ANDY RUIZ JR still has the same short and spherical physique that made pretty much everyone on the planet write off his chances of beating Anthony Joshua six months ago.
But there’s differences too. There’s a sturdiness about him that wasn’t apparent before his breakout fight in New York. Back then, when he greeted the British media for the first time, my first thought was it must have been Ruiz’s little brother because the man I was looking at looked nothing like a heavyweight boxer. I spied over his shoulder and waited for the real Andy Ruiz Jr to enter the scene. Which of course he did, five days later, when he steamrolled Joshua in a little over 20 minutes of mind-bending drama.
That perception of Ruiz’s body – which has retained its wobble, by the way – is now wrecking ball rather than beach ball. “Wow,” someone said at the open workouts on Tuesday night as Andy Ruiz blazed through a nifty little routine with his trainer, Manny Robles. “He’s so damn strong. He’s immoveable.”
Immoveable. Strong. Sturdy. Gone are the cruel jibes he’s spent his whole life sucking up and pretending to ignore. Nobody will laugh when he takes off his t-shirt anymore, they wouldn’t dare. Least of all Anthony Joshua, who models one of boxing history’s most pristine physiques and is a walking talking reminder of what happens when you underestimate the fat kid.
In a luxurious (albeit curiously empty) shopping mall in the centre of Riyadh, Ruiz walks into the restaurant on the top floor oozing newfound badass and eases into the seat in front of us. His thick tattooed arms hang loosely from sprawling shoulders that on Saturday night will again power the punches capable of cannoning Joshua out of heavyweight relevance.
Confidence combined with achievement can make even the smallest people on this earth walk impossibly tall; Ruiz’s dimensions might be the same, but his aura has grown dramatically.
“I feel I inspired a lot of people,” he understates with a smile. “I made big guys look good. A lot of people are more confident, they look at me and go, ‘if Andy Ruiz can do it then so can I’. That was my goal. I have to motivate kids, motivate people and let them know everything is possible. They have to work hard, train hard or whatever it is they do, even if it’s not boxing, if it is their job or anything.”
Ruiz’s job is the same job he’s had since he was six years old. Now 30, Ruiz is the product of a life spent fighting the Mexican way. A life that, until very recently, had harvested only meagre reward. Now an overnight millionaire, Ruiz concedes he’s enjoyed his financial security and worldwide fame.
Money and fame bring their own problems, however, particularly when achieved at the kind of breakneck speed that enormous boxing upsets provide. For some – like James ‘Buster’ Douglas and Leon Spinks – winning the big one can spell disaster for a fighting career, particularly when that career was born from comparative poverty. With ambitions and dreams realised, and wallets fattened, the efforts invested to achieve such feats can quickly disperse.
Listening to Ruiz’s tales of wealth it’s impossible not to fear the worst and envision a future like so many fighters’ futures, where the money runs out and the good times wrinkle and die. Particularly as each wrist – and several fingers – showcase shiny clues that Ruiz isn’t saving much for those inevitable rainy days.
“My maddest purchase is probably all of the cars that I bought,” he says. “I bought four cars, two types of G-Wagons, the brand-new Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini truck.
“Favourite car? That’s a tough question. I don’t know. It might be the Lamborghini SUV, it’s fast and spacious. I can put all my kids in there… well not all my kids because I have a lot of kids, but I can put some of my kids in there! It’s a lot of fun.”
He’s funny and endearing – in a way that heavyweight champions often are – yet he’s also quick to insist that he hasn’t allowed the fun he’s having interfere with the fighting that paid for it.
“Being rich and famous has been going really well, it can get a little overwhelming at times,” he admits. “But this is what I dreamed of and worked towards all my life. This is what I’ve been training so hard for since I was six years old. It’s great for me and my family and my kids, our whole lives changed on June 1.
“I am a family man, so it has not been hard to keep my motivation or focus. I have my father with me all the time, pushing me, as well as my trainer and we make a great team.
“And there is nothing better than a team that wants the best of you and does everything it can for you.”
Fighters have a habit of saying the right things at the right time. When was the last time you heard a boxer say that training camp has been awful? That they wished they’d tried a little harder to get in fighting shape? Douglas promised he was going to beat Evander Holyfield before he was thrashed in three rounds. Spinks insisted that he would defeat Muhammad Ali again before “The Greatest” gained revenge.
Yet for all the concern, there remains an honest realism to Ruiz. He understands what he would be risking if he entered Saturday’s rematch underprepared. Victory for “The Destoyer” opens doors to a world even grander than the one he currently inhabits. The jewellery and the cars and the watches – and the respect, which Ruiz is craving the most – will proliferate should he do a number on Joshua again.
Ruiz holds the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles with Deontay Wilder owning the WBC championship. With both Wilder and Ruiz under the guidance of influential advisor, Al Haymon, it has been strongly suggested that the “Bronze Bomber” will ditch plans to rematch Tyson Fury and instead enter negotiations for a unification mega-fight with Ruiz – if he defeats Joshua once more.
“Of course,” Ruiz agrees when it’s suggested that Wilder could be next. “That’s why we are motivated. That is why it is so important to win this fight. That’s why we have been putting in all the hours, working in the gym so we know what is coming. I know it is important to win this fight.
“Me and Wilder actually talk on the phone, we are good friends,” he reveals. “We know what is in the plan.”
Joshua, too, knows what is riding on this bout. He too has a plan. It’s expected that he will try and box smarter this time, be more mobile and more active with his jab. Ruiz insists he’s ready for whatever that plan might be. Because even though Andy Ruiz is different in so many ways – he walks taller, his shoulders are broader and his bank account is healthier – he remains that same little bundle of dynamite who exploded in Joshua’s face. The same prototype of the short fighter who keeps the big and tall Englishman awake at night.
“We’ve trained on being small, being more slick, applying pressure, throwing combinations and being the first to punch,” Ruiz explains while succinctly outlining exactly what is required to win.
“I know he is going to try to box me around, that is why he last some weight, he will try to keep me away with the jab but that’s exactly what we have been practising for.
“I think his style was just perfect for me and I think it will be the same again. I think he will box around nicely for four or five rounds until I take the pressure to him, start hitting his body and mixing it up.
“I did say he was not good enough to avoid me for the full 12 rounds, on the backfoot, we have been working on this for a round three months now and I know, whatever he brings, we will be ready for it.”