Andy Ruiz Jr.’s historic triumph over Anthony Joshua seemed like a dream to Ruiz’s trainer, Manny Robles, until he was asked to reflect on how it happened.
Then, the tears flowed.
For as stunning as Ruiz’s seventh-round stoppage of previously unbeaten, three-belt heavyweight champion Joshua was to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, Robles had accomplished a stirring return from near irrelevance.
“I never threw in the towel. You and the public know the adversity I’ve been through in life and boxing, but I never gave up,” Robles said after guiding the pudgy Ruiz (33-1, 22 knockouts) to his startling four-knockdown dismantling of the muscular Englishman at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
About two years ago, Robles had moved his stable of fighters to a new location, Legendz Boxing in Norwalk, housing featherweight world champion Oscar Valdez, super-bantamweight world champion Jessie Magdaleno, heavyweight title contender Dominic Breazeale and high-profile Irish prospect Michael Conlan.
One by one, each of them split with Robles. Magdaleno had struggled with his weight and ultimately lost his belt. Breazeale opted to align with Bay Area trainer Virgil Hunter. Conlan returned to Ireland.
Robles had previously housed Valdez in Lake Elsinore, and they’d make daily drives to their former training home in Carson, building a bond that seemed unbreakable before Valdez opted to leave Robles for Canelo Alvarez’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso.
Robles had the sport’s credo hammered into him: A fighter gets credit for victory, and it’s the trainer who’s blamed for a loss.
At the lowest point, it might have been easy to fold up the new shop and find another pursuit. Robles’ assistant trainer, Edgar “Estrellita” Jasso, said Robles found inspiration in recalling the training work of his late father, Manuel Robles Sr.
“It seems unbelievable for us now making history with Andy Ruiz … but Manny didn’t give up. He always believed he was in the fight, and he went through it,” Jasso said.
When someone asked Robles why he stuck it out, the emotions flowed.
“My faith. My family. My wife told me not give up … my dad … I’d given up, man … and God knows everything I’ve been through. So just not giving up,” Robles said.
“This is for me and my family. I do this because I love boxing. This goes to all the coaches and the boxers who have dreams — to not ever, ever give up no matter what, no matter how difficult your situation may be.”
Robles found the muse for his personal rebuilding in Ruiz, the fighter from Imperial, Calif. whose girth led many to view him as less than the model heavyweight. Ruiz weighed in Friday at a staggering 268 pounds.
“We went through some [training] issues and I told him, ‘Hit me now, thank me later, buddy.’ Oh, man, he complained about running, about training, but I know what it takes,” Robles said.
“There’s no secret to this. It’s called hard work, dedication. You’ve gotta want it. Plus, he’s Mexican, bro. I don’t know what it is about Mexican fighters, but it’s in our blood. It’s in our genes, man. I compare him stylistically to [Julio Cesar] Chavez, [Marco Antonio] Barrera, [Juan Manuel] Marquez and Oscar Valdez — true warriors who don’t give up.
“And Joshua had never faced a fighter like Andy Ruiz — a Mexican fighter in the heavyweight division.”
In the third round Saturday night, Ruiz suffered the first knockdown of his career on a left hook to the head. He recovered to twice knock down Joshua in the same round, and came to the corner, to Robles.
“Andy knew to stay calm, cool and collected” after the knockdown, Robles said. “I’ve been here before, where my fighters get knocked down and they get back up. A fight is never over until the referee tells you it’s over.
“He knocks down Anthony Joshua and I told him: ‘Don’t get overconfident, don’t get carried away. Keep your hands up. Stay cool. Keep working behind the jab.’ He took his foot off the pedal a little [for a few rounds after that]. He didn’t want to run out of gas.
“But he followed instructions extremely well. He was extremely relaxed. This goes back to the gym. We’ve been working together for almost two years now. It’s the chemistry. It’s him being able to listen to me. You win your fights in the gym and the fight is the cherry on top.”
Robles decided before the sixth round to switch gears, noticing that Joshua had picked up on Ruiz’s effort to land an overhand right. Instead of chasing the head, Ruiz pounded the body, and followed that with hooks to the head.
The massive Joshua (22-1), with an eight-inch reach and four-inch height advantage, began to wither in the sixth.
A 12-punch Ruiz flurry in the seventh knocked down Joshua for a third time, and then another combination dropped him again, leaving him unresponsive to the referee’s satisfaction while leaning back on his corner post.
Ruiz bounced in celebration, into the arms of Robles.
“Going to the body was the key to victory. We understood if you want to win, you’ve got to take risks, and once we started going to the body, he wore down,” Robles said of Joshua. “Those body shots really got to him.
“Joshua’s a specimen. He’s huge. He’s like a rock. But I’m telling you, he’s no different than Andy. He’s a man, he’s human. Just like Andy.
“Oh, man … it feels so good.”