ANDY RUIZ JNR turned 30 last week and he had a party to celebrate. Yes, that’s right, a grown man celebrated his birthday with his friends. The same grown man who nearly three months ago scored one of the biggest upsets in boxing history to win three world heavyweight belts and millions and millions of dollars. Cue utter outrage. Ruiz should know better than to host a shindig with women serving sushi off their naked bodies! Ruiz should be in the gym, not shaking his behind to the music!
Fighters, particularly big winners in big fights, have been doing this kind of thing for years. The difference now, of course, is that we have camera phones and social media where shaky video footage becomes ‘news’ quicker than Ruiz can blow out his candles.
But the issue is not that Ruiz was enjoying himself – and goodness me, he’s earned the right – it’s that only days before he turned 30, and hosted the kind of party we all wish we could have hosted when we turned 30, he confirmed that he would be going to Saudi Arabia in December to give Anthony Joshua his rematch. Therefore, said the cynics, he’s not taking the fight seriously because he’s not yet in training. That’s really for him to decide, really, but knuckling down now, with 14 weeks remaining before the opening bell of their fascinating sequel, surely gives the affable fellow ample time to prepare.
However, there might be some validity to the concerns. Just because there are still lots of days and weeks to go before the fight doesn’t mean that Ruiz will use all of them wisely. What he is experiencing now, that of being rich and the king of the heavyweights, is all completely new to him and the conflicts in his mind – good times vs training hard – will be a battle for a man who is clearly enjoying himself. And without wishing to be rude to Ruiz, his physique paints the picture of a man who has always struggled to prioritise the right things in life. Bottom line, if he wants to retain his titles, he can take no short cuts nor spend any longer celebrating his June triumph. Particularly against someone like Joshua, who will have glanced at the footage of his rival partying hard while he was packing his bag and heading straight to the gym.
Several cases spring to mind as lessons for Ruiz to consider. One is Leon Spinks defeating Muhammad Ali in February 1978 for the world heavyweight title, partying like a maniac, almost losing his mind in the hoopla before losing the rematch seven months later. He would later blame the status of being heavyweight champion for taking him so high it was impossible to keep his feet on the ground.
Another is Roberto Duran – a self-confessed party animal – all but undoing his majestic victory over welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard in June 1980 by preparing poorly for the November sequel and then waving his arm in surrender when the frustration became too much.
Ten years later, James “Buster” Douglas ballooned in weight after stunning Mike Tyson and never really gave his title reign a chance. There are plenty of other heavyweights from the eighties and nineties who struggled with the rigours of training and paid the price. Titlists like Tony Tubbs, Greg Page and Tim Witherspoon – all gifted but none body beautifuls – never really fulfilled their potential due to their wayward habits. And the heavyweight class, with no divisional weight limit in place, certainly allows fighters to cut corners.
But it’s unfair, at least at this stage (again, remember, we’re still 14 weeks out from his next fight), to presume that Ruiz will go the same way. Unfair, too, to presume that Ruiz is not taking the sport seriously simply because he invited some pals to celebrate his 30th birthday with him, albeit rather lavishly.
Only on December 7, during his fight with Anthony Joshua, will we know how suited to being world heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz really is.