RIYADH: Andy Ruiz has spent his entire life in boxing as an outsider. “Six years old,” the Mexican-American fighter replied when asked about his first time stepping into the ring.
“My first amateur fight I was 7 years old. That was in San Diego, California. And I lost, too. I was 7 years old weighing more than all the other 7-year-olds, so my dad had brought this other guy who was 12 years old because he was bigger. It was a hell of a fight, and I actually still have that videotape,” said Ruiz, now 30.
“My whole life I’ve been fighting big guys. I feel that’s where I got the experience, and I just thank my dad for always pushing me,” he said.
“Even when I didn’t want to box anymore, he’d drag me out of my room to train, saying, ‘you’re going to do something.’ That’s exactly what has happened,” he said.
“My dad had confidence in me since I was a little kid. He’d always tell me, ‘You know what? You’re going to beat him’,” Ruiz added.
“The main thing he’d tell me was not to be scared … because we’re all the same, all flesh and blood. Just go in there fearless, do what I do best, and let my hands go.”
To say Ruiz was considered the underdog going into June’s heavyweight world title fight against the poster-boy of modern boxing, Anthony Joshua, would be a fair assessment.
Ruiz had had a month’s notice, had fought less than a month and a half earlier, and was viewed by many as unfit and out of shape.
As the world would later find out, such narrow-eyed judgment of his shape and build was flawed.
While the great and good of the boxing world questioned what errors had led to the ripped, 1.98-meter-tall Joshua being beaten in the seventh round by a “tubby” fighter almost 20 cm shorter, Ruiz was celebrating a job incredibly well done.
“I think those were the doubters wondering, ‘what has happened to Anthony Joshua? There’s something wrong with him’,” said Ruiz.
“But truly I think it was my style, the way I handled him, and that I took his punches. He gave me the hardest punches he has and I ate them,” he added.
“We watched it a lot (since) to correct the mistakes I did and see the things I needed to do more,” Ruiz said.
“I think I lacked the pressure. The fight could’ve been over sooner, but I think I let it slide a little bit,” he added.
“They (people) look at me now and are like, ‘man, if Andy Ruiz did it, I could do it.’ I’ve got to motivate people and let them know that everything is possible, but you’ve got to train hard, you’ve got to work hard.”
This weekend, the two men go toe-to-toe again in the eagerly awaited “Clash On The Dunes,” presented by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and taking place in Diriyah near Riyadh.
Fan demand is huge, forcing fight organizers to release this week another phase of tickets, starting at SR999 ($266).
Fight week usually pops and crackles with insults traded and rising tensions between the fighters.
But the buildup to the jewel in the crown of the first-ever Diriyah Season festival has again proven how this boxing maverick moves differently than many of the biggest names in the sport, past and present.
“I don’t think there’s a reason to be trash-talking each other. I know that’s what the fans and everybody else want to see, but that’s not how my mum raised me,” said Ruiz.
“I think I’m a different fighter from everybody else. I have respect for all the fighters. If I saw AJ (Joshua) right now I’d shake his hand and tell him, ‘How you doing? Good luck for Dec. 7 — best man wins’.”
Many hearing Ruiz say that might wonder how a boxer preparing to, in his own words, “go to war” with his opponent in only a few days’ time can be so jovial and warm toward his rival ahead of the biggest fight of his career. It is certainly a unique stance, but so is Ruiz.
June’s fight earned him a rumored $7 million. For Saturday’s rematch he will earn a lot more. Do the niceties toward Joshua derive from the fact that the big-reaching Brit changed Ruiz’s life, making him an overnight multimillionaire when they first met?
“Exactly,” was Ruiz’s quick response. “I respect the guy. I respect any fighter who jumps in the ring because we all risk our lives to feed our families. This is our job. Of course I respect the man.”
Since that night in New York’s Madison Square Garden, everything has changed for Ruiz. He has vast wealth, and is having to adapt to his newfound global celebrity.
Asked how life has been treating him since then, he said: “Really well, a bit overwhelming at times but this is what I dreamed for, this is what I’ve been working hard for, this is what I’ve been training for since I was 6 years old.”
He added: “It’s not just great for me but it’s great for my family, my kids. Our whole lives have changed after June 1.”
His craziest big-money buys since then? “Probably all the cars I’ve bought. Four cars already. Two different (Mercedes) G-Wagons, the brand-new Rolls Royce, the Lamborghini truck. I bought my mum and dad a truck. Just having fun.”
Fun is fun, and even so close to such an epic boxing occasion, Ruiz manages to laugh and share a joke with those around him.
He and Joshua both arrived in Saudi Arabia last week, with the American’s 8,000-mile trip definitely the more arduous of the two.
Asked how he plans to beat Joshua for the second time in seven months, Ruiz said: “I know he’s going to try and be boxing me around. I think that’s why he lost some weight, trying to keep me out with the jab, and that’s exactly what we’ve been practicing.”
He added: “That’s how we’re planning and exactly how we’ve been training: Being small, being more slick, owning the pressure, throwing the combinations, me being first.”
Ruiz said: “I think he’s still going to be boxing around four or five rounds until I bring the pressure and start working the body.”