Outside of that one magical night in New York that changed his life forever, Andy Ruiz Jr. has always been a tantalizing mixture of potential and disappointment.
Trainers have seen his fast hands, his quick feet and the thunder in his hands and have imagined a guy with a long run at the top of the heavyweight division, regardless of what his midsection looked like.
He was that guy on June 1, 2019, when he not only survived a hard knockdown against Anthony Joshua, but pulled himself up and wound up stopping Joshua in Madison Square Garden to become the unified heavyweight champion. He had a little spare tire that night, as so many of us do, but it didn’t impact his ability to do his job.
When Oscar De La Hoya fought Fernando Vargas in 2002, Vargas showed off an incredibly chiseled and cut physique at the weigh-in. He looked like one of the favorites in a body-building competition, not a boxer prepared to fight for the super welterweight title. But Floyd Mayweather Sr., who was then training De La Hoya, sneered at Vargas’ appearance. Bodybuilding doesn’t help you win fights, Mayweather Sr. said. De La Hoya went on to stop Vargas, and it was later discovered that Vargas had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
No one has ever suspected that of Ruiz, though many have commented on his body. But Ruiz, who meets Luis Ortiz in the main event of a Fox Sports PBC Pay-Per-View on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, need not apologize for his body.
Mayweather Sr. was right. Big muscles and washboard abdominals don’t win fights. But too often, regardless of how he’s looked, Ruiz hasn’t given himself the best chance to win. That was most obvious in the rematch against Joshua.
Joshua was there to be beaten — again — but Ruiz came in out of shape and unable to push the way he needed to in order to duplicate his feat of six months earlier. Much was made of the 283 pounds Ruiz carried that night, though the number doesn’t matter. It’s what didn’t happen. He didn’t train the way he had previously and didn’t have the stamina to push himself to be his best.
Now, he gets yet another opportunity to right whatever wrongs there were in the past and to prove those who believed in him knew what they were talking about.
He’s coming off a unanimous decision win over an aged Chris Arreola on May 1, 2021, in which he was dropped in the second round. He won going away, by scores of 118-109 twice and 117-110, but much of what is remembered about that fight is that Ruiz had to pull himself off the deck.
He wasn’t thrilled with his performance that night, and he said something at the open workouts this week that was telling, even if it were overlooked.
“If this ends in a knockout, it ends in a knockout,” Ruiz said. “My only goal is to be victorious. I’m in shape to go 12 hard rounds. We’re going to go in there and leave it all in the ring.”
I’m in shape to go 12 hard rounds.
That’s it. That’s all that matters. Ruiz is a better fighter than Ortiz. Period. End of story. The best fighters don’t always win, though, especially if they cheat themselves in training camp the way Ruiz did in the rematch with Joshua and, presumably, at several other points in his career.
All those attributes that made Ruiz a compelling prospect remains. He can still hit tremendously hard. He can still move. He knows how to box. He’s got a great chin.
He’s better — far better, actually — than all but a very small handful of heavyweights in the world.
But he’s also less than two weeks away from his 33rd birthday. He’s got time to be remembered as more than a one-and-done flash in the pan, but he’s got to put in the work.
He parted ways with highly regarded trainer Eddy Reynoso after the Arreola fight and brought in Alfredo Osuna to replace him. Osuna, like so many trainers before him, likes what he sees.
But he doubled down on Ruiz’s comment about being able to go 12 hard rounds.
“Andy is in optimal shape,” Osuna said. “He couldn’t be doing any better. The best part of this training camp is that he’s been happy, disciplined and as dedicated as he’s ever been.”
A happy, disciplined and dedicated Ruiz is favored to beat just about any heavyweight alive. Tyson Fury, the WBC champion, would be favored to beat him. And so would unified champion Oleksandr Usyk. For sure, ex-WBC champ Deontay Wilder would be favored versus Ruiz and maybe Anthony Joshua, though that’s no guarantee. But that’s it.
If Ruiz is, indeed, happy and in the best shape of his life, expect to see him strutting around the ring with his arms raised triumphantly while the doctors tend to a stunned Ortiz.
But if he’s not, well, that’s different. We’ve seen that story before.