Andy Ruiz Jr. hadn’t made it back to his locker room at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 1 after the crowning moment of his life, when he stopped Anthony Joshua in the seventh round to become the unified heavyweight champion of the world, when the two words were uttered for the first time:
Ruiz’s upset of the heavily favored Joshua was so shocking that the only comparisons that could be made were to Douglas’ 1990 upset of Mike Tyson in Tokyo as a 42-1 underdog.
In his first defense, though, the supremely talented Douglas took on Evander Holyfield and became a buffet buster. He weighed 15 pounds more against Holyfield than he did against Tyson.
He surrendered meekly in the outdoor fight at The Mirage in Las Vegas and was stopped in three rounds. Never again did Douglas rise to that level of prominence even though he had the natural ability to be an elite heavyweight for years.
Ruiz was tabbed as the modern-day Douglas seconds after beating Joshua, and he hasn’t been able to shake the label in the six months since becoming champion. And things only got worse on Friday, when Ruiz weighed in at a stunning 283 pounds a day after his trainer, Manny Robles, said he’d be the same 268 he was in New York for Saturday’s rematch in Saudi Arabia.
Ruiz was aware of the hubbub but just chuckled at concerns about his weight. The weigh-in came later in the day and he’d just eaten when he weighed in. Joshua weighed 237 Friday, nearly 11 pounds less than the 247¾ he was in their first meeting.
“I knew he was going to do that,” Ruiz told Yahoo Sports of Joshua coming in significantly lighter. “I kind of wanted to be a little over what I was last time so I could be stronger and feel actually a little better than in the first fight. We were [planning to be 268], but they were making us wait before we got to the scales and so I had already ate. Plus, I weighed with all my clothes. That’s one of the reasons why I weighed probably too much.
“They’d said the weigh-in was going to be around 11 o’clock or so. When we did [weigh in], I’d already had my dinner. I already ate and so I just weighed whatever I was, but it wasn’t really that much of a difference from last time.”
One of Ruiz’s clear advantages in the first fight was his superior hand speed. It’s logical to believe that carrying more weight would negate that advantage to a degree, but Ruiz insisted it’s not an issue.
He’ll be just as fast and just as quick as he was in June, Ruiz insisted, but feels he’ll be stronger and that will make him better. Being as quick is critical to his chances of retaining the belt.
“We looked at that first fight, and we saw a lot of little things I could have done better,” Ruiz told Yahoo Sports. “So there are some little adjustments we’re going to make. We’re going to put on a little more pressure, add some more movement, and throw different combinations. I think [Saturday] is going to show the different things we’ve been working on.
“My height, he has trouble fighting someone my height. As long as we stay low, work the body, and throw the combinations with speed, I’ll win the fight.”
Joshua is a talented guy. One doesn’t win an Olympic gold medal with less than 50 amateur fights, as he did in 2012, and doesn’t capture a version of the heavyweight title in his 16th pro fight, as Joshua did, without elite ability.
But Joshua has often relied on his imposing physical dimensions and his power to win, not so much his boxing technique. He walks opponents down with his hands up in a classic European style and tries to turn the bout into a contest of strength and power, in which he’s usually far superior.
Though few thought Ruiz could beat him last time, nearly all boxing experts predicted Ruiz would do better than many thought because he is a slick and skilled boxer who could take a punch.
And when Ruiz made Joshua back up, he wasn’t the same threat as he’d been in his previous fights when it was as if he were a semi storming the wrong way down a one-way street for a collision with a Fiat.
If Ruiz’s quickness deserts him and the fight turns into that straight ahead battle, it significantly changes in favor of Joshua.
But Ruiz is used to carrying a lot of weight and though he’ll never have the kind of toned and cut body that makes Joshua appear like he’s preparing for Mr. Olympia, a good physique has never been critical in boxing. Ruiz has functional boxing skills.
This is a hard fight to pick, and it’s not difficult to envision a dramatically different result, in which Joshua just overwhelms a slower and less athletic Ruiz.
But I’m banking on Ruiz’s quickness to be there and for him to continue to give Joshua issues. Those big muscles need a lot of oxygen, and if Ruiz can force Joshua to fight at a fast pace, Joshua will tire as the fight progress.
I’m expecting Ruiz to stop Joshua again, probably in the middle of the fight.
If he does, he’ll be done with the Buster Douglas comparisons forever, much to his liking.
“It has bothered me [to hear comparisons to Douglas],” Ruiz said. “People who are saying that, they don’t really know what is going on. They saw me buy a house and celebrate with my family and throw a birthday party and they say things when they don’t really know what is actually going on. They know what I show them. Doubters are talking crap and say I’m doing this and doing that and they don’t really know me or what I do on a daily basis.
“The thing is, I’ve been in this game a long time and I’ve learned to just push the negative to the side and kind of laugh at it, because I’m the one inside the ring. I know how hard I’ve worked and I know what I need to do in there. If people want to bring up Buster Douglas, let them, but it’s negative noise and I just push it out and don’t pay attention.”
If, as I’m expecting, he wins this again, he’ll never have to deal with it again.
More Ruiz Jr.-Joshua II coverage from Yahoo Sports: