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Deirdre Fenton On Boxer Andy Ruiz's Surprise Win In 'One Night'


Boxing is a brutal, dangerous business. I've reported on brain damage in boxing and can't bring myself to call it a sport. But I think the new documentary "One Night," a DAZN original, is a great film.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: This is the pinnacle heavyweight championship at the Garden.

SIMON: It captures this past spring's bout between Anthony Joshua of Great Britain, 6-foot-6, the reigning heavyweight champion of the world who looks as if he'd been chiseled from a block of marble, and the much shorter Andy Ruiz of California, with a physique that more recalls a bag of loose rocks. He'd make that joke himself. But Andy Ruiz, the 15-1 underdog for that fight, is champion of the world now, the first fighter of Mexican descent to win the heavyweight title. This new film about that June upset comes out just before their rematch tonight in Saudi Arabia.

It's directed by Deirdre Fenton, who won an Academy Award for producing the documentary "O.J.: Made In America." A guy named Sylvester Stallone, by the way, is executive producer. Deirdre Fenton joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

DEIRDRE FENTON: Thank you so much for having me. What an honor.

SIMON: Two very different kind of athletes, aren't they?

FENTON: You could say that.

SIMON: Well, I guess they share a lot, too. But they look different. They act different. Their ring ballet is different, too, isn't it?

FENTON: Yes. But it's not just their physical appearance. I think they both have very different mental preparations. Anthony Joshua is very much a machine. And, you know, we went to shoot his interview in Sheffield at his training camp. It feels very much like very high-tech, driven athlete. And then, you know, we visited Ruiz's camp in Guadalajara. And it's very family-oriented. It's very close-knit. And it seems like they have a lot of fun. So I think they're different in kind of every sense of the word.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about the fight. Joshua seemed such a commanding figure in the first couple of rounds. But then what happened?

FENTON: The thing that changed, really, the course of the entire evening was a punch that Ruiz threw at Joshua in the third round that hit Joshua in the left temple. It really knocks A.J. off his feet. You know, he looks like he's back in the fight, but, you know, we've come to find out that he really never was able to recover from that.

SIMON: And we should remind ourselves, as this film does, Andy Ruiz wasn't even his first choice - wasn't even initially scheduled to be his opponent. What was he able to do in the ring that no previous opponent of Anthony Joshua had been able to do?

FENTON: Well, you know, when you talk to Andy, what he says is he has no fear. He wasn't scared of him at all. And when you see just throughout the first round of the fight, A.J. is punching him, and he almost doesn't move. He can take a punch on the chin kind of, I think, like no one A.J. had ever faced, and that was really shocking for him. And then the other thing that he was able to do is just wear him down, you know, be able to get inside his huge reach and punch him in the body. And just - that's what really exhausts you.

SIMON: I find both of these fighters to be very appealing human beings.

FENTON: You know, one of the things that I wanted to do, because as we were creating the piece, obviously, we're, you know, looking to "Rocky" for inspiration. And the guy who Rocky's always fighting is kind of a villain. And one of the things I wanted to make sure came through is A.J. was never a villain.

SIMON: I thought Andy Ruiz was the Rocky character, but go ahead.

FENTON: Yeah, that's what - no, that's...

SIMON: Madam director, yeah.

FENTON: (Laughter) No, that's what I'm saying. I'm saying, you know, you have Andy as Rocky.

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

FENTON: And then the other guy - he's not a villain. He's a good guy.

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

FENTON: They're just two completely different fighters. One guy is fighting with his head, and one guy feels like he's fighting from his heart. Neither are wrong. You know, they're just compelling to watch.

SIMON: I saw an interview on Britain's Sky News and was touched by the mutual respect of two great athletes. But I've got to tell you, Anthony Ruiz (ph) said something that chilled my heart. He said, I respect him because me and him are risking our lives to entertain people. I don't know. Risking their lives to entertain people.

FENTON: Yeah. It's a brutal sport. It's devastating when injuries happen. But I think, like any sport, there's always risk involved.

SIMON: I - basketball, baseball don't have this kind of risk.

FENTON: I think unlike some other sports, boxing is a little bit more transparent about how brutal it can be. And, you know, your heart breaks when you see them actually get hurt. And you never hope that that's the case. That's why the commission and the promoters make sure that there's medical care in each corner and on the side and they're there to assist them.

SIMON: Should they hold this match in Saudi Arabia, given their human rights record?

FENTON: You know, we're just broadcasting the fight. We had nothing to do with the decision of the location. That was solely the promoters, so, you know?

SIMON: Yeah. No, I know you have nothing to do with it, but should they?

FENTON: I'd - you know, I'd rather not talk about that. I know that's probably not the best answer. But when you look at it, maybe we would've preferred a location that gave us a more prime-time broadcast for the fight. But we kind of had to play the hand we were dealt.

SIMON: You rooting for anyone?

FENTON: Rooting for a good fight (laughter). Like I said, I think both guys are great people. They're both great fighters at the top of their game. And it'll be interesting to see.

SIMON: Deirdre Fenton - director of the documentary "One Night" on DAZN, online and their YouTube channel - thank you so much for being with us.

FENTON: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.