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Andy Ruiz and the curse of the upset

Andy Ruiz boxing media
Robles with Ruiz in happier times Action Images/Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Andy Ruiz is a breath of fresh air but he will do well to keep his titles long term

HEAVYWEIGHT upsets, as exciting as they are, generally cause absolute chaos. In fact, the current and seemingly never-ending situation of multiple champions can be traced back to February 1978 when Leon Spinks stunned undisputed king, Muhammad Ali, to win the world title.

Ali and Spinks decided on a rematch so the WBC stripped the new champion for failing to defend against No.1 contender, Ken Norton. Norton then picked up the belt by default, while Ali regained the WBA title from Spinks. It would take nine years until there was another unified champion when, in 1987, Mike Tyson outscored James “Bonecrusher” Smith to add the WBA belt to the WBC strap he already owned.

Tyson Fury was forced to endure something similar to Spinks after he surprised Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. Three belts quickly became two as the IBF stripped him within days of the upset for failing to negotiate a mandatory defence and agree to a return with Wlad instead. In the end, Fury didn’t make any defences as he completely lost his grip on the championship, causing it to shatter further.

Anthony Joshua had cleared up most of the mess but his team struggled to convince WBC boss, Deontay Wilder, to take a fight of the ages for all the belts. At the weekend, along came Andy Ruiz Jnr, an adorable little firecracker of Mexican heritage, who reminded everyone how silly it is to bicker over percentages when one brain-scrambling punch to the temple is all it takes to run amok and steal the lot. His belief in himself should be a lesson to us all.

andy ruiz
Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

Anthony Joshua had cleared up most of the mess but his team struggled to convince WBC boss, Deontay Wilder, to take a fight of the ages for all the belts. At the weekend, along came Andy Ruiz Jnr, an adorable little firecracker of Mexican heritage, who reminded everyone how silly it is to bicker over percentages when one brain-scrambling punch to the temple is all it takes to run amok and steal the lot. His belief in himself should be a lesson to us all.

So what now? There’s already whispers that Ruiz could lose at least one of his belts if he engages in the contractually obliged Joshua return, with both the IBF and WBO due to order mandatories. One hopes some logic and common sense is applied because Ruiz, after a quite sensational win, deserves to enter the ring with all the belts he left with on Saturday night.

Which brings us to the other common narrative of the upset. While Ruiz is no doubt enjoying life as the new heavyweight leader, he must be careful not to enjoy it too much. Because the orchestrators of such seismic upsets often find themselves getting swallowed up in the aftershock.

Spinks, for example, indulged in the high life after shocking Ali and would never win another world title fight. James J. Braddock lost the championship in his first defence after stunning Max Baer in 1935. Ingemar Johansson got his head turned by fame after beating Floyd Patterson in 1959 and was subsequently kayoed in both the sequel and the rubber match; James Buster Douglas, after knocking out Mike Tyson in 1990, went on an eating rampage that nearly killed him, but not before he meekly surrendered to Evander Holyfield in the interim; Hasim Rahman was wiped out by Lennox Lewis in an immediate rematch; while Corrie Sanders, Lamon Brewster and Fury all failed to build, at least immediately, on beating Klitschko..

In fact, only Ali (after scoring surprise wins over Sonny Liston in 1964 and George Foreman a decade later) and Holyfield (after trumping Tyson in 1996) can really say they progressed after upset wins. And even for those two legends, one could argue those triumphs were the pinnacle of their careers.

So Ruiz is best advised to make the most of every second of his current standing. His manager, Al Haymon, will be monitoring everything very carefully, too. Perhaps he will try to get his charge out of the immediate rematch and create a situation where, alongside Deontay Wilder, he has total control of the division. But expect Ruiz to accept the return for no other reason than he will believe he can win.

A breath of fresh air, Ruiz now knows that focusing on your own skills rather than arguing with sanctioning bodies or gambling at negotiating tables, is the smartest way to do business in the heavyweight division.

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