Anthony ‘AJ’ Joshua’s defeat to Andy Ruiz earlier this month, was a shock. Ruiz, a late replacement for Jarrell Miller, boxed in a manner that belied his portly physique. With deft foot-work to cut off the ring, Ruiz smartly got into range to unleash fluid combinations that highlighted his impressive technique and variety. After four knockdowns, a visibly dazed Joshua was spared anymore punishment and Ruiz had deservedly become Mexico’s first heavyweight world champion.
If AJ was dazed, then users on social media were stunned. Those that laughed at Ruiz’ chances before the fight, were forced to applaud the new champion, with Joshua taking his place as the laughing stock.
Before the fight, Joshua was a unified champion, a media darling and one of the most recognisable figures in Britain. Now after his first defeat as a professional he is being described as overrated, chinny and lacking courage. Many instantly wrote him off. Yes, the shellacking at the hands of Ruiz was humbling, but it is not career-ending.
The opinion on the former champ had swiftly altered on the back of one, solitary loss. It left me wondering why, despite so many famous comebacks that litter this sport, observers were so quick to dismiss the former heavyweight champion.
Newer fans of the sport in particular have a skewed idea of what it means to be a successful prize-fighter, due to the impact Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. His career was built around creating an illusion that he was unbeatable and the zero in the loss column of his boxing record was the most vital, supporting evidence for his claims. As Floyd’s star brightened, so did his power in negotiation. He dictated the terms of his contests expertly in his favour, before dominating his opponents in the squared-circle. Shrewd out of the ring and masterful in it. Mayweather became a multi-millionaire, reached 50-0 and is spoken of in the same breath as the all-time-greats. His achievements required business acumen, tremendous talent and a few strokes of luck along the way.
When considering the greatest fighters of all time, most have losses against their names, which makes Mayweather’s unbeaten record an exception, rather than the norm. Boxing luminaries such as ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong and Muhammad Ali suffered defeats throughout their careers, without them hindering their legacies. These icons enjoy legendary status because they exhibited immense character and courage to fulfill their goals regardless of their setbacks and provide inspiration for people to overcome obstacles in pursuit of their own success.
The obsession for perfection in boxing is not principally down to Mayweather. It may not even solely be a boxing issue. This could actually be a problem that most is alarmingly entrenched in society, due to the increased use and interaction with social media.
Anthony Joshua has 9.4 million followers on Instagram. His posts show him as a young, talented, handsome man that appears to be living his best life. One glance at his Instagram feed shows him visiting exotic holiday destinations, wearing the finest clothes and meeting the rich and famous. His followers see the fruits of his labour, rather than the hard-work it took to get him there. They like his physique, success and life without truly understanding what sacrifices are made to achieve it. Perhaps Joshua contributed to this belief himself as his posts on Instagram only perpetuate this image of perfection and alleviate the feelings of envy among some of his followers. They have a sense of entitlement that leaves them bitter and wish to see Joshua crash down from the pedestal that he was placed upon.
When Joshua lost, these haters universally rejoiced on social media. They gathered on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and transformed them into platform’s for toxic abuse, towards a man that had just suffered the ignominy of a public beating. For the haters, their personal insecurities are momentarily lifted, at the sight of Joshua – personified perfection – become tarnished and exposed as a mere mortal. Now Joshua was a loser and it serves a soothing relief to the haters who can finally feel a little bit more comfortable in their own skin.
It wasn’t just the haters that reacted negatively. The number of fans that hopped off the Joshua bandwagon was huge. Anthony Joshua has successfully used social media to develop a brand that people want to be associated with. His brand became desirable based on his social media activity and combined with his previously unblemished boxing record, it represented a desirable brand image of perfection. But when fans saw a bloodied and battered AJ sprawling on the canvas, grimacing in pain, it was an unattractive sight that turned fans off from ‘Brand Joshua.’ The beaten up image of Joshua sullied his brand and left many turning their backs on him.
Social media is a place that manipulates users into believing the fallacy that a perfect life is attainable. Boxing on the other hand isn’t always pretty. It is and always has been a sport that is filled with grotesque images of guts and gore – even for the victorious.
Boxing mirrors life. In reality, we can not switch on filters that conceal flaws. Everyone endures pain and approach challenges that they can’t always initially overcome. Defeat does not signal the end, but instead offers an opportunity. A chance to learn, improve and try again. That’s what the likes of Muhammad Ali did – and Anthony Joshua deserves the same chance, without being held to impossibly high standards.
Follow Anish Parekh on Twitter: @theboxingfanman
Check out his website: The Boxing Fan Man