Heavyweight contender Andy Ruiz Jr. will get a second and wholly unexpected world title opportunity.
Ruiz, bidding to become the first Mexican to win a heavyweight world title, will step in on short notice to challenge Anthony Joshua for his three major belts on June 1 (DAZN) at Madison Square Garden in New York, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced Wednesday after two weeks spent looking for a replacement opponent for Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller.
"The chills -- I'm really excited for this fight," Ruiz said. "There's nervousness in me, but they're happy nerves. This is my chance to make history. I want to be one of those greats like [Julio Cesar] Chavez, [Mike] Tyson, [Evander] Holyfield, Lennox Lewis. I want to be in that category. Thanks to God for everything that he put in me. I just can't wait."
England's Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), 29, who will be making his much-anticipated United States debut, was supposed to make his seventh title defense against Brooklyn contender Miller. However, two weeks ago, Miller was denied a boxing license in New York after failing multiple Voluntary Anti-Doping Association-administered random drug tests.
"People talk about fighting AJ, some even have to fill their bodies with PEDs to try and beat him up, but very few genuine fighters step up and take the challenge," said Hearn, who said it was "tricky" trying to line up a new opponent.
"When we selected the opponent, I wanted someone with fire in their heart, someone who genuinely believed that they can win and become world heavyweight champion," Hearn continued. "Andy showed that desire. In my opinion, this is a tougher test than Jarrell Miller. Andy punches harder and is much faster. This is going to be a war. Andy brings Mexican heart, but he will meet the best heavyweight in the world on June 1 head-on at the Garden."
Miller failed four drug screens for three banned substances -- GW1516, human growth hormone and EPO -- in blood and urine tests conducted in March but whose results came to light a few weeks later.
With Miller (23-0-1, 20 KOs), 30, out of the fight, Hearn set about to find a replacement opponent to face Joshua from a list that initially included fighters such as Luis "King Kong" Ortiz -- the preferred replacement -- Michael Hunter, secondary world titlist Manuel Charr, interim titlist Trevor Bryan and European champion Agit Kabayel.
But after Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs), 29, of Imperial, California, scored an impressive fifth-round knockout of Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20 on the Premier Boxing Champions card in Carson, California, and then said he wanted to fight Joshua, Hearn added him to the list of possibilities.
One by one, candidates were weeded out, such as Ortiz, whose team turned down $5 million for the fight -- likely because of the promise of a rematch with titlist Deontay Wilder later this year -- and Hunter, whose style Joshua's team didn't like. Ultimately, it came down to Ruiz and Bryan, whose promoter, Don King, put the hard press on Hearn to make the fight.
In the end, however, it was Ruiz, a far more known commodity than Bryan, who got the fight and agreed to terms before the deal was signed late Tuesday.
"I think the fight is going [to be] toe-to-toe, two guys smashing each other's faces," Ruiz said. "I'm going in there to throw combinations like I've never done before, to improve my speed. A lot of people underestimated me, and I'm used to that. My whole life people underrated me, so I'm just going in there to take all. I'm not going in there scared, and I'm not going in there nervous. I'm going to go in there mad and to take what's mine.
"I think being so tall, [the 6-foot-6 Joshua] fights like a big robot. I think with my style, my speed, my movement, I don't think he's fought anybody like me. It's going to be a whole different ballgame. All the guys that he's fought, they usually run around from him. I don't think he's good going back. I'm going to bring the pressure, the speed and the combinations to him."
Ruiz has won three fights in a row since he lost a majority decision to Joseph Parker for a vacant world title in December 2016. Parker was later outpointed by Joshua in a title unification fight in March 2018.
A win over Joshua would make the Mexican history Ruiz has dreamed of.
"When I do pull out this win, everything is going to change," he said. "I'm going to bring the titles back to Mexico. It's going to mean everything. I'm going to be able to change my whole family's lives, my life and all my kids. It's a win-win situation right now, but the main thing is to win the fight and make history."
Joshua, who is coming off a highlight-reel seventh-round knockout of Alexander Povetkin in September, said he'll be ready whether his opponent is Miller or Ruiz.
"Ruiz is a different kind of challenge, but one I embrace," Joshua said. "We have worked in the boxing gym week on week, and whomever is put in front of me at Madison Square Garden on June 1 will be dispatched in style. The rent will be collected."