The Underdog wins. He wins so well that even fans of the loser are conflicted by their own reactions.
The fact that Anthony Joshua was frequently floored in his heavyweight bout at New York’s Madison Square Garden brings no joy. The fact that the 1-25 firm favourite and national-treasure-to-be loses his IBF, WBO and WBA titles is a stunning blow.
But the Underdog story is a powerful balm to those wounds. Andy Ruiz Jr was no amateur, having a track record that brought him to New York on a Saturday night – even as a late replacement (How juicy is that for the narrative? People still had the name of the original opponent – Jerrell Miller – on the tickets.)
Thing is, Ruiz Jr looked like you and me. A butterball in appearance. Short and dumpy. Like the schlub kid at school who had trouble getting over the horse. While Joshua’s six-pack was a piece of geometric perfection, Ruiz Jr had a beer belly. It wobbled. Really It hung over his belt. He had back fat that folded, for goodness’ sake. If he had walked like that in his trunks along a Costa beach people would think – there goes another one, pale, tattooed and out of condition.
What just happened?
He’s not another one. Not Andy Ruiz Jr. He’s the world champion now. And while we don’t know the full extent of the back story, this is how it should be – the late replacement brought in as a punching bag taking his one shot at glory and winning. When he launched those flurries against the statuesque boxing god, in each punch was hurt and want, a kinda madness and frenzy. Each shot was his shot. His moment. Nothing to lose.
Not only that – although that’s enough – but he was evidently as shocked and excited as the rest of us. For Joshua, magnanimous in defeat, it was another day at the office, for Ruiz Jr it was his dream since he was six. It was the belief of his father paying off. It was the end of the kind of financial woes Joshua left behind years ago. Ruiz can buy his parents a house now. He can look squarely at the schoolyard doubters and say, ‘See me now, chumps?’
He thanked God, he thanked his parents and said, ‘the sky’s the limit, baby, I just made history.’
He did. He did that.
How the underdog spells glory
Elsewhere, the same night, Liverpool and Spurs played out a staid and underwhelming Champions League Final. After the most mesmeric semi-finals in the history of the league, this showpiece was a let down. There were many aspects to the game, including worthy winners, but there was no glory in the final. Glory is the indefinable trait that brands events into the timeline of history, right moment, right person.
Sport does that sometimes. Andy Ruiz Jr did it one time, on a hot Saturday in June, and that’s enough.
And when the underdog wins, we all share in the win. That’s our life up there, a little bit of it anyway. That’s our struggle, our dream, our taste of glory. Go, Andy.