Joshua was floored four times and beaten in seven stunning rounds in a result to rival any surprise in the sport’s illustrious history.
Only boxing can offer such drama. And when it comes to the heavyweights, it happens with such thunder that it feels as if the ceiling has fallen in.
Anthony Joshua suffered his first, dramatic shock defeat of his career against challenger Andy Ruiz Jr after being stopped in the seventh round at Madison Square Garden.
Joshua was dropped four times in the fight as the Mexican-American claimed the British boxer’s three world title belts in one of the biggest underdog upsets in heavyweight history.
They will compare this to the night in 1990 when the unfavoured Buster Douglas knocked out then-undefeated Mike Tyson in the Tokyo Dome. Tyson recovered from it; now the 29-year-old Briton must haul his broken spirit and body up from the canvas and do the same.
Boxing is an unforgiving sport at the best of times. Now is the time that we will really find out where the championship material exists inside the body and soul of the champion they said could become the undisputed one.
It was going to plan for Joshua on his US debut into the third round when he floored Ruiz, but as he looked for the finish, he was knocked down himself by a counter and in truth, never really recovered his legs, or his vigour in the contest.
Joshua’s reign began to unravel in a terrible third round.
He looked in full control when he floored Ruiz Jr with a left hook. But, in trying to finish the fight, Joshua was caught cold by Ruiz Jr and sent to the canvas for the first time since his classic fight against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley.
Joshua stood up but was on wobbly legs and Ruiz Jr pounced, sending him tumbling down again. Joshua clambered back up and needed to be saved by the bell for the end of the round.
Down twice in that third stanza, the two fighters pawed at each other for the next three rounds, Ruiz stalking patiently for the much bigger man to open up again. It came in the seventh round, as Joshua, once again successful with his hook, was then countered by Ruiz, who went into attacking mode, throwing fast combinations from the inside to drop Joshua twice more.
After the second knockdown, his arms hanging on the ropes in his own corner, the referee Mike Griffin took the decision that the Briton was in no position to continue.
The Mexican-American challenger let his hands go in the seventh round and an overhand right had Joshua crashing down for a third time. It looked like a lost cause at this point but Joshua stood up again, only to hit the canvas for a fourth time with his gum-shield out, unable to hold himself up any longer.
Ruiz, in winning his thirty-third professional fight, becomes the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world. His tactics and focus in this fight have to be commended. In an exclusive sit-down with the Telegraph in Los Angeles he had outlined that he is always underestimated because of his flabby physique, but his nous and patience for the opportunities that came in this contest against Joshua showed his big fight, big night temperament.
The two men will rematch for the IBF, WBA and WBO world titles back in the UK, most likely in October or November. Joshua was magnanimous and generous in spirit in defeat, apologising to thousands of fans who travelled to the sold-out mecca for fight nights in Manhattan.
“Now we’ll see what AJ’s about. At least we know who his opponent is for the end of the year,” his promoter Eddie Hearn said. Joshua now must avenge defeat in Cardiff later this year, and must climb back after this disaster in his first sojourn to the USA.