GERMANY’S Tom Schwarz shares little in common with Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jnr aside from the fact he punches heavyweights in the head for a living and has been labelled everything from ‘underdog’ and ‘fall guy’ to ‘tune-up’ and ‘sacrificial lamb’ ahead of his next fight.
Historically, these terms are used to suggest a mismatch is about to take place. Nowadays, however, thanks to Ruiz’s exploits on June 1 at Madison Square Garden, they resonate, they unsettle, and they excite. Because, let’s face it, underdogs are cool again. They’re dangerous again. They’re respected again.
By upsetting WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, Ruiz has redefined what it means to be an underdog in 2019 and given hope to Tom Schwarz and every other opponent operating out of an away corner.
For they know as well as he knows it wasn’t just luck. It wasn’t a win produced by a single Hail Mary punch. Instead, Ruiz set the traps and groundwork early. He punished Joshua’s chiselled torso with jabs and right crosses, then showed no aversion to staying in the pocket and exchanging with Joshua when so many previous challengers looked to cower and take cover. He achieved all of this at a hefty 268lbs, having been described as looking like a “competition winner” during fight week, and to a soundtrack of laughter and chants of “You fat b*****d!”
Ruiz didn’t simply make the impossible possible, he was relatable in the process. He looked the way other people look. He spoke the way other people speak. He reacted to victory the way other people would react. Essentially, he made the idea of upsetting a dominant, undefeated world heavyweight champion seem not only realistic for trained heavyweight contenders but something any man on the planet could achieve if the stars aligned and it was meant to be.
Best of all, Ruiz’s shock win over Joshua has upped the ante on every other mismatch this year, including Tyson Fury vs. Tom Schwarz, and given underdogs like Schwarz, no matter their shape, track record or ability, a voice, a shot and a purpose. Their fights are now winnable. Their Andy Ruiz moment now close enough to touch.
It’s great for promoters also. They, after all, now have a clear reference point when trying to flog a product that would have once been ridiculed by anyone of a cynical disposition. “If Andy Ruiz can do it, anyone can!” you will hear them crow and we will find it tough to argue because we have seen it happen in Madison Square Garden of all places. We know it is true. If Andy Ruiz can defy the odds, why, for example, can’t Tom Schwarz do the same against Tyson Fury this weekend?
Sure, he is untested, has boxed only one 10-rounder and seems badly out of his depth, but not one of these caveats prevents him potentially throwing a perfectly timed punch and putting Tyson Fury on the canvas. Nor does Schwarz being untested and unqualified stop him rising to the occasion on his big night and, like Ruiz, spotting flaws in the favourite he then exploits. It seems unlikely, agreed, but no more unlikely than the notion of Ruiz bum-rushing Joshua to defeat seemed on the morning of June 1.
In giving hope to no-hopers and allowing us to again suspend our disbelief, Ruiz has made routine mismatches, fights one might swerve in favour of a good night’s sleep, unmissable, with Fury vs. Schwarz being a case in point.
A fortnight ago this fight was far from unmissable. It was, in fact, deemed a bit of a dud, coming six months after Fury produced one of the finest performances of his career against Deontay Wilder in Brooklyn. But now, of course, the perception is different. Now, because of Ruiz, the fight possesses a newfound mystery and air of uncertainty. Now you look for signs, signs we missed with Ruiz and Joshua. You ponder, for instance, what it means for Fury to be competing in Las Vegas for the first time. You remember he has just signed a money-spinning deal with ESPN and Top Rank and that this is his first fight on the deal. You suspect he is thinking about bigger and better fights, chiefly a rematch against Deontay Wilder. You keep hearing him call himself the lineal heavyweight champion of the world and wish he would stop.
Based on what has just happened, these could all be interpreted as signs of something brewing, an upset perhaps, and will be exaggerated and explored because of the work of Andy Ruiz.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Fury, 27-0-1 (19). “I have never been to Vegas. The big fights happen in Vegas. I remember waking up to watch Ricky Hatton fight Floyd Mayweather (in 2007) at the MGM Grand and I made a promise to myself when I was younger that I wouldn’t go to Vegas until I fought there. Now I get the opportunity to fight there on the biggest platform in the world [ESPN].”
If still in the mood for an upset, you can convince yourself Fury sounds like a man setting himself up for an almighty fall. In addition to dreams of Vegas nights, he has described Anthony Joshua, the rival still licking his wounds, as a “disgrace”, and Andy Ruiz, the one responsible for all the wounding, as a “little fat fella”. Fury could have his coming. Who knows? But what cannot be denied is that Fury, Joshua and Wilder, by taking soft fights and avoiding the issue and each other, have been unwisely tempting fate for months.
“Tom Schwarz has got the chance to change his life in Las Vegas,” said Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter. “He is a big guy who can punch and is also young and unbeaten. He will take inspiration from Ruiz.
“Tyson, though, is not complacent and has been training hard since his fight with Deontay Wilder [in December]. If he did think he was in for an easy night’s work, he might just think again after watching a big favourite tumble in New York.”
Andy Ruiz was an underdog in the eyes of those aware of his talents and a joke in the eyes of those who weren’t. We were all wrong, just some more than others.
In the case of Schwarz, it’s tough to even get a read on his ability due to a shoddy showreel and lack of meaningful fights. We know he is six-foot-five. We know he is undefeated in 24 pro contests, 16 of which ended inside schedule, and that he is somehow ranked at two by the WBO. We can also ascertain that Schwarz only going the 10-round distance once (against Dennis Lewandowski in 2016) says more about the level of opposition he has hand-picked than any devastating power in his hands. (Worryingly, a disqualification win over Senad Gashi, last seen running from Dereck Chisora for 10 rounds, might be the best result on the Schwarz record and even that appeared tough going for as long as it lasted.)
“I MADE A PROMISE TO MYSELF THAT I WOULDN’T GO TO LAS VEGAS UNTIL I FOUGHT THERE”Tyson Fury
Therein lies the difference between Schwarz and Ruiz, I suppose. Whereas Ruiz’s strengths and weaknesses were all on display, due primarily to the fact we had seen him tested, Schwarz has yet to reveal just how good or how bad he actually is. On reflection, we rubbished Ruiz’s chances against Joshua because we had seen him lose to Joseph Parker and because, frankly, we had seen his stomach and couldn’t comprehend three heavyweight titles covering it. Schwarz, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity whose underdog status owes more to a dearth of standout wins than one defeat.
Indeed, when announced as the opponent, Schwarz likely didn’t instil fear in Tyson Fury nor excitement in those expected to pay to watch the fight. He merely spiked BoxRec’s traffic and had most of the boxing world wondering how many Tom Schwarzes they would have to endure before Fury and Wilder got together again. He first confused, then he frustrated.
“He is hungry and ambitious, and I am sure he will come for a war,” said Fury, 30. “He is not ill-preparing for this and turning up for a paycheck. He is turning up to take the lineal championship of the world. It will be an epic fight. It’s Las Vegas, it’s showtime and I will look to put on an explosive performance in the States.”
You can be sure a fight isn’t the best whenever one boxer, usually the favourite, talks up the ability of the other, the underdog. When the opposite happens, and there is some spite and an attempt to chastise, it means the two are evenly matched and the fight a good one. You can, more often than not, sense the competition before seeing it.
Unfortunately, this fight between Fury and Schwarz is a perfect example of the former. It’s a marking time fight in every sense. More accurately, it’s a showcase, a fight designed for Fury to not only win but impress in the process of doing so. It’s better than bouts with Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta, no question, for at least Schwarz is unbeaten and presumably ambitious. But whether, in the long run, Schwarz ends up being better than Pianeta, a German-based southpaw who challenged Wladimir Klitschko, remains to be seen.
“HE IS NOT TURNING UP FOR A PAYCHECK. HE IS TURNING UP TO WIN. IT WILL BE AN EPIC FIGHT”Tyson Fury
On the evidence so far, the jury is still out. He’s younger, taller by half-an-inch, and possesses a cleaner record, but that’s not to say the 25-year-old’s career won’t turn out to be Pianeta-esque when he steps up in class and meets the best the division has to offer. That’s the thing about being untested. You never really know.
At least with Andy Ruiz, we knew. More importantly, he knew what was required to dig deep, survive and rally back to shock the world. He knew how to pull off the upset because he knew what it meant to lose and endeavoured to avoid that feeling at all costs. He fought like a man who understood the magnitude of the opportunity presented to him; an understanding a fighter can only develop when well-versed in the ups and downs of their sport.
Schwarz, in contrast, has still to experience that losing sensation as a pro and has still to discover what it’s like to go up against the best heavyweights in the world. This makes him dangerous as an unknown quantity but, equally, means he is ignorant to what awaits him at the highest level.
On Saturday night, the unbeaten German, heavyweight boxing’s latest fall guy, steps up for the first time in his six-year career. He will be fuelled by the feats of another man, the last fall guy who refused to fall, and will surely believe in a way he wasn’t able to a fortnight ago. We, too, will watch him try in a way we wouldn’t have imagined a fortnight ago. And for that we thank you, Andy Ruiz Jnr.