In boxing—and just about any other athletic event—there is always a favorite and an underdog.
But in this sport in particular, pugilists dance around in a sort of “theater of the unexpected,” filled with stories of those who have somehow managed to overcome the odds. The sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York witnessed one such upset yesterday courtesy of 29-year-old Andy Ruiz Jr. The Mexican-American pulled off an improbably win over Anthony Joshua of the United Kingdom to wrest the IBF, IBO, WBO, and WBA heavyweight titles.
More drama in and out of the ring:
In a match-up that many pundits expected to be a virtual waste of everybody’s time, the man from California flipped the script and sent shockwaves throughout the boxing world. The odds were ridiculously against Ruiz’s favor that when ring announcer Michael Buffer said “…should this fight go the distance,” fans actually laughed. The physically smaller Ruiz was, after all, a 15-to-1 underdog.
Ruiz wasn’t even supposed to fight last night; he only stepped in for disgraced fighter Jarrell Miller who had failed three separate performance enhancing drug tests in March. This was supposed to be walk in the park for Joshua, who had a more distinguished career than his upstart opponent. But Ruiz never doubted his abilities and wound up becoming the first boxer of Mexican descent to hold a major world heavyweight title.
Down but not out
Ruiz was dropped early in the third round from a beautiful right uppercut-left hook combination, but he didn’t fold. Instead, he picked himself up and went right after the 2012 Olympic gold medalist. From there, the fight was never the same.
Known by the moniker “Destroyer” due to his hard-hitting style in the ring, Ruiz got up from the knockdown and clobbered a left hook onto his foe’s jaw. As Joshua’s knees appeared to buckle, Ruiz let loose with a torrent of heavy blows until the champion tasted the canvas. Late in the same round, Joshua was backed into a corner, where Ruiz unloaded another volley of punches, sending him sprawling down against the ropes.
Joshua looked completely out of wits, prompting Ruiz to fire a hard right to the body followed by quick hooks in the sixth round. The Mexican-American was in command of the bout, and he scored two more knockdowns in Round 7. Seeing Joshua dazed and confused, referee Michael Griffin was compelled to wave it off at the 1:27 mark and award the technical knockout to Ruiz.
“I just feel so good, man. This is what I have been dreaming about,” Ruiz says. “This is what I have been working hard for. I can’t believe I just made my dreams come true. I just want to thank my team and my family. The sky is the limit, baby.”
Not your typical boxing champion
In the short build-up to the heavyweight title tiff between Joshua and Ruiz, the latter had to listen to the taunts, particularly pokes at his less-than-lean frame. Ruiz’s physique is not the ideal in this sport: He is listed at 6-foot-2, but is closer to 5-11, and has weighed as much as 297.5 pounds. (This was his weight for his professional debut ten years ago.) His body is undefined, his arms are short, and his legs are stocky. If there are abs somewhere in his midsection, they are buried deeper than fossil fuels on the ocean floor.
Legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum even once described Ruiz as a “fat slob.” But the pre-fight gibes only motivated him going into his world title challenge. Despite every insulting “crying-laughing” emoji that got posted in response to his and Joshua’s weigh in photo, it was Ruiz who got the last laugh. “I’ve been working really hard, man. I wanted to prove all the doubters wrong,” he shares. “I have seen all the comments.”
Talent has never been an issue for Ruiz, who possesses fast hands and fluidity. He will never have chiseled abs or a shredded physique like his fellow boxers, but he does have a natural fighting ability. He also showed a fighter’s mentality by dusting himself off the canvas in the third round and turned things around in dramatic fashion.
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn revealed that his prizefighter would exercise his rematch clause immediately, perhaps facing him again at the end of the year at his home turf. “AJ [Joshua] got sloppy. It was a beautiful combination in the third round,” Hearn comments. “He was in total control of the fight, but he got sloppy and never recovered. AJ will come back 100 percent and we will make the rematch in the U.K. in November or December.”
But the promoter adds that the night belongs to Ruiz. “He made history in the heavyweight division. It will go down in history as a very big one,” he says. “Now at least we know the opponent for the end of the year in the U.K. It makes the fall fight a must-win.”
Ruiz is willing to give Joshua a crack at regaining his belts, but he has other plans before any of those rematch details will be discussed. “Right now, I just want to celebrate,” he says. “I just made history for Mexico. This is what I have been dreaming about since I was six years old.”