Andy Ruiz Jnr does not look like an athlete. He looks like a Mexican party animal, who would be happiest slamming tequila shots until sunrise. However, combat sport is an arena that accommodates a wide range of body types, and short chubby men get matched up against tall skinny ones if they share the same weight. From a gambling perspective, the golden rule for the fight game is always bet on the skinny guy. He will normally have a longer reach and a cardio advantage. The stocky guy might punch with more power, but the skinny guy will fight harder for longer and either win on points or pounce late when his opponent is tired.
On June 1, 2019, Ruiz was called up as a late replacement for Jarrell Miller to fight for the WBO, WBA, and IBF belts versus English champion Anthony Joshua. Although jumping several grades, and with a mere 5 weeks notice, Ruiz had a record of 33 wins and 1 loss and was not entirely out of place. As physical specimens, the two men could not be more dissimilar. Joshua is an impressive man, 6 foot 6 with broad shoulders and a lean, well-muscled frame, he has close to the perfect athlete’s physique. Ruiz, on the other hand, is 6 foot 2, with short arms, a generous belly that flops around when he throws punches, and looks like he would struggle to run up a flight of stairs. Betting markets for the June bout reflected this physical disparity, with Joshua entering the ring as the short-priced favourite. There were rumours that he had been knocked out several times while sparring, but nonetheless, no serious pundit gave Ruiz much of a chance.
A man of Joshua’s physical talents should be a classic boxer, utilising a long looping jab and deft footwork to stay out of harm’s way and pick his opponent to pieces. Such a style is almost impossible to counter, yet Joshua’s record was strangely littered with 21 knockouts from 22 fights. Going into the Ruiz fight he considered himself a brawler, a tough guy who would stand toe-to-toe and refuse to yield. Ruiz’s record was also dotted with knockouts as to be expected. The challenger’s style relied on getting in close and hurling force and weight at his opponent’s chin until something significant landed.
In the 3rd round of the fight, Ruiz did just that. After getting knocked down himself, he got close and caught Joshua with some massive shots and sent the undefeated champion tumbling to the canvas. This was followed by 3 more knockdowns until the ref waved it away in round 7. Joshua was done, with no appetite for further punishment. He discretely shook his head when asked if he wanted to continue and the ref added the closing formalities. This massive upset catapulted the Mexican/American to instant stardom. He was doing it for the fat guys, a bit like John Daley used to do on the golf course and corpulent Americans went mad.
The rematch was to occur in the oil-soaked deserts of Saudi Arabia. As photos emerged during the build-up, it appeared that a much slimmer Ruiz would be in attendance. He might have been carrying some excess weight for the first fight because he was denied a full training camp, but he would be leaner and fitter the second time around. Joshua was also taking the lighter route. He shed muscle and appeared much slimmer during his preparation. On December 6 the men climbed on the scales for the official weigh-in. Heavyweight is the only division where fighters may have unequal mass, but huge disparities are rare. Joshua indeed tipped the scales at 237, 10 pounds lighter than the first bout. Ruiz climbed the scales wearing a singlet and sombrero and came in at 283, 15 pounds heavier than the first fight. Could this be possible? Joshua’s odds tightened even further.
When Ruiz entered the ring and removed his jacket he did look to be in worse condition. A mystifying regression had occurred. The second fight followed the script predicted for the first. Joshua forwent his delusions of brawling grandeur, got smart, and boxed, jabbing, bobbing, weaving, running, and staying out of trouble. The right hands were rare, but effective, snapping the Ruiz head back in every round. Ruiz chased the elusive Brit, trying desperately to get inside and land something devastating, but barely laid a clean glove. The result was a very lopsided points victory.
The mystery of the rematch was Ruiz’s weight. Here was his chance to prove he was a worthy champion, not some lucky chump who caught the incumbent with a fortunate punch, and he blew the opportunity. He will probably be remembered as another Buster Douglas, a one-hit wonder who somehow got fortunate when the champion was having a bad night. Following the loss, stories emerged of a poor training camp, of too much partying, too many tacos, and not enough discipline. He bought a fleet of expensive cars and took an extended bender, the actions of a lottery winner, not a serious sporting champion.
Life is less about the circumstances that come our way, than how we deal with them. Joshua was completely humiliated in his loss to Ruiz. He stayed in New York for some weeks, too ashamed to return to his friends, family and wider training circle. Then he picked himself up, got lean, remade his strategy, learned some painful lessons, and put his tools to work. A classic boxer should not be brawling, ever. Ruiz went in the other direction. He got lazy. A short stocky fighter should be putting in extra training miles, sharpening his hand speed, and learning to cover distances with a velocity that surprises his opponent.
Following the rematch the bruised and bloodied Ruiz grabbed the microphone to request a trilogy bout. This is unlikely to materialise. With huge money fights versus AMG favourite Tyson Fury and US villain Deontay Wilder floating around, Joshua’s promoters will be very unlikely to give Ruiz another shot at greatness. Financially set for the time being, where the unlikely athlete goes from here is anyone’s guess.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Correspondent