By Tim Royner: Promoter Eddie Hearn says there’s still a possibility there for Luis “King Kong” Ortiz to step in and agree to take the June 1st fight with IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in New York. If not, Hearn says he’s got four fighters that he’s going to pick from to face Joshua on the 1st of June. Hearn says he could be making an announcement within 48 hours.
The two leading candidates to get the fight with the unbeaten Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) are Michael Hunter (16-1, 11 KOs), who fights for Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA stable, and Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs). Hearn sees Ruiz Jr. bringing more to the table for Joshua in terms of fan interest in the U.S, but the Hunter fight is the easier to make obviously because he promotes him. Luis Ortiz would make the most money for Joshua, says Hearn, because there would be more fans interest in the UK for a Joshua-Ortiz fight, and it would generate greater pay-per-view buys on Sky Box Office than it Joshua were to face Hunter or Ruiz Jr.
“We represent Michael Hunter, so that fight is a lot easier to do,” Hearn said to the boxing media on Wednesday in talking about Hunter being an easier fight for him to setup for Joshua’s next title defense on June 1st than a Andy Ruiz Jr. match. “Al [Haymon] represents Ruiz. If he wants to give him the opportunity, it’s there as well. Star-wise, the Ruiz fight is more interesting in my opinion. Hunter is a tricky fighter. He’s a very clever fighter. He’s got one defeat on his record to [Oleksandr] Usyk. So you can compare Joshua to Usyk. Andy Ruiz has a decent Mexican following. It would have a good Hispanic interest. He could be the first Mexican heavyweight world champion [if he beats Joshua]. There’s a couple of other guys in the mix. We mentioned them in the past. Even Luis Ortiz could come and say, ‘Let’s go,’ and we’d do that. The difference is Luis Ortiz is a different draw than Andy Ruiz. Ruiz has a different value, so the pay-per-view numbers would be less for Andy Ruiz than they would for Luis Ortiz [in the UK]. The gate would probably be less for Andy Ruiz than it would for Luis Ortiz. Obviously, he doesn’t have the same value,” Hearn said.
Ortiz’s team has reportedly turned down the Joshua fight because of Hearn’s “lowball” offers, and the fact that a contract was never sent out to them. Additionally, there’s not enough time for the 40-year-old Ortiz (31-0, 26 KOs) to get ready for the Joshua fight in less than seven weeks. Hunter and Ruiz have both been in camp. Hunter is preparing for his fight on May 25 on the undercard of Oleksandr Usyk vs. Carlos Takam on DAZN to fight an opponent still to be determined at the MGM National Harbor at Oxon Hill, Maryland. Ortiz hasn’t been training, so it’s a tougher task for him to get ready for the Joshua fight with a short camp.
“He won’t take a chance like that unless he gets a big payday, and he’ll get one,” Hearn said about Ruiz. “They know he can win, but his [Luis Ortiz] preparation hasn’t been great. The difference between Hunter and Ruiz is Hunter is in camp. Hunter is fighting on May 25th on the Usyk card. Ruiz just finished a fight. Both guys are ready to go. Ortiz hasn’t really been training. I do believe Hunter and Ruiz believe they can beat Joshua. I know Ruiz and Hunter will give everything. Andy Ruiz doesn’t look the best, but he’s fast, he can fight, and he’ll be there to win. He’s going to have a big Mexican support. He’s one of four guys right now that are in the mix. One of those guys can phone up and accept the deal, and we’ll get it done tonight, but it’ll be in the next 48 hours,” Hearn said.
Hearn didn’t mention the other fighters that are in the mix during the interview on Wednesday, but it’s likely one of these guys: Manuel Charr, Adam Kownacki, and Agit Kabayel. Kownacki would be a good choice for Joshua. The Polish fighter Kownacki fights in the U.S, is young, powerful and exciting to watch. Charr, 34, hasn’t fought since 2017, and has never fought in the U.S. He obviously would be a bad choice for Joshua’s U.S debut unless Hearn is counting on trying to promote the fight based on Charr being a world champion. He holds the WBA ‘regular’ title that he won two years ago against Alexander Ustinov. Charr has yet to defend the WBA belt. Kabayel is from Germany as well, and has never fought in the U.S. He’s a small heavyweight with little punching power to speak of, who likes to move around the ring. Joshua vs. Kabayel would potentially be a boring fight for the U.S boxing fans to watch.
If Kabayel runs from Joshua for 12 rounds, the two of them could be booed out of Madison Square Garden on June 1. Hearn needs to think long and hard before he makes the decision of matching Charr or Kabayel against Joshua. Not being familiar with the U.S market hurts Hearn, because he’s not aware of how the American boxing fans would react to him sticking Kabayel or Charr in the ring with Joshua. In the UK, it probably wouldn’t matter who Hearn matched Joshua against. The fight would still fill a stadium, but in the U.S it does matter. The fans don’t care that Joshua won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics. They don’t care that he’s unbeaten and has held world titles since 2016. They want to see good fights between heavyweights that they’ve heard of and respect. Charr and Kabayel are unknowns in the U.S, so Hearn would be making a major blunder if he signs one of them for Joshua’s next fight. You can make the same argument about Michael Hunter being an equally bad choice for Joshua. Although Hunter is from the U.S, he’s an unknown and might as well be from outside of the country, because the casual boxing fans in the States don’t know who he is. Most of the fans didn’t bother to watch the boxing portion of the 2012 Olympics, which is when Hunter briefly fought and was eliminated in his first fight in the competition by Artur Beterbiev.
If Al [Haymon] doesn’t want him [Andy Ruiz Jr.] to take the opportunity, can he stop him? Maybe. I’d be very surprised if Al stopped a fighter like that from getting a world title shot,” Hearn said. “But if he wants to stop it, he can stop it. I think he’s on the same level as Jarrell Miller,” Hearn said about Andy Ruiz. “I think it’s a really good fight, Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Jarrell Miller. He’s kind of like the Mexican Jarrell Miller, but hopefully without the PEDS,” Hearn said.
Ruiz is nothing like Jarrell Miller. That’s a poor comparison by Hearn. The two of them are both heavy obviously, but Ruiz is light on his feet, and a lot more skilled than Miller. Ruiz has very hands. Miller is slower, and weighs out over 300 lbs. Ruiz isn’t that big. He fights in the 250s and low 260s. He’s a completely different fighter. Ruiz’s hand speed is probably better than Joshua’s, and Deontay Wilder.