Boxer Andy Ruiz Jr. drew inspiration from little AJ during his push for redemption
Andy Ruiz Jr. talks about his fight against Chris Arreola on Saturday.
Andy Ruiz Jr. has been consciously preparing for his long-awaited return to the ring Saturday against Chris Arreola (38-6-1, 33 KOs) after 16 months of anticipation.
Ruiz’s loss to Anthony Joshua in December 2019 struck a chord, as he went from hero to villain in the blink of an eye.
Ruiz (32-2, 22 KOs) stunned the boxing world when he finished off Joshua, the then-undefeated English heavyweight champion, in spectacular fashion on June 1, 2019, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Mexican American’s life would never be the same and the rain of honors did not stop drenching the then unified champion of the WBA, WBO and IBF. He became the first Mexican to win a heavyweight title.
Over the eight blocks the police officers escorted the purple Rolls-Royce, the same instruction was shouted hundreds of times.
Amid his newfound fame and recognition, Ruiz enjoyed the best moment of his career. He was received like a hero in the National Palace by the president of Mexico, Manuel López Obrador, and was the grand marshal of the Mexican national holidays parade in East Los Angeles. The Imperial, Calif., native felt invincible.
But the joy did not last long because only six months later, Joshua defeated Ruiz by unanimous decision during a rematch in Saudi Arabia. A new rain hit Ruiz, who was pelted by criticism of his physical condition and his lack of seriousness before a wounded and dangerous Joshua, who fought more with his mind than with his fists. Others accused Ruiz, known as the Destroyer, of being nothing more than a “one-hit miracle.”
While the world was overwhelmed in 2020 by COVID-19 and protests against racial injustice and police violence, Ruiz began a steady workout regime and melted more than 55 pounds from his body, to which he added a large muscle mass. He collected what he could from his honor and instead of sinking into his own abyss, he left his former coach Manny Robles and looked to “Team Canelo” for support.
Along with Eddy Reynoso, the best trainer of the moment, and Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing, Ruiz found his best allies.
Ruiz is back in the media spotlight leading up to his fight with Arreola and trying to remain focused on his goal of becoming a heavyweight champion again. He is staying on track thanks to a small figure who accompanies him at all times, through thick and thin: his 9-year-old son AJ.
“His name is Andy Ruiz III,” Ruiz told the LA Times en Español. “He is my great motivation and I love taking him to the gym. Everybody wants him to come to the gym. ‘Bring the light with you.’”
He recalls being disappointed after losing to Joshua and said his family helped him move forward, but it was AJ’s support that truly lifted his spirits.
“It was sad,” Ruiz recalled. “I apologized to him … but, things happen for a reason and I’m kind of happy that it happened this way because what if I had won? [AJ] probably would have been thinking, ‘Oh, I think I don’t have to train a lot. I don’t have to do this or that.’
“But now my focus, my mind is good. I am ready for whatever comes.”
AJ has joined his father at the gym since he was around 3 years old. Since Ruiz began his preparation for his fight Saturday, AJ has been there, enjoying moments like mitt sessions with Canelo, Reynoso and other fighters who were part of a training group in San Diego.
Ruiz said his son has shown great interest in the sport and although he and his wife are supportive, they would prefer he take another path in life. AJ is the second of five siblings.
“If he wants to fight, I support him 100%. But I fight so they don’t have to fight,” Ruiz said. “I prefer that he go to school, educate himself and all that, but I will support him in whatever he wants to do.”
During his visits to the ring in preparation for his fight against Arreola, Ruiz wanted AJ by his side.
Outside of the ring, Ruiz considers himself a shy person, something he has been “always since he was a child.” He sees elements of himself reflected in AJ despite the fact his son has a very different personality from his father.
“He is very outgoing. He’s not shy, he speaks his mind, and that’s what everyone loves about him. He’s funny, he dances whenever he wants, grabs the gloves and tries to train everyone. It’s amazing,” Ruiz, 31, explained. “I used to be a robust kid. A robust and shy boy, but when I was in the ring, I flipped the switch and boom, I became a little destroyer.”
Being of Mexican descent, for years, Ruiz has felt “blessed” by the constant support he has received from the Aztec fans.
Not being born in Mexico makes that support all the more amazing to Ruiz, as Mexican fans demand their fighters represent the colors of their flag during each fight. Since Ruiz is Mexican American, it is more demanding job convincing those who encourage him from a distance.
“It feels amazing, you know, ... I saw that the Mexican fans are supporting me and I’ve been training in Mexico,” Ruiz said. “I represented Mexico when I was on the Mexican Olympic team as well. So, I feel more Mexican than American because of the way I fight, too. I represented Mexico when I was a little boy.”
Ruiz feels he owes a great debt to Mexican fans and hopes to repay them with a win against Arreola to once again break through to a title fight.
“It feels good to have them behind me, but it made me feel bad that I let them down in my last fight,” Ruiz said. “But now that we are 100% and I feel much better, my mind is clearer, but more disciplined, more dedicated. I am sure that they will be happy with the results that we are going to achieve throughout this year.”
Fight Night: Ruiz vs. Arreola
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson with limited number of fans in attendance.
PRELIMS: 4 p.m. on Fox and Fox Deportes
— Erislandy Lara vs. Thomas LaManna, 12 rounds, middleweight, for the vacant WBA middleweight crown.
— Eduardo Ramírez vs. Isaac Avelar, 12 rounds, featherweight, for the vacant WBA featherweight crown.
MAIN CARD: 6 p.m. on pay-per-view
— Jesus Ramos vs. Javier Molina; welterweight
— Sebastián Fundora vs. Jorge Cota; superwelter
— Omar Figueroa Jr. vs. Abel Ramos; welterweight
— Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Chris Arreola; heavyweight
This article first appeared in Spanish on Los Angeles Times en Español.
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