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Garden path to glory Joshua heads down the... Brit brawler's first steps in his bid to conquer America will lay foundations for a heavyweight dust-up v Wilder.

Byline: MICHAEL GANNON

FIGHTING men never shirk a challenge but it's not always about the opponent standing in front of them in the ring.

There are occasions when the where matters more than the who.

Anthony Joshua might be squaring up to Andy Ruiz Jnr, with his IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles on the line, but when the last punches are thrown and the dust eventually settles, the name in the opposite corner is likely to become a distant, hazy memory or the answer to a future pub quiz question.

This is Joshua taking his first steps in a bid to conquer America. And he's taking them on boxing's most sacred ground.

Madison Square Garden, just off Times Square in New York, is not just any old arena. It's a Mecca for the sweet science and its symbolism isn't lost on Joshua or anyone else who has been following his career path.

The Garden is hallowed turf for fighters - and British ones in particular. Few from these shores have defended world titles in the theatre of legends.

Ken Buchanan did. Prince Naseem Hamed as well. But it's a rare occurrence and the iconic venue is the ideal place for Joshua to launch his Stateside campaign to become the first heavyweight to hold all four belts.

The big man from Watford already has three, while American Deontay Wilder has a cast-iron grip on the WBO crown. The talk surrounding the pair's inevitable collision looms large over this contest with Ruiz.

In fact, the heavyweight division is cluttered with chat about fights that are not happening while other contests actually are.

Towards the end of last month Wilder clobbered Dominic Breazeale inside the opening round to send out a message to Joshua, who took seven rounds to grind down the Californian.

Tyson Fury, the other man in the heavyweight triumvirate jostling for supremacy, will face unbeaten German powerhouse Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas in a fortnight.

No one can blame the men for battering their way through opponents but boxing fans are counting down the days until the other. Wilder and Fury might have already danced but there's plenty of unfinished business following their dramatic draw last year.

In the meantime, none of them can afford to take their eye off their respective initial tasks.

Failure to deal with Ruiz will only further damage already torturous discussions with the Wilder camp. Joshua should be too hot to handle but plenty of big men in the banging division have come a cropper and left the bookies taking even bigger hits.

Ruiz is no mug either. The 29-year-old might have been born and raised in Imperial Valley, California, but has proud Mexican blood coursing through his veins.

His country has rich boxing heritage but there's never been a heavyweight champ from Mexico. This is a guy who will pour his heart and soul into changing that.

It said a lot abut Ruiz he was willing to step in at just five weeks' notice after Jarrell Miller's drug shame was exposed.

Unlike scores of other fighters happy to take a sore face for a bumper pay day, he didn't spend long haggling over the size of his cheque. He only saw opportunity. Ruiz was also fight ready, having battered Alexander Dimitrenko over five rounds, and feels he belongs on this stage.

His one defeat - in a controversial points decision to Joseph Parker - still grates and the US-Mexican is convinced he can blast his way into the picture with the big three.

At least, that's what he says in public. Whether the same belief resides in the darkest corners of his mind is another matter, as opponents don't come more formidable than Joshua.

The fight game has a short memory span and the echoes of his epic victory against Wladimir Klitschko three years ago are struggling to remain heard.

Joshua still has doubters, despite his remarkably unblemished record. Twenty-two wins without loss and several impressive scalps collected, the London 2012 Olympic poster boy could not have done much more.

The victory against Parker post Klitschko might have lacked the sheer jaw-dropping spectacle seen at Wembley but was still a tricky job done. There were early struggles against Alexander Povetkin but knocking out the granite-chinned Russian was no mean feat.

the Joshua might be stepping into the unknown in the Garden but he is in familiar territory, with a fight on two fronts.

soil the on Not only must he defeat Ruiz, he also has to do it in style. The knowledgeable New York crowd will demand it.

will ace ed nd uce he 1, This is a place that witnessed Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier produce the Fight of the Century in 1971, Sugar Ray Robinson take on Jake La Motta 30 n 0 years earlier, it was the scene of Buchanan suffering from the infamous low blow by Roberto Duran, the collision between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.

Joshua's first bout on American soil won't be elevated to that level, regardless of what happens, but the challenge is to put on a show on the greatest of stages.

MADISON SQUARE GARDEN'S TOP 5 FIGHTS JOE FRAZIER v MUHAMMAD ALI THE famous Fight of the Century in 1971 represented the start of an epic trilogy and demand for tickets was so high even Frank Sinatra could only attend by working as a ringside photographer.

ht Heavyweight champion Frazier secured victory in the final round, with a left hook that sent Ali to the canvas so heavily he did well to survive until the final bell. EVANDER HOLYFIELD v LENNOX LEWIS THIS 1999 heavyweight fight was cotroversially scored a draw, with Lewis' manager Frank Maloney so enraged he demanded Tony Blair break off diplomatic relations with the United States. The Brit eventually triumphed in a GEORGE FOREMAN v MICHAEL MOORER FOREMAN became the oldest heavyweight champion in history at the age of 45 back in 1994 when he floored Moorer with one of the most powerful punches of his career in the 10th round.

cha JO Du MUHAMMAD ALI v EARNIE SHAVERS THE once-great Ali was 35 and in decline when he took on the dangerous Shavers in 1977. Despite taking shots that would have stopped almost any other man, the champion prevailed on points. JOE FRAZIER v JIMMY ELLIS During Ali's ban for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, Frazier sought to establish himself as the world's top heavyweight. He did exactly that by dethroning the WBA champion and adding the Fra hi he th c ANTHONY JOSHUA'S TOP 5 FIGHTS ANTHONY JOSHUA v DILLIAN WHYTE JOSHUA avenged the amateur defeat he had once suffered to his long-term rival but only after having almost been stopped himself in the second round.

This fight in 2015 saw Whyte demonstrate remarkable punch resistance before AJ found the explosive punch that ended his opponent's hopes. ANTHONY JOSHUA v CHARLES MARTIN AMERICAN Martin travelled to the UK to make the first defence of his IBF title in 2016 but challenger Joshua was clinical, stopping him in only the second round.

ANTHONY JOSHUA v WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO JOSHUA'S dramatic defeat of Klitschko in 2017 is widely considered the best title fight of the 21st century. The Englishman knocked Klitschko down in the fifth then almost punched himself out, falling to the canvas a round later.

But Joshua produced a life-changing uppercut that knocked Klitschko down again before stopping him in the 11th. ANTHONY JOSHUA v CARLOS TAKAM THE challenger's durability taught Joshua headhunting does not guarantee knockout victories. Takam was eventually stopped in the 10th.

pp AAT ANTHONY JOSHUA v ALEXANDER POVETKIN The Russian forced Joshua to fight at a fierce pace in 2018 until ambition proved his downfall. An explosive right from the champ rocked him in the seventh and led to a stoppage.

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The talk surrounding an inevitable collision with Wilder looms large over the Ruiz contest

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NO MUG Ruiz will give Joshua, main, a test but champion won't give up his belts easily
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 1, 2019
Words:1343
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