NEW YORK • Andy Ruiz Jr pulled off a spectacular upset on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, defeating Anthony Joshua, the previously unbeaten heavyweight world champion, by technical knockout after the referee stopped the fight in the seventh round.
No one had given Ruiz, a doughy fighter born in the United States but considers himself Mexican, a chance against Joshua, a chiselled star used to fighting in front of 90,000-strong crowds in his home country of Britain.
But Ruiz stunned the 2012 London Games gold medallist with furious punching flurries that left him stumbling and, at several points, on the canvas.
The largely pro-Joshua crowd had gone from thrilled to shell-shocked by the time the fight was over, with the upset echoing James "Buster" Douglas' upset of Mike Tyson nearly 30 years ago.
While the bookmakers' favourite had scored the first knockdown in the third round, Ruiz fought back and delivered most of the damaging blows, twice knocking him down.
In the seventh round, he again dropped Joshua with a left hook and, about 30 seconds later, the 29-year-old went down again.
Although he staggered to his corner, leaning on the ropes, the referee stopped the fight after a brief conversation and Ruiz's camp stormed the ring in celebration.
Joshua dropped to 22-1 with 21 knockouts, while his opponent (33-1 with 22 KOs) became the first Mexican boxer to be a world heavyweight champion, capturing the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Association titles in the process.
Claiming "this is what I've been working hard for", Ruiz, 29, added: "I can't believe I just made my dreams come true. I am still pinching myself to see if this is real."
His victory was all the more remarkable because he took the fight at short notice after Joshua's previously scheduled American opponent, Jarrell Miller, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
This fight was supposed to be his big introduction to US boxing fans in an effort to build his stardom beyond Britain.
Instead, it was a humiliating setback although Joshua is likely to take on Ruiz again immediately as the bout had a rematch clause.
Insisting he "gotta bounce back", he said: "Boxing is a tough sport. I trained hard, I stayed dedicated. I just got beaten by a good fighter tonight... This is all part of the journey. Fighter by heart, boxer by trade."
However, World Boxing Council champion Deontay Wilder, who had been in long-running talks with Joshua over a title unification showdown, was quick to pile on the misery, claiming "he wasn't a true champion".
The American tweeted: "His whole career was consistent of lies, contradiction and gifts... now we know who was running from who!"
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS,