Andy Ruiz, the underdog Mexican American boxer who beat Anthony Joshua for the heavyweight title in June, has spent his entire life in boxing as an outsider.
“My whole life I’ve been fighting big guys,” he said. “I feel that’s where I got the experience and I just thank my dad for always pushing me, even when I didn’t want to box any more he would drag me out of my room to train, saying: ‘You’re going to do something.’ That’s exactly what’s happened.”
“My dad had confidence in me since I was a little kid. He would always tell me: ‘You know what? You’re going to beat him’. The main thing he would tell me was not to be scared, not to fear nobody because we’re all the same, all flesh and blood. Just go in there fearless, do what I do best, and let my hands go.”
Ruiz was considered the underdog going into June’s heavyweight world title fight against the poster-boy of modern boxing, Anthony Joshua. He had had a month’s notice, had fought less than a month-and-a-half earlier, and was viewed by many as both unfit and out of shape.
But Ruiz exceeded all expectations.
While the great and good of the boxing world questioned what individual errors had led to the ripped, 1.98-meter tall Anthony Joshua being beaten in the seventh by a “tubby” fighter almost 20-centimeters smaller, Ruiz was celebrating a job well done.
Anthony Joshua in ready stance at the public training session in Riyadh. (Supplied)
“I think those were the doubters wondering: ‘What’s happened to Anthony Joshua? There’s something wrong with him’,” recalled Ruiz. “But truly I think it was my style, the way that I handled him, and that I took his punches. He gave me the hardest punches he has and I ate them.
“We watched it a lot [since] to correct mistakes that I did and to see the things I needed to do more. I think I lacked the pressure. The fight could have been over sooner but I think I let it slide a little bit.
This weekend the two men go toe-to-toe again in the eagerly awaited Clash On The Dunes presented by Public Investment Fund, and taking place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. Fan demand is huge, forcing fight organizers to this week release another phase of tickets.
Fight week usually pops and crackles with insults traded – and rising tensions – between the fighters. However, in the instance of Ruiz, the build-up to the jewel in the crown of the first-ever Diriyah Season festival has again proven how this boxing maverick moves in a differently than many of the biggest names in the sport, past and present.
“I don’t think there’s a reason to be trash-talking each other. I know that’s what the fans and everybody else want to see, but that’s not how my mum raised me,” said Ruiz.
“I think I’m a different fighter from everybody else. I have respect for all the fighters. If I saw AJ right now I’d shake his hand, tell him: ‘Hey, how you doing? Good luck for December 7 – best man wins,’ stuff like that, you know?”
June’s fight earned him a rumored $7million. For Saturday’s rematch, he will earn a lot, lot more. Do the niceties he feels towards Anthony Joshua perhaps derive from the fact that the big-reaching Brit changed his life, in essence making him an overnight multi-millionaire when they first met?
“Exactly,” was Ruiz’s quick response. He added: “I respect the guy. I respect any fighter that jumps in the ring because we all risk our lives – we all risk our lives to feed our families. This is our job. Of course I respect the man.”
Since that night in New York’s Madison Square Garden, everything has changed for Ruiz. He has vast wealth and is having to adapt to his new-found global celebrity.
Asked how life had been treating him since then, he said: “Umm...really well, you know, really well!
“A bit overwhelming at times but this is what I dreamed for, this is what I’ve been working hard for, this is what I’ve been training since I’m six-years-old for. It’s not just great for me but it’s great for my family, my kids. Our whole lives have changed after June 1.”
Now he is ready for round two. He and Joshua both arrived in Saudi Arabia last week, with the American’s 8,000-mile trip definitely the more arduous of the two.
To fight jetlag and ensure he is in prime physical and mental condition for Saturday’s bout, Ruiz is staying awake from 10am until 4am daily. His peak practice takes place at midnight.
“I feel good,” he said, comparing his state before this fight to June’s. “I feel mentally more prepared and physically prepared. We’ve been training a lot, we’ve been sparring a lot, we’ve been going through 12 rounds like nothing.
“I know it’s not going to be easy – it’s going to be hard. That’s what I want to think, that it’s going to be hard, because I know I’m going in there for a war, a big battle. I think that’s the same mentality I have to keep. I’ve got to stay hungry, stay motivated, and think that something is going to come that’s going to be big.”
Asked how he plans to beat Joshua for the second time in seven months, Ruiz said: “I know he’s going to try and be boxing me around – I think that’s why he lost some weight, trying to keep me out with the jab and that’s exactly what we’ve been practicing.
“That’s how we’re planning and exactly how we’ve been training: being small, being more slick, owning the pressure, throwing the combinations, me being first. I think he’s still going to be boxing around four or five rounds until I bring the pressure and start working the body and start messing it up.”
If all goes to plan, Ruiz could fly out of Riyadh on Sunday with more money and more opportunity than he could ever have dreamt of when he first stepped into that San Diego ring now 23 years ago.
Would that be enough for the fighter that has defied all the odds to this date?
“Of course not, because I’m not satisfied yet. [June] was just my first fight, so there’s still more that I have to accomplish and still more that I have to prove.
“This is not the end of me, this is the beginning.”