The world watched on in astonishment as Anthony Joshuawas battered from pillar to post by a rotund unknown called Andy Ruiz Jr, as the former heavyweight champion’s US debut spiralled out of control in the space of 22 and a half minutes in New York. Nobody expected this.
Except those who know Ruiz’s story.
The first Mexican to ever become heavyweight champion is used to being written off. His is a story that comes from the old-school boxing annuls. Sportsmail takes a look at the rapid rise of Andy Ruiz Jr.
Quiet beginnings north of the border:
Andres Ponce Ruiz Jr was born in Imperial Valley, California, on September 11, 1989. The small town is just 16 miles north of the Mexico-United States border. Ruiz and his three sisters would travel back and forth regularly to see family south of the border.
At seven years of age, Ruiz was taken to the gym by his father, in the hope of getting a grip on the youngster’s troublesome and destructive behaviour (his tendency to break things is where his ‘Destroyer’ nickname comes from). An avid baseball player, Ruiz had to give up on his baseball dream to pursue boxing.
It was a steep learning curve for the novice, who would be thrown into the deep end due to his physique – it wouldn’t be the last time Ruiz’s weight would be used as a stick to beat him with.
‘Because I was a chubby kid I always had to fight older guys. I was seven then, fighting a 12-year-old,’ he said before the first fight. ‘There were no seven year olds who weighed as much as me so I was always fighting much older guys. But having those experiences and taking those punches has helped get me here.’
Ruiz quickly learned the basics and was soon cutting his teeth in the amateur scene. Under the tutelage of Cuban trainer Fernando Ferrer, Ruiz accumulated a record of 105-5, before setting his sights on competing for Mexico at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
He’d suffer his first true moment of adversity in his young boxing career, though. Ruiz lost two qualifying bouts, one of which was to Dillian Whyte’s former opponent Oscar Rivas, ending his dream of fighting under the Mexican flag at the Olympics.
Turning professional, fighting in Macau and personal tragedy:
Not to be bogged down by his Olympics disappointment, Ruiz turned professional in March 2009 at 19 years old, spurred on by the desire to not end up working with his father or fall into the wrong crowd.
‘Without boxing I would have probably worked with my dad in construction or been a drug dealer, because of some of the people that were around me, boxing saved my life,’ he said.
And Ruiz wasted no time in settling into the professional scene. The Destroyer racked up an impressive record of early finishes, fighting in Mexico and as well in casinos north of the border.
Bucking the trend of carefully selected opponents in comfortable arenas, the then 23-year-old took himself to Macau, China, fighting, and beating with ease, Joe Hanks and Tor Hamer on the undercards of Manny Pacquiao events.
Ruiz made a name for himself in the Far East, and was clear on his ambition to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion.
‘I have been dreaming about the heavyweight title it seems since I was born,’ Ruiz told the South China Morning Post in 2013.
‘My goal is to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world. I am trying to accomplish that. I am going to do the hard work and show all the dedication I need. I am pretty sure it will follow through,’ he said.
But Ruiz was in the midst of his own personal tragedy. In the space of a year, the Mexican lost two of his closest friends to the sport he owes his life to.
Alejandro Martinez, who Ruiz had grown up boxing with, died in 2012 as a result of injuries sustained in the ring against Juan Alberto Rosas. Martinez had been in a coma for 37 months following the 2009 bout.
Under 12 months later, Ruiz lost another friend to boxing. Frankie Leal lost his life at just 26 years old after being knocked out by Raul Hirales in 2013.
Those experiences never once caused Ruiz to consider his future in the sport.
‘I am mentally and physically prepared and I am willing to die in the ring,’ he said. ‘This is what I have been waiting on, all fighters put their lives on the line, I have two friends who have died from this boxing game and it kind of scares me but I feel I was made for this.
‘I grew up with those two guys and I felt it could happen to me and I was not sure if I was going to continue. But I think it’s the big Mexican cajones I have, I think I am meant for this.’
In the ring, Ruiz continued to go from strength to strength, earning the Imperial-born heavyweight a trip to New Zealand.
Heavyweight heartbreak and a message out of the blue
Ruiz’s form earned him a shot at the WBO heavyweight title in 2016, then held by former champion Joseph Parker, in a fight eagerly anticipated by each fighter’s home country – neither had produced a heavyweight champion before.
With renouned trainer Abel Sanchez in his corner, Ruiz was in the ascendency for most of the 12 rounds fought as the result was left in the hands of the judges, who awarded the win to Parker via majority decision. Aghast, Sanchez vowed that he and Ruiz would pursue a rematch. Parker opted to chance his arm in the United Kingdom.
And it had gone fairly quiet for Ruiz after his New Zealand disappointment. The 30-year-old didn’t compete in 2017 but got back in the ring in 2018 for fairly low key bouts against Devin Vargas, Kevin Johnson and Alexander Dimitrenko.
That was until Jerrell Miller threw Ruiz a lifeline. Big Baby’s failed drugs tests and resulting omission from the June 1 main event in New York left promoter Eddie Hearn a headache with Anthony Joshua’s US debut in jeopardy.
Michael Hunter and Dillian Whyte were the names in the frame before Ruiz threw a hail mary of a direct message to Hearn over social media, offering himself as an opponent for the boxing superstar.
Comment sections filled with abuse belittling Ruiz’s ability, mockery from Joshua’s fiercest rivals and general discontent followed in spates. The Mexican’s demeanor, particularly when compared to that of Miller, saw him well and truly written off.
From fighting in Nevada casinos to dealing with the tragic loss of two of his closest friends, Ruiz stuck two fingers to the watching world and produced the performance of a lifetime at Madison Square Garden.
As has been the case for most of his life, Andy Ruiz Jr let his fists do the talking.