Heavyweight prospect Andy Ruiz Jr. has ability that belies his appearance

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Perception may be Andy Ruiz Jr.'s biggest foe.

The young, unbeaten heavyweight contender doesn't have a chiseled body. Despite dropping more than 50 pounds since his pro debut, he still looks pudgy and non-athletic.

Few would look at him and see a fast-handed, high-volume puncher.

But Ruiz is one of the game's rising heavyweight prospects because, despite appearances, he's got extraordinarily quick hands and he knows that throwing one punch at a time is rarely a smart move.

Ruiz (18-0, 12 KOs) will continue his progression toward contender status on June 8, when he meets veteran Carl Davis in a bout that will be televised on the Spanish-language UniMas network.

And though no one is even thinking he's ready to call out either of the Klitschko brothers, he's one of the few young heavyweights who is interesting to watch and might be able to develop a fan base.

Much of it is because of his style and willingness to fire combinations.

"You've heard that old saying in boxing about heavyweights: One, two and dance with you," Ruiz's trainer, Jeff Grmoja, said. "This kid, though, is different. He's a four- or five-punch fighter, which is going to force a guy to either fight that pace or get beaten up. You cut a tree down from the bottom, and that's where he likes to start.

"Downstairs is natural for him. The body is right there. He's just got to get the head moving, a la [Mike] Tyson. He throws a voluminous amount of punches. That's it. He's not a one-punch artist, but he does bust you down and wear you out."

Grmoja has had a long career in boxing and has seen plenty of feted heavyweights disappear. And while he's not ready to crown Ruiz as the sport's next big thing, he likes what he sees.

The perception of Ruiz is that he is slow and non-athletic because of his build. Even at 245 pounds, more than 50 pounds less than when he began his career, he has rolls of fat around his midsection.

But his hands are much faster than most would give him credit for, and Grmoja said it leads to surprisingly good power.

"You know, obviously, that speed is power," Grmoja said. "When I first started in this sport many, many years ago, an old-time trainer told me: 'Put a car up against the side of a building and step on the gas and it won't matter. You're going nowhere. But approach the building going 50 [mph] and you'll crash a huge hole into it.' He has great hand speed for a big guy.

"Look, that's surprising for a big guy. He takes his shirt off and I have to think the other guy looks at him and thinks, 'This is a big, slow guy.' But when the fight starts, guess what? Surprise, surprise, you're in there with a guy with extremely fast hands."

Ruiz was born in Mexico but grew up in Brawley, Calif., just over the border. His father introduced him to boxing at a young age.

Though he liked it, he didn't share his father's single-mindedness. In the spring, he'd trudge past the Little League baseball field, where his friends were playing games in uniforms, to go to the boxing gym to train.

He would plead with his father to let him play ball, but his father would have none of it.

"He'd always say, 'You have to train; there is nothing more important than doing your training,'" Ruiz said.

Ruiz's manager, Joe Gagliardi, is a longtime boxing man who gave up promoting 15 or 20 years ago. Ruiz was training at Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym when Gagliardi got a call from a friend who had seen Ruiz working out.

Gagliardi loved boxing, but grew frustrated with the politics and everything that went along with it.

"When this call came in, I was like, 'Oh no,'" Gagliardi said. "I was done promoting 15 years ago. I'd just gotten sick of it. I didn't want to babysit any more."

Gagliardi was rebuffing his friend's suggestion. He wasn't going to get involved with Ruiz. He'd gotten sick of heavyweights who had little talent and less dedication.

"I was at a point I wouldn't even watch [a heavyweight fight]," Gagliardi said.

But his friend was persistent and Gagliardi eventually wilted. He'd take a look at the guy. He knew quality heavyweights are rare and extremely valuable.

When he first saw Ruiz spar, he was shocked.

"He had fast hands, like I had not seen in years," Gagliardi said. "But he was also impressive because it was clear that he could take a punch."

And so Gagliardi signed on as his manager and brought Grmoja in to train him. The odds are against Ruiz ever becoming a big-time star, but he's got plenty in his corner.

He's an affable, easygoing guy who speaks well, who fights hard and who can punch.

For someone looking to invest in a fighter, there are far worse options. Ruiz willingly moved to Las Vegas so he could become immersed in the fight game. He hired a full-time nutritionist and he's slowly, but surely, dropped the weight and improved his skills.

He still hasn't fought anyone remotely close to a quality level, but he's at least doing the right things and clearly has the passion for the game.

"I've gotten a lot more mature and I realize that if I do all of these things and put in the time, it will pay off later," he said. "Sometimes, you have to think about the future. The work I'm doing now is going to pay off for me down the road. I'm just laying the foundation."

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