By: Johnny Walker
Six months ago, Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. seemed like a real-life “Rocky,” a stubby and chubby everyman and likable underdog who overcame the odds and knocked off the always super-fit, slick and smooth British heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua, at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
Having spoiled “AJ’s” American ring debut in the Big Apple, the Snickers-munching champion was soon on top of the world, seemingly saying “yes” to every media interview.
For a while, Ruiz was everywhere, charming people with his friendly, if somewhat blank, demeanor. But the inability to say no to the media soon just became an inability to say no at all, as Ruiz embarked on a money spending spree of major conspicuous consumption.
Soon we were inundated with social media images of the “humble” champ effecting a 180-degree change on his lifestyle.
To put it simply. Ruiz set about to emulate the songs and videos of the gangsta rap icons of his youth and bring them to life. He bought numerous cars, a huge mansion and estate, tons of bling, and threw tacky theme parties populated by the kind of lowlife scum who always show up when some sucker is flashing the cash.
Andy Ruiz Jr. flashed the devil horns as naked ladies jumped out of birthday cakes. This was the “humble champion” who had toppled Anthony Joshua?
Throwing gang signs and skulking around with his damaged looking hood buddies, Ruiz even starred in a 4-part YouTube series called “Dank City: A Day in the Life, Andy Ruiz Jr.” If your idea of fun is watching Ruiz and his crew roll around town engaging in conspicuous consumption of all kinds, chowing down heaping plates of rather disgusting looking food, buying jewelry, whispering “secret” things off camera, and generally giving off an air of vapidity, this series, which in retrospect seems to presage the newbie champ’s downfall, is for you.
Indeed, following a humiliating wide UD loss to Joshua last Saturday in Saudi Arabia, a bewildered Ruiz indeed seems more like a washed-out extra from an old gangsta rap video, while sparkling champ Joshua once again basks in waves of adulation back home in his native UK.
Ruiz’s rise was meteoric. and his fall was even faster, like a burnt-out star crashing into the sea.
In the wake of Ruiz’s dismal first and last defense of his titles, boxing analyst Paulie Malignaggi went so far as to refer to the now scorned ex-heavyweight champion as a “fat tub of shit” who was defeated before he got into the ring for the second time with Joshua.
Like the mythical Icarus, Ruiz had flown too close to the sun and gotten burnt by his own hubris, his metaphorical wings melting from proximity to the heat of fame and excess.
In retrospect, it’s wasn’t hard to discern the coming disaster, given the path Ruiz almost immediately set out upon after he got a huge payday for his win over the giant unified heavyweight champion from the UK. Anthony Joshua was humiliated and vowing to train harder than ever to get his titles back.
One little problem for Ruiz was the rematch looming on the horizon with a shaken Joshua and an enraged Eddie Hearn, AJ’s manager.
You fight one, you are fighting both of them. Hearn made sure that going into the rematch, nothing would be easy for Ruiz: they got the fight set in Saudi Arabia, an alien environment; they chose a bigger ring, which would make it harder for the rotund Ruiz to chase down the challenger; they picked a referee more favorable to the style Joshua intended on using: stick and move, basically.
Ruiz would certainly need to be in the best shape of his life, but alas….
With the benefit of hindsight, one of the most troubling things about Andy Ruiz’s fall from grace was his capacity for deception, both of himself and of the public. We may never know who slipped those “thin Andy!” photos to the press, the ones that even got former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson totally shook up about Ruiz “losing too much weight.”
To the eternal shame of the boxing media, almost no one seemed to question the authenticity of the weight loss photos, though in his few public appearances, Ruiz seemed to the naked eye to be bigger than ever. But as those photos were disseminated online, Ruiz was only too happy to play along with the notion that he was now a Mexican-American Jack La Lanne whenever the boxing media came calling.
Ruiz would weigh “around 255” for the rematch with Joshua, we were told. The newbie champ, with his beatific, Buddha-like air of calmness and very un-gangsta-like, smiling demeanor, didn’t seem like the type of guy to be telling bald faced lies to the press and the public, never mind what one’s own lying eyes might be telling him or her.
Soon the media was full of “ANDY RUIZ MIRACLE WEIGHT LOSS” type stories. One expected the “happy gangsta champ” to be appearing in a Jenny Craig’s ad soon, leading his tattooed home boys in a round of jumping jacks.
Did a panicked Ruiz realize as the rematch approached that his new “24 Hour Party People” lifestyle was incompatible with his chosen profession, and have someone alter a couple of pictures to make him appear drastically slimmer?
Or were the pics from an earlier, lighter phase of his career?
Either way, if you laid down a big bet based on those photos as evidence of Ruiz’s newfound dedication during training camp, chances are you aren’t too happy with the ex-champ today as you watch Joshua parade around with belts he can now claim were lost through a fluke, via a “lucky punch,” belts that have now been returned to their rightful owner.
And you might also be a bit sore that a gullible boxing media went along like happy dupes as Ruiz gained weight and told them he was losing it, functioning more like PR agents for DAZN than journalists interested in the truth.
Finally, as the fight date grew near and reality became unavoidable, trainer Manny Robles told the press Ruiz was now shooting for the same weight as the first fight, 268. This turned out to be wishful thinking, as Ruiz tipped the scales at 283.7, a 15-pound gain from the first fight. Even then, Ruiz didn’t level with the public, rather ridiculously saying the extra weight was due to a sombrero he wore for the weigh-in!
It wasn’t until he had decisively lost that the truth came out, and Andy Ruiz Jr.’s gangsta king fantasy bubble burst in full public view.
Ruiz, knowing he’d blown it, and having now already spent millions of dollars, appeared a little too eager for a “trilogy” in the aftermath of the fight, desperately repeating that magic word over and over again like he’d just learned it.
In reality, the idea of another mega-money fight with Joshua anytime soon seems remote.
Eddie Hearn is not anxious to see a possibly fitter Ruiz back in the ring with his golden fighter–upon whom the fates of mere things like British boxing itself and the online fight site DAZN is said to rest–anytime soon.
“Perhaps if Andy wins a few fights…” said a less than enthusiastic Hearn after the fight regarding the “trilogy idea.”
Andy Ruiz Jr. fooled the media, fooled boxing fans, but the biggest fool was himself. He seemed to believe his own lies, content to party on in a bubble with enabling friends until it was too late to turn back.
That he knew the stories of Buster Douglas, Leon Spinks, and other underdogs who’d won it all only to turn around and lose it just as fast, denied he would be one of them, and then walked right into every trap that was waiting for him, just made it seem worse.
Damn, it’s hard to be a gangsta.
For Andy Ruiz Jr., the mansions, the bling, the parties, the cars: those will still be there for as long as the money holds out. But those coveted heavyweight titles may prove far harder to regain than they were to obtain in the first place.