"Fat boxer" has become the go-to description for unified heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. When Ruiz scored his shocking, sportsbook odds-crushing knockout of Anthony Joshua, it drew attention beyond what should be expected from almost any fight in boxing's modern era. See, Ruiz doesn't look the part of heavyweight champion of the world. Joshua, though? Joshua would be a Hollywood dream at a casting call for the role.
Joshua, muscles piled on muscles and undefeated record sparkling on the chyron during pre-fight introductions, was supposed to run through the portly Ruiz. Ruiz, who had stepped in on short notice for undefeated Jarrell Miller after "Big Baby" tested positive for seemingly every performance-enhancer under the sun. Ruiz, who had fought Alexander Dimitrenko 42 days prior to meeting Joshua. Ruiz, with the gut and Snickers addiction.
Joshua dropped Ruiz in Round 3, and everything seemed on track to follow the pre-fight script. Joshua would leave with his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles and potential mega-fights with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and/or Tyson Fury waiting down the road. But Ruiz got back up and came roaring back, dropping Joshua twice in the same round in which he'd been floored. Two more knockdowns in Round 7 and referee Michael Griffin waved off the fight. Ruiz, whose body is more Kevin James in "Here Comes The Boom" than Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky," had accomplished the seemingly impossible.
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Should boxing fans have seen it coming? Sure. Ruiz admits he had never attempted to be in "good shape" for a fight, specifically meaning his actual body shape, but slimming from circle to oval wouldn't change the facts. Ruiz had proven a capable heavyweight contender years before meeting Joshua. He may not have Joshua's Olympic gold medal, but Ruiz enjoyed a fairly accomplished amateur career of his own. Coming up through the pro ranks, Ruiz had survived being cracked before. He caught some solid shots in the opening rounds of his fight with Tor Hammer before Hammer, a notorious mid-fight quitter, bowed out on his stool. He'd toppled fellow then-undefeated prospect Joe Hanks in 2013.
Ruiz's skill had shone, even if against mostly middling talent for much of his career. His lone career stumble came against Joseph Parker, a majority decision loss Ruiz likely could have avoided had he not toned his aggression down in the middle rounds of the fight. He was not, by any measure, a perfect heavyweight. But he had power, technique, surprisingly slick footwork and deceptively fast hands.
Now the boxing world waits while Ruiz and Joshua prepare to run it back, this time in Saudi Arabia. The champ didn't prefer the controversial Middle Eastern location, but Ruiz signed away nearly all say in the potential rematch while signing the contract for the initial fight. Of course he did. Because boxing.
Ruiz will again be the underdog against the adonis Joshua on Saturday. Justifiably, even. Joshua, while no longer the sparkling ideal of a heavyweight boxer after Ruiz finished with him the first time, is still the same big-punching stud he always was. And Ruiz has found himself under the microscope more than ever. As he took time away from training for a few months after his upset win, pundits wondered how seriously he was truly taking his new status as champ. As the fight draws close, we see Ruiz shooting videos with small-time, marijuana-focused lifestyle brand Dank City in which the champ eats fried chicken, pasta and pizza weeks out from the highly-anticipated rematch.
At an October media event, Ruiz said he was looking to slim down for the rematch. "I think being 10 pounds lighter, I'm going to be a better fighter," Ruiz said. "I'm going to be faster, more [able to] let my hands go and be faster on my feet as well. Ten pounds isn't going to make any difference [with strength]."
After the long journey to the title and all the questions over his dedication. After all the dismissive takes on the "fat boxer" vs. the adonis. Here we are once again -- questioning the commitment and the ability of the skilled guy who wants to crush some fried chicken before crushing the Olympic medalist's face.
For Ruiz, though, amid all the criticisms of his appearance and the questions still surrounding his stunning upset the first time around ... the proof is in the punching when it comes down to it. He boasted at a media event in June that Joshua is "not good at boxing," an observation he expanded on while talking with The Telegraph.
"He is going to try to make adjustments. I don't know if he wants to exchange punches, but I'd love for him to do that because I'm the more skilled boxer. He'll try to box me round and use his jab. But for how long? How long can he keep me away from hunting him down?"