep learning and adapting like he did for this rematch, there’s every chance. He clearly possesses the power and the heart of a warrior. He’s said himself he loves to fight. Yet sometimes it’s more important to box. And AJ showed that’s exactly what he can do if he has to.

The division is bubbling up nicely as 2020 prepares to deliver some knockout bouts – at least two of which should include an always-improving AJ, who Wilder can’t keep ducking for much longer. 

Doping saga rumbles on

This isn’t the last you’ve heard about Russia being banned from all major sporting events for four years.

And let’s start straight away by clearing something up. You’ll read or hear they’ve been punished for doping. But what’s happened is they’ve cheated. Straight up, cheated, broke the rules and they’ve been caught.

The problem is there are some athletes that are clean. While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) needed to punish Russia for the state’s part in trying to cover up some of their stars’ use of performance-enhancing drugs, everyone is paying the price.

It’s such a tricky situation but one that’s going to rumble on. 

For starters, president Vladimir Putin has already said he’ll appeal. Yet we may still see Russians compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or the 2022 World Cup.

Because while, as it stands, a Russian team, flag or anthem have been barred, participants who can prove they are untainted by the scandal can compete under a neutral flag – meaning Russians will be there after all. Confusing eh? 

ROUND 18 RESULTS

Watford v Crystal Palace: Watford (had the most corners), 8 corners in the game

Man City v Man United:
Man City, 19

Aston Villa v Leicester:
Aston Villa, 13 

Norwich v Sheffield United: Norwich, 10

ROUND 18 TOP SCORES

Number of entrants: 27

28pts (out of 48): David Lane.

20: Nancy Barnard, Kevin Bates, Robbie Palmer, Danny Pooley.

16: Katie Allen, Gavin Caney, Jonny Cockerill, Peter Jermany, Peter Sampson

12: Amy Anderson, Mike Griggs, Jon Parish, Andy Prior, Laura Shreeve, Luke Tordoff 

TOP TOTAL SCORES (18 rounds)

1 David Lane, Peter Jermany 244

3 Jonny Cockerill 240

4 Danny Pooley 236

5 Joel Wille 232

6 Amy Anderson 228

7 Karl Brown 224

8 Lewis Bush, Aaden Hayes, Andy Prior, Laura Shreeve 216

12 Mike Griggs,
Robbie Palmer 212

14 Damien Cross, 

Jon Parish 208

16 Kevin Bates, 

Gavin Caney 204

18 Jason Norman 200

ROUND 19 FIXTURES 

1 Burnley v Newcastle

Premier League, tomorrow, 3pm

a) Who will get more corners? Burnley, Newcastle or draw?

b) Total number of corners 

2 Man United v Everton

Premier League, Sunday, 2pm

a) Who will get more corners? Man United, Everton or draw?

b) Total number of corners 

3 Wolves v Tottenham

Premier League, Sunday, 2pm

a) Who will get more corners? Wolves, Tottenham or draw?

b) Total number of corners 

4 Arsenal v Man City 

Premier League,
Sunday, 4.30pm

a) Who will get more corners? Arsenal, Man City or draw?

b) Total number of corners 

λ Email predictions to gavin@yourlocalpaper.co.uk, drop them into Your Local Paper’s office (before 5pm today) or Tweet @GavinCaney on Twitter. Submit via social media or email before 3pm tomorrow.

Safer Summer Staycation
Safer Summer Staycation