By Jeffrey Freeman
In December of 2014, I was contacted by the publicist of a 25 year-old ham and egger heavyweight named Andy Ruiz Jr. At the time, Ruiz was 24-0 with 17 knockouts. He was only just starting to make a name for himself and his eager publicist was desperate to get her client some much needed publicity. Evidently his being signed with Top Rank just wasn’t getting it done. So I agreed to make Ruiz Jr. the featured KO Digest interview for January 2015.
In the informative Q&A session, Ruiz Jr. lambasted his own overweight frame; agreeing with the haters who disparaged him for it but saying he’d be willing to fight anybody to prove himself to them: “I fight well with a lot of skill. My only problem is my weight. I’m still winning, but there are a lot of critics in boxing saying they’re not happy with my weight and that I’m just too fat. But to tell you the truth, I agree with them. I do need to change that so I can have their support.”
We asked the humble Ruiz Jr. about his goals in boxing. “To prove to the world who I am, what I can do. All the guys that are up there, I would fight. I want to prove myself against elite fighters. Tyson Fury, Klitschko, Wilder—all the guys who say they're the best are the guys I want to fight. That’s what I’m trying to do. I proved a lot of people wrong, a lot of people underestimated me, thinking I was going to lose against Hamer, Hanks, or Liakhovich, but I’m still winning.”
I don’t know if the new Heavyweight Champion of the World Andy Ruiz Jr. wants an immediate rematch with dethroned kingpin Anthony Joshua, but there’s definitely gonna be one. It’s in the cards and it’s in the contracts. Ruiz, now 33-1, with 22 KOs, scored a Balboa quality upset last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in NYC, stopping an exhausted Joshua (now 22-1) in seven rounds to become the first Latino American heavyweight champion since John Ruiz beat Evander Holyfield for the WBA title in 2001. It was arguably the biggest upset in heavyweight boxing since James “Buster” Douglas did the impossible against Iron Mike Tyson in Tokyo.
This underdog Ruiz earned his title shot the same way Balboa earned his; by being willing to fight a heavily favored champ on short notice when a more qualified title challenger fell through. And despite looking like a bag of Bermuda onions, Ruiz moved his hands with the precision of a chef against Joshua, dicing him up and knocking him down a handful of times before Canadian referee Mike Griffin stopped the fight with AJ on his feet but unresponsive to verbal commands.
How big an upset was it?
Absolutely nobody picked Ruiz to win this fight and the most that was expected of him was to maybe go the distance. In the third round, Joshua rocked his challenger with a clean left hook for a knockdown and it looked like Ruiz would be outclassed and put away early as expected. Instead, he got up and fought back like Balboa against Creed, like Douglas against Tyson. By the end of the round, Joshua had been put down twice and was already breathing heavily.
As the middle rounds went on, Ruiz made hitting Joshua look very easy, especially to the body, forcing the chiseled defending champ into a defensive posture that he was never really able to get himself out of. Ruiz showed no fear of Joshua’s power and almost no respect for his pedigree. Ruiz simply walked in and did what he wanted just about whenever he wanted to.
In the seventh, Ruiz (with ‘Victorious’ tattooed to his back) made his dreams come true, decking AJ twice more for the improbable TKO-7 victory and for the unified WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight championships. Was the referee’s decision to stop the title bout a little premature? Some might have seen it that way but the former champion stayed classy in defeat and didn’t make an issue of it at all, instead congratulating the new champion and giving him all the respect now due.
Many expect Joshua will come back like Lennox Lewis did after being upset by Oliver McCall in 1994. You’ll remember Lewis was on his feet when that fight was stopped after McCall knocked Lewis down in the second. Lewis ultimately got his revenge, forcing a crying McCall to quit. Others argue this exposes Joshua as the next Frank Bruno—a chinless robot with no stamina. WBC titlist Deontay Wilder has already slagged the now beaten Joshua as a liar and a fraud.
Lewis pulled a similar trick in 2001 when he was upset again by another underdog American named Hasim “The Rock” Rahman. In the rematch just seven month later, Rahman was brutally knocked out and left out in the cold of a lucrative heavyweight division. Can Ruiz Jr. repeat his Upset of the Year performance against Anthony Joshua? He will absolutely need to in order to convince people this wasn’t just a massive fluke or a questionable referee stoppage.
AND THE NEW
Ruiz Jr. seems to understand the nature of the fight game. Asked to elaborate on the biggest differences between the amateur and professional ranks, the future champ shed some light on the system; revealing what he learned about leaving your fate in the hands of ringside judges.
“A lot of people, like the judges, were cheating. The pros are different. In the pros, you can get hurt and you are actually risking your life, so you have to go one hundred and twenty percent. This boxing thing is not a joke and we have to come prepared. There is a big difference between the amateurs and the pros, but amateurs are where we planted the seed and now it’s growing.”
On Saturday night in New York City, it flowered beautifully. In 2015, Ruiz told us he could be the “Mexican Mike Tyson.” No, Andy Ruiz Jr. is now the real life Rocky Balboa. Yo!
PHOTO by Kyte Monroe used with permission
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