Boxing / 9 December 2019, 10:30am / RIATH AL-SAMARRAI
Sitting 200 metres above the streets of Riyadh, 44 storeys up in a giant glass ball of a restaurant called The Globe, Anthony Joshua had the look of a man on top of the world last night.
For all the tricks he had played on his own mind before this rematch, most notably by saying a win over Andy Ruiz would be nothing special, his demeanour gave the game away.
Happy, relaxed, joking and back where he wanted to be — the fog of June, the concussion, the defeat and the inquest into how and why had lifted.
It had been a hard old run, those six months of a new reality as challenger and it is only now, in the glow of redemption, that he feels fully comfortable again.
Comfortable with his renewed status as the heavyweight champion of the world and comfortable enough to explain the pressures he felt last time — the mysterious difficulties that played some part in how he suffered one of the greatest upsets in the history of his sport.
What we learnt, as of last night, is that he had a fatigue-inducing illness that required a medical procedure in June following his defeat. The exact details remain undisclosed but, as he recalled in one of his interviews to the BBC: ‘I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I felt so tired and drained and thought it must be down to training.
‘In the changing room before the fight at Madison Square Garden I got a bucket of ice and was putting my head in it, thinking, “Why do I feel so tired?” ’
How much of an effect that issue had is impossible to know. Equally, it would be revisionism in the extreme to strip glory away from Ruiz and those brutal left hooks that shocked boxing.
But it is to Joshua’s credit that it was not played as an excuse in the months between fights, when the clamour for reasoning had been so great.
In any case, the main point of relevance in all of it is that Joshua was able to address defeat with the most resounding of points wins here in the desert.
Victory came over a complacent opponent who, for all the talk of a trilogy fight, is likely to shrink in Joshua’s rear view mirror now.
Indeed, it is possible to see in Ruiz’s fall that being a champion can bring its own challenges. Joshua touched on as much by saying: ‘It’s hard (to find peace). I wanted to be great.’
Expanding on the burden of carrying the flag of British boxing since the 2012 Olympics and beyond 2016, when he first won a world title, he added: ‘For my own small part, it’s hard. I love the sport so we want to promote it, to bring through other athletes who are depending on my success.
‘Putting that pressure on ourselves is difficult. We want to keep British boxing alive but now I just want to keep myself alive in that ring.
‘It’s dangerous and I want to concentrate on the skill and the art.’ This second reign will be different, he says. ‘It’s more low key. It’s not the show any more. I’m here just to take over. We’ve promoted the hell out of boxing in a short space of time. Now I just want to focus on fighting, being a better fighter.’
Now he has his belts back — an alphabet of IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO titles that lived for half a year at Ruiz’s party mansion in California.
‘They’d spent some time with me, then some time at Andy’s house,’ said Joshua. ‘I knew they were crying to come back to daddy.’
It’s not been a blemish-free trip, of course. The concurrent tale to this fight has been centred on the complex issue of human rights and the acceptance of vast riches in order to come to Saudi Arabia.
Sportsmail has raised that question repeatedly over the week and while Eddie Hearn objected strongly yesterday to the notion that they had buried their heads in the sand, it is a reasonable and nuanced discussion.
It remains hard to shake the thought that Joshua might have been better briefed in his public comments on the regime, which at times have gone beyond the acceptance of hospitality and extended to his observations of a happy population and a country trying to do a ‘good job politically’.
Even if it is understandable that he was busy preparing for the fight of his life, someone in his group might have suggested how better to tackle the tightrope.
‘I think you guys have made me more aware of the issues,’ he said yesterday. ‘I can only go on what I have experienced.’
As an experience, Saudi Arabia has, on the whole, been overwhelmingly positive for Joshua. His objective was to return to the top of the world and to that end, the job is done.