OFTEN the heavyweight division resembles a box of children’s toys, with the more popular ones located at the top and the less desirable or fashionable ones – or simply the older ones – located somewhere near the bottom.
In 2022, that means the likes of Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury are the ones within reach, while others, like Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, recent victims of those two, fight once again for relevance and visibility, eager not to be forgotten.
Beneath those two, meanwhile, are heavyweights like Andy Ruiz Jnr and Luis Ortiz, who meet this Saturday (September 3) in Los Angeles for the opportunity to once again emerge in and around the top of the heavyweight toy box.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. In fact, as recently as 2019 Andy Ruiz was a popular toy. He was shiny and new and he did things the other heavyweights were unable to do. His hands were unusually fast, his face was friendly, and his story was compelling. Best of all, he had just shocked the world with a stunning seventh-round knockout of Anthony Joshua in June of that year.
That made a once-unpopular toy suddenly popular for the first time in his life and it also brought with it all the trappings of sudden success. This included temptation, distractions, and an awareness that his life was now set, irrespective of what he went on to achieve next.
Alas, such comfort and convenience would ensure Ruiz took his foot off the gas in the months prior to a December 2019 rematch against Joshua and he this time came up short, losing widely on the cards. Put back in his place, this loss saw Ruiz thrown back in the toy box, where he was surrounded once more by heavyweight contenders and also-rans. Indeed, so disappointing was the performance, and so unmotivated was the former champion, many suspected they would never again see Ruiz rise to the top or even care enough to try.
That would require effort, and ambition, and drive, three things critics accused the American of severely lacking. Moreover, once a heavyweight has scaled the heights and experienced popularity, even if briefly, it is rare that they are able to again go to the same place, both in terms of training and in terms of achievement.
For Ruiz, 34-2 (22), this has been demonstrated in the slow progress he has made since losing against Joshua. Hampered of course by a global pandemic, his rebirth has nevertheless been a prolonged one and to date he has boxed just once in the (almost) three years following that loss: a 12-round unanimous decision win over Chris Arreola last May. Far from vintage Ruiz, the one-time heavyweight champion was that night knocked down in the second round against Arreola before his greater energy and work-rate helped him pocket the majority of the remaining rounds to claim a decision.
While all the better for going 12 rounds, and also winning, Ruiz has failed to set foot inside the ring competitively between then and now, with the bulk of his work instead done in the gym, the focus, as ever, on losing as much weight as possible.
Ortiz, on the other hand, is a more reliable heavyweight if talking shape and dedication, yet is no less erratic when it comes to form and activity. He, like Ruiz, has had his period of relevance and hope and he, too, emerged from this period with a career in need of being recycled and revamped.
His first disappointment came back in 2018, when Ortiz boxed brilliantly for a few rounds against Deontay Wilder, hurting the American on several occasions, before ultimately being knocked out in round 10. Not content with that, Wilder then repeated this cruellest of tricks the following year, only this time ended Ortiz’s gathering momentum and enthusiasm in the seventh round of their rematch as opposed to the 10th.
All in all, both results left Ortiz with a feeling of unfulfillment. He showed across the two fights an ability to mix it with and, at times, dominate the biggest puncher in the division, yet in the end wasn’t able to see the job through to its conclusion. It left him an also-ran, a nearly-man. It shattered the illusion that he was an avoided dangerman.
Wilder aside, though, it’s true that few heavyweights have been keen to confront Ortiz over the years, which could, in hindsight, be due to any number of things. It could, for one, be due to the fact he is a well-rounded 6’4 Cuban southpaw with an answer to most technical problems presented to him. It could be because he has ended 28 of his 33 pro wins inside schedule. Or it could be because Ortiz has previously failed two performance-enhancing drug tests (in 2014 for anabolic steroids, and in 2017 for the diuretics chlorothaizide and hydrochlorothiazide) and is therefore considered something of an unnecessary risk when it comes to selecting potential opponents.
Whatever the reason, Ortiz, 33-2 (28), was avoided prior to fighting Wilder and has boxed just twice since he last shared a ring with the “Bronze Bomber”. He stopped Alexander Flores inside a round in November 2020, then beat Charles Martin inside six in January of this year, though had to rise from the canvas twice (in the first and fourth rounds) to do so.
He is, at 43 (his official age), clearly on the decline, with his prime years spent on the sidelines due to either his own transgressions or the uncertainty of others. However, if on Saturday he can somehow produce his best stuff, Ortiz will undoubtedly give Ruiz stylistic headaches he has never before encountered and could, if Ruiz has continued cutting corners, do enough damage throughout the 12 rounds to nick a victory. His lack of pace and tempo, though, inevitably makes Ruiz, 10 years Ortiz’s junior, a slight favourite.
On a competitive LA undercard, Isaac Cruz, 23-2-1 (16), battles Eduardo Ramirez, 27-2-3 (12), over 12 rounds at lightweight and Jose Valenzuela, 12-0 (8), locks horns with Jezzrel Corrales, 26-4 (10), also at lightweight, though over 10 rounds rather than 12. Meanwhile, unbeaten middleweights Joseph Spencer, 15-0 (10), and Kevin Salgado Zambrano, 14-0-1 (9), collide in a 10-rounder, and super-bantamweight Ra’eese Aleem, 19-0 (12), meets Mike Plania, 26-1 (13), in a bout also scheduled for 10.