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After all the punch lines, Ruiz is still punching

11
Jan

Of all the puzzling elements of John Ruiz’s unexpectedly long and fruitful boxing career, perhaps the most puzzling is his continued insistence on bringing a cut man to the ring with him. Why bother when you have skin this thick?

Say what you will about Ruiz, but the heavyweight known as “The Quiet Man” is an expert in blocking out the noise.

Writers have joked that Ruiz’s ring-entrance music should be “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones. They’ve said that his favorite combination is the jab-hug-lean. They’ve even written, “If drying paint could talk, it would use similes comparing exercises in tedium to a John Ruiz fight.”

Actually, all of those lines came from one writer (me) in one column (penned back in 2005).



But every boxing writer with a sense of humor, a sense of anger or both has launched a similar attack at some point. Add it all up – a few hundred boxing writers around the globe, a half-dozen or so Ruiz jokes apiece – and that’s a lot of unflattering journalism directed at one fighter. It might be enough to make a lesser man blow his stack, lose his motivation or quit the fight game altogether. Not Ruiz, who doesn’t much care what anyone says about him.

“I don’t read about myself. I never did,” Ruiz told RingTV.com last week. “Most of the time if I heard something, it was through word of mouth, somebody telling me something. Like, recently, my wife started laughing and she read this line to me that she found somewhere on the Internet. It said I’m like a cockroach after a nuclear war – the only things that will survive are a cockroach and John Ruiz. I thought that was pretty funny.

“Look, I’m aware that at one point, everybody wanted me to disappear. But I turned that into a positive, I used that to fuel me a little bit. The more people wanted me to disappear, the harder I trained and the harder I fought. The more I was criticized, the more it made me want to get the last laugh.”

To the surprise of many (and the dismay of some, of course), Ruiz, who turned 38 on Jan. 4, is soon going to get another opportunity to have that last laugh. The mandatory challenger for David Haye’s belt could fight the Briton on April 3 at the O2 Arena in London.

So you can expect that anti-Ruiz sentiment to bubble to the top again over the next couple of months as fight night nears. Even though he hasn’t been on domestic television in nearly five full years, the public hasn’t forgotten the sheer ugliness of his third fight with Evander Holyfield, his disqualification win over Kirk Johnson, his smothering stinker against Hasim Rahman and, in perhaps the least entertaining bout of the last decade, his victory over Fres Oquendo. That was a contest that referee Wayne Kelly stopped suddenly in Round 11 not to spare Oquendo further punishment, but to spare the fans further punishment.

But as far as Ruiz is concerned, if there’s criticism around the bend, so be it. He isn’t bothered by what people say about him as a fighter, as long as they limit the comments to that arena.

“Whatever they said negative about my boxing, they always said I was a good person,” he said. “No matter how bad things got, that’s more important, that they always said that. But you know what? I’ve also been getting some good publicity lately. I have new trainers, my style has changed, I’ve had some better fights and it seems like some writers are taking another look at me and seeing that I’ve changed. I mean, I can’t sugarcoat it in terms of my other fights. You can call them boring, and I can’t really say different. It was what it was. But I think a lot of it had to do with my training staff.

“I was with guys where I was teaching them how to be trainers and how to hold the gloves, and now with my new trainers, they’re bringing me back to the basics with movement and throwing punches and less leaning in. It seems like I just had to go through everything the hard way before I could find somebody else and do it the easy way.”

Those “somebody elses” are Miguel Diaz and Richie Sandoval, Ruiz’s current trainers. Ruiz’s criticism is obviously aimed at the colorful and controversial Norman Stone, with whom The Quiet Man severed ties in 2005. Despite their falling out, Stone, as Ruiz’s longtime manager before becoming his lead trainer, deserves some credit for advancing Ruiz the way he did. The same goes for promoter Don King, who was recently jettisoned from Team Ruiz as well.

And the changes in recent years haven’t all come in Ruiz’s professional life. He also divorced his first wife in 2003, then remarried three years ago and welcomed son Joaquin in March 2007. Ruiz has a 19-year-old son, John, and a 16-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, from his first marriage.

“I never thought I would get remarried or have another child, and here I am, remarried with another child,” Ruiz said. “There’s been a lot of change in my life, but all in all, it’s been refreshing.”

It’s been an unlikely journey for Ruiz since March 15, 1996, the night he was blasted out in 19 seconds by David Tua. To bounce back from that and beat the quality contenders he did – Holyfield, Johnson, Rahman, Oquendo and Andrew Golota – and still be a factor at age 38 is no small achievement. And Ruiz’s three defeats in the last five years, two against Nicolay Valuev and one against Ruslan Chagaev, all came in Germany by either split or majority decision. So Ruiz’s ability to compete with fellow Top-10 heavyweights hasn’t been diminished (though you could argue that the talent required to be a Top-10 heavyweight has).

The thought of Ruiz – whether using a “new and improved” style or the old one that frustrated so many opponents and negated their offense – defeating the younger, faster Haye isn’t so far-fetched. If Ruiz wins, he could remain a player in the heavyweight division for a couple more years.

But then, he promises, he’ll put his remaining haters out of their misery.

“I think age 40, that’s a good number for me to fight until,” Ruiz said. “At the beginning of my career, I spent a lot less time with my older kids when they were young, and this time around, I want to spend a lot more time with my baby boy. But at the same time, I’m running out of time to put my foot forward in the boxing world.

“So I’m going to do that the best I can for about two more years and try to bring heavyweight titles back to America and to Latinos. And then after those two years, I’m going to be done and I’m going to focus on my family.”

The jokes at his expense will probably continue long after Ruiz has retired. But don’t be surprised if, with the passing of years, a grudging respect develops too.

Ruiz has been as persistent and resilient as they come, and if he’s been tough to watch, he’s at least been equally tough to discourage.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó I understand the sentiment behind fight fans boycotting any upcoming Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather fight, but I have to say, it would have been a lot easier for me to boycott if Pacquiao had signed to fight Yuri Foreman. Pacquiao vs. Josh Clottey is a real fight. And, of course, Pacquiao is still the best and most exciting fighter on the planet. So I’m not skipping this one. Unless, that is, Antonio Margarito gets relicensed and Top Rank goes through with its plan to put him on the undercard. Then I might have a reason to boycott.

ÔÇó Three great things about the return last week of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights: (1) We got to see live boxing on TV for the first time in three weeks; (2) They’ve gone all-HD just in time, since I’m starting to reach that point of becoming a snob who won’t watch anything that isn’t in HD; (3) I missed boxing’s malapropism master, Teddy Atlas. On Friday’s show he offered his greatest verbal misstep ever when he referenced “Venison Beach in California.” Ah, Venison Beach. Where Bambi goes to work on his pecs.

ÔÇó A bonus fourth great thing about this week’s FNF: Roman Karmazin’s stirring off-the-floor knockout of Miranda in the main event. In the “Quick Picks” competition of last week’s Ring Theory audio show (which can be accessed here in case you missed it), I had Karmazin by KO and Bill Dettloff picked him to win on points, so I was particularly fired up about the dramatic finish. Good for Karmazin. But more importantly, good for me.

ÔÇó I wouldn’t mind seeing Andrey Fedosov become a staple of FNF undercards this season. Aggressive young heavyweights make for good TV, and two rounds of Fedosov wasn’t enough. (But it was enough for Lionel Butler, who was about two left hooks away from getting his nose straightened back out.)

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]

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