Ruiz set to start reign as new heavy­weight cham­pion

The News-Times - - SPORTS -

NEW YORK — Andy Ruiz Jr. could have passed for any New Yorker, just a roly-poly guy in a too-tight Knicks jersey and side­ways base­ball cap weav­ing his way through a crowded side­walk on his way back to the ho­tel. But those peo­ple were there cheer­ing for Ruiz, out­stretched arms for self­ies, pats on the back, ask­ing for au­to­graphs and a few fans yelling “Mex­i­can pride!”

Maybe the box­ing world didn’t know much about Ruiz be­fore he was nearly booed out of Madi­son Square Gar­den as he stepped into the ring against un­de­feated cham­pion An­thony Joshua. But they learned a whole lot more af­ter he stepped out a cham­pion, pos­ing for pic­tures with the WBA/IBF/ WBO/IBO cham­pi­onship ti­tle belts draped over his arms — an ap­pro­pri­ate num­ber, one for each time he flat­tened Joshua at the Gar­den.

“It’s an up­set, isn’t it,” Joshua said. “The book­ies said I was a fa­vorite. One shot on top of the dome kind of rat­tled me a bit. But the bet­ter man won. Re­spect to Andy. Now I move for­ward.”

Ruiz, the first fighter of Mex­i­can de­scent to win a heavy­weight ti­tle, stirred mem­o­ries of Buster Dou­glas and other heavy­weight shock­ers when the mas­sive un­der­dog knocked down Joshua twice in the third round and two more times in the de­ci­sive sev­enth to stake his claim to shares of the heavy­weight crown . De­bate the health or rel­e­vance of box­ing all you want, but for a night, at an elec­tric Gar­den stuffed with celebs and 20,000 singing, roar­ing fans, there was no bet­ter place to be in sports.

Most ca­sual sports fans couldn’t name a mod­ern boxer out­side of Floyd May­weather Jr., and there were plenty of fans wear­ing Mike Tyson and Muham­mad Ali shirts at the Gar­den, the mys­tique of box­ing’s past that of­ten swal­lows the present stir­ring in the home of some of box­ing’s most his­toric bouts. The 29-year-old Ruiz al­ready has at­tracted some A-list fans — The Rock and Conor McGre­gor tweeted con­grat­u­la­tions — and could score more if he can stretch his 15 min­utes into a few suc­cess­ful ti­tle de­fenses.

“I think it’s go­ing to do a lot for my com­mu­nity, for Mexico,” Ruiz said. “Now they can say that they have the first Mex­i­can heavy­weight cham­pion of the world. I’m just happy that it’s me.”

Ruiz, a portly fighter out of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, has an af­fa­ble per­son­al­ity and earned the last-minute ti­tle shot (af­ter Jar­rell Miller’s failed drug tests booted him to the side­line) not through an­gry made-forTV de­mands or even con­vinc­ing KO’s through the ranks. In­stead, he got bold and sent pro­moter Eddie Hearn a di­rect mes­sage on In­sta­gram ask­ing for a shot that said, “Give me this fight, I will fight harder than any of the names you’ve men­tioned, I will give you a bet­ter fight and I will beat An­thony Joshua.”

Hearn agreed to the pitch and a main event was hatched.

Ruiz, knocked down in the third round, is quick to make fun of his girth — his gen­er­ously listed 270 pounds puts the heavy in heavy­weight. His trunks sat a bit too low for his flabby frame as he faced off against the chis­eled Joshua. With four cham­pi­onship belts in front of him on a ta­ble, Ruiz said he would get in shape for an ex­pected re­match later this year.

“Now that I have this time, I want to get in shape and look like a Mex­i­can An­thony,” Ruiz said, laugh­ing. “But I was ready for war. I was ready for all 12 rounds.”

Is the heavy­weight di­vi­sion ready for the up­heaval ahead?

Joshua was po­si­tioned as the star of the di­vi­sion, and the Bri­tish fighter made his fight de­but in the United State to great fan­fare. Joshua milked the ap­plause of the crowd and soaked in the spot­light as he walked to the ring. His win seem­ingly a mere for­mal­ity, Joshua knew big­ger, lu­cra­tive bouts against the likes of Tyson Fury and Deon­tay Wilder were on the hori­zon. The oft-ig­nored heavy­weight di­vi­sion got a boost over the last few years and any com­bi­na­tion of Joshua, Wilder and Fury fights would mean big busi­ness and ti­tle uni­fi­ca­tion in the mud­dled mix of box­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Wilder, owner of the WBC crown, de­cided to give Luis Or­tiz a re­match. Or­tiz bat­tered Wilder for parts of their fight in early 2018 be­fore run­ning out of gas and get­ting knocked out. Wilder tried to steal the head­lines this week when he an­nounced his re­match with Fury was set for 2020. Wilder and Fury fought to a split draw in De­cem­ber in Los An­ge­les, with Wilder re­tain­ing his WBC heavy­weight ti­tle af­ter knock­ing down his Bri­tish chal­lenger twice.

Ti­mothy A. Clary / Getty Im­ages

Andy Ruiz cel­e­brates af­ter knock­ing down An­thony Joshua in the 7th round to win by TKO on Satur­day.

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