No one in boxing has ridden the roller coaster of fame quite like former world heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. of San Diego.
Three years ago, Ruiz Jr. cashed in on the opportunity of a lifetime, defeating Anthony Joshua of England under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden as an 11 to 1 underdog. The affable “Mexican Rocky” with the same chubby physique of his childhood took down the physically impressive Joshua and won the hearts of fans worldwide.
Six months later, Ruiz Jr. crashed back to earth in Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t that he lost his rematch with Joshua. He came in unprepared and in poor condition to hold onto his titles. If Ruiz Jr. retreated into being a boxing footnote, no one would be surprised. He came close, blowing up to well over 300 pounds and dealing with depression.
Today, Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22 KOs) appears to be the same easygoing personality he’s always been as he prepares to return on Saturday, September 4, against Luis “King Kong” Ortiz Jr. of Cuba (33-2, 28 KOs).
Ruiz Jr. is now training at his gym in El Cajon, California, just east of San Diego and minutes from his home in the eastern part of the county. Speaking with NYFights at a recent workout session, we asked Ruiz Jr. how he regained and maintains his positive outlook when so many of his peers are struggling.
For Ruiz Jr., it’s about faith, family, and flexibility. He takes his responsibility as a role model to others who might be struggling with society’s expectations seriously.
Heavyweight Division Has Room for Ruiz Jr.
Perhaps no one understands Joshua’s public meltdown following his rematch loss to Oleksandr Usyk than Ruiz Jr. “He needs to have more confidence in himself,” said Ruiz Jr. “As fighters, (people) don’t know what we go through. We both know this is a lonely sport,” said Ruiz Jr.
Ruiz Jr. has been out of the ring for 15 months since a shaky victory over fellow Mexican-American heavyweight Chris Arreola. The 32-year-old Ruiz Jr. now sports fresh ink and a fresh new form prepping for his upcoming bout.
“I’ve been training hard because we want to climb back up the ladder of the heavyweight division. That’s why we picked a tough guy like Luis Ortiz. He has a hard style, but I’m positive and confident that I’m going to win this fight on September 4,” said Ruiz Jr.
“I feel like I’m in a good state of mind right now. I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to do. I underestimated my last opponent (Arreola) but I’m really focused on what Luis Ortiz brings. This is another chapter for me and my career,” said Ruiz Jr.
Ruiz Jr. is the rare heavyweight with fast hands who relies on volume punching when he is in top form. Asked whether the speed is something you’re born with or whether you can develop speed, Ruiz Jr. believes it’s innate. You have speed, or you don’t.
Ruiz Jr.’s speed appears to be good as ever as he works with new trainer Alfredo Osuna this week. At a tightened up 270 pounds (according to Ruiz Jr.’s current estimate), adding power to speed makes him a problem for anyone.
After the Arreola bout, Ruiz Jr. said he was at “about 60%.” He’ll need to be 100% focused against Ortiz Jr., who still maintains one-punch knockout power at age 43. One mistake and Ruiz Jr.’s rise back to the top will take a big hit.
Ruiz Jr. says he plans to be aggressive, work with volume inside against Ortiz Jr, and smother any incoming fire.
“Ortiz’s age doesn’t matter, especially in the heavyweight division. Because one punch is going to change the whole fight. I just have to be smart and explosive and turn it up when I need to turn it up,” said Ruiz Jr. “I respect him. I know he respects me too. I just hope we both come out healthy with our family and our loved ones. Absolutely.”
Ortiz Jr. knows his American rival Deontay Wilder is also returning to the ring, and a fight between them has been discussed for many years. Ortiz Jr. says he’d like to face Wilder next if he defeats Robert Helenius on October 15. “A matchup against Deontay Wilder would be an amazing fight. The heavyweight division is wide open, but I’m not overlooking Luis Ortiz. If Wilder is next, he’s next. It’s an easy fight to make.”
It’s impossible not to like Ruiz Jr. and admire his accomplishments despite his stumbles. When he can stay motivated and not give in to inertia or poor discipline, he’s got all the tools it takes to win. It’s harder striving for goals from a view at the top. Ruiz Jr. wants back up there, and this time he intends to make the most of any success.
“I want to take advantage of every single moment I have in boxing. Especially for these big fights, because I want to succeed and make the most out of my career,” said Ruiz Jr.
I feel that it was my destiny to be a role model, to tell everybody that it’s possible. Nobody believed in me because it was just the way I looked. Everybody was judging a book by its cover. You know, I want to be that example. ‘Well, you know what, if he could do it, I could do it too.’”