Boxing Is Back. Thank This Cartoonish Heavyweight

Boxing Is Back. Thank This Cartoonish Heavyweight

Boxer Andy Ruiz Jr. (right) takes a swing at Anthony Joshua during Ruiz's shocking win in Madison Square Garden.

SourceNick Potts/Getty

Why you should care

Because Andy Ruiz Jr.’s shocking win will lead the sport to a less risk-averse future.

This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.

Somehow, there are humans among us who didn’t find joy at the sight of an overweight underdog (barely) jumping for joy after scoring a seventh-round TKO over the chiseled darling of the heavyweight division, Britain’s Anthony Joshua, last Saturday. Those sad sacks will side with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, claiming that Andy Ruiz Jr.’s shocking win was bad for boxing.

They are mistaken.

Ruiz, the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, not only gifted boxing a fourth marketable heavyweight, but he also challenged the business of boxing. Ruiz is the puncher’s chance. He represents a threat to any star following the risk-averse Floyd Mayweather career arc, and boxing will be better for it.

Prior to Saturday, fans were understandably clamoring for a superfight between Joshua and WBC champ Deontay Wilder, two exceptional talents who are in their primes. But while #WildJosh is now off the table, Ruiz’s win will force champions to reconsider delaying tough fights. Traditionally, it’s good business to make money blasting schlubs, then cash in on a mega fight. Mayweather perfected this, going 50-0 and bringing in a reported $272 million for fighting Conor McGregor. But not every top boxer can pull this off, and when they try, fans get mostly one-sided snoozers.

In Ruiz, the division has a fresh champion with a terrific story and the support of boxing’s most rabid fan base: Latinos. We lost one superfight, but “The Destroyer” just laid a strong foundation by proving that no one is untouchable, so heavyweights should stage their big bouts now.

What to Watch & Pick ’Em

Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors, NBA Finals Game 4 (Friday at 9:00 pm ET on ABC)

Will Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant return from injuries to save the day for Golden State, down two games to one? Steph Curry is brilliant, but he can’t do it all by himself.

  • Toronto (+185)
  • Golden State (-225)

Ones to Watch

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Mal Pugh can barely drink legally … but she’s ready to take on the World Cup.

Source Elsa/Getty

Mal Pugh. Is Pugh the next face of U.S. Soccer? It certainly looks that way. The 21-year-old Washington Spirit forward has been setting the mark for precociousness for years, including becoming the youngest U.S. women’s national team player to score at the Olympics. She’s notched 52 caps and scored 15 goals with the national squad, and she was barely a year old when the U.S. women had their breakthrough moment. U.S. women’s soccer is the theme for Season 5 of OZY’s popular podcast The Thread, which explores the history-making 1999 team and all the unheralded athletes, policymakers and activists who made their journey possible. Get schooled on the surprising strands of history before watching Pugh and this year’s team launch their World Cup run on June 11 against Thailand.

Austin Riley. Through 19 games with the Atlanta Braves, Riley, a 22-year-old Mississippi native, has nine home runs, 26 RBIs and a .320 batting average. The 6-foot-3 rookie is launching bombs at a pace that would break Barry Bonds’ single-season record of 73 home runs. Only one other MLB player has ever recorded 25 RBIs faster than Riley. And while haters of fun will point out that, yes, the kid has only been in the Big Leagues for three weeks and his blazing start will surely cool, there are also signs that Riley’s production is built to last — his power has been obvious since he was a first-round pick out of high school. Plus, as OZY reports this week, he hunts with a bow and arrow. Riley should slide from the outfield into third base full-time next year assuming Josh Donaldson departs. Combine the soft-spoken slugger with shortstop Dansby Swanson, 2018 Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. in the outfield and three-time All Star Freddie Freeman at first, and Atlanta has a premier core to build around.

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The Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley has been perfecting his home run trot.

Source Mike Zarrilli/Getty

Trending Up

Soccer’s Sleeping Giant. Ever since footy fan President Xi Jinping made soccer a national priority in 2015, China has invested heavily in the sport. First came European-style youth academies. Then came recruiting coaches globally. Now, with the news that 26-year-old English midfielder Nico Yennaris will be the first foreign-born player to play for the Chinese national team, Phase Three is underway. A London native born to a Chinese mother, he grew up playing on the Arsenal youth team with English captain Harry Kane. After seven-plus years as a pro in England, he joined Beijing Guoan of the Chinese Super League in January. Known as Li Ke, Yennaris is one of several foreign-born players in the Super League to attain Chinese naturalized citizenship. More foreign-born players are likely on the way to help China — which qualified for the men’s World Cup only once, in 2002 — reach new heights on the pitch. Once the players arrive, Chinese law puts the Communist Party grassroots organization “in charge of educating such footballers on the history and basic theory of the party.” Special staff also “track [their] thinking.”

Trending Down

A golden dynasty in Oakland. When’s the last time the Warriors were underdogs? That would be 2014, before this Golden State core ever made the NBA Finals. But now, after 47 points from Steph Curry that were repeatedly answered by clutch scores from Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Fred VanVleet in Game 3, Golden State is staring down a 2-1 Finals deficit — and even a part-owner of the team is getting physical. Now, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant could return from injury as soon as Friday’s Game 4. The dynasty is far from done, even if its time in Oakland is ending with the offseason move to a new arena in San Francisco. But for the moment, let’s enjoy Toronto’s stellar play and a Finals that for the first time in years does not feel preordained. (Even if we said it was a couple of weeks ago. Whoops.) And uncertainty looks set to reign for several years to come: With Durant likely leaving the Bay and talented young contenders coming of age in Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and elsewhere, the NBA is in a good — and unpredictable — place moving forward.

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Clarity came at a young age for Phoenix Mercury wing Essence Carson, who realized as a teenager she could not choose between music and basketball. Now she’s pursuing a production career while still hitting the hardwood.

Family Trees, by Tom Hamilton in ESPN

Watch any game in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and most of the bats wielded have passed through the hands of the men and women of J.S. Wright & Sons in Essex, England. In an age of automation, they are the last of the craftsmen. The story started, as many do, in a pub in 1894, with a man on the hunt for the perfect willow trees.

Kevin Warren Is the First African American Commissioner of a Power 5 Conference, by Shannon Ryan in The Chicago Tribune

His dad was the first Black president of a major bowl game. His brother was one of the first Black athletes at Stanford. Now Kevin Warren is the first Black commissioner of a Power 5 conference, with huge shoes to fill and an undetermined direction to help take college athletics.

Requiem for a Sports Bettor, by David Hill in The Ringer

Gambling on sports has never been more high-stakes or more accessible. But with the invasion of Europe-based companies, the pros are feeling squeezed and routinely getting banned from plying their trade. Is this the end of the professional sports bettor?

Don’t Miss

For most college baseball players, launching a three-run homer to help send your team to an NCAA Super Regional would qualify as peaking. But while he was warming up on deck, UCLA second baseman Chase Strumpf was drafted No. 64 overall by the Chicago Cubs. He only found out after he circled the bases, though.

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