When Frank Sinatra sang “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” in reference to New York, it became an instant slogan for the city.
In one line it summed up both the city’s impression of itself, and the unforgiving nature of it that the residents cultivate. Making it in New York City isn’t a guarantee, no matter who you are or how big you are elsewhere in the world.
On Saturday night, a billboard featuring British boxing superstar Anthony Joshua modeling for Hugo Boss hung high, overlooking Joe Louis Plaza. For many—and perhaps most—the image was just of another dapper man tasked with showing off Boss’ latest threads, not the heavyweight champion of the world. Just as many might think the plaza it overlooked was named for some old guy that became a pastry namesake, not the most dominant heavyweight champion of all-time and one of America’s most significant historical figures.
The most famous people in the world can stroll through the Big Apple in relative anonymity, or so it can feel. Even if you are recognized, everyone is too entrenched in their own personal hustle to care. There’s a gruffness and a fierce individuality and a tribalism that somehow go hand-in-hand that make New York both alluring and difficult to thrive in. And making it is no guarantee.
Prior to Joshua’s bout with Andy Ruiz Jr. at Madison Square Garden on June 1, a video package was circulated, and later aired in the arena, set to Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” The impression one got from watching the package was that they would be treated to a Broadway performance, the conclusion of which was already determined.
Which is exactly how the matchup between Joshua and Ruiz was viewed. The introduction of boxing’s biggest international attraction to the New York audience, against an opponent deemed worthy enough but with no chance of winning. Oddsmakers listed Ruiz as anywhere from a 20-1 to an 11-1 underdog at various points leading up to the bout.
The main source of the public’s lack of belief in Ruiz was purely optical. Joshua is a chiseled physical specimen, perfectly defined and proportioned. Ruiz, meanwhile, is a pale, heavyset lad with short legs and short arms for his height, carrying a frame that likely pushes 300 pounds if out of training, all in his torso.
"Everyone has been doubting me from the beginning," said Ruiz. "I think just the way that I look, the extra flab that I carry. We've been working on it since the (Alexander) Dimitrenko fight. But we also didn't want to lose too much weight because we wanted to be strong. I actually gained five more pounds just because I wanted to be a little stronger."
The mockery and body-shaming of Ruiz was at once tiresome and predictable, but from a boxing prognostication standpoint, image is quite often an accurate determinant of superiority in the ring. Generally, the fighter with the fleshier physique, the shabbier trunks, the smaller entourage, is the one who is going to lose. All are signs of either a willful lack of dedication to the sport, or a lack of financial resources to commit to such things, which often means you weren’t talented enough for someone to want to monetarily buoy your career. In the overwhelming majority of boxing matches that take place, even an uninitiated viewer can pick out who is supposed to win on pure optics alone, and generally be correct.
Ruiz showed no signs of caring about either the teasing, or the enormity of the task at hand, even joking about how he would eat a Snickers bar prior to the bout (something the New York State Athletic Commission reportedly did not allow). At roughly 1 am the night before the biggest night of his life, Ruiz stood in front of the Renaissance Hotel in the shadow of Madison Square Garden, looking as jolly as ever, hanging out with the small group of supporters who followed him from California and Mexico.
Joshua seemed relaxed in a more negative sense. He was late coming out of his locker room for his entrance, and