Best I Faced: John Ruiz
He moved to Puerto Rico when he was a few months old and lived there for seven years before later relocating to Chelsea, Massachusetts. Ruiz was a respected amateur who fought at the 1991 World Championships as a light heavyweight for America, losing before the medal rounds. He attempted to make the Olympics the following year, only to lose to Jeremy Williams in the Olympic trials.
“The Quiet Man” made his pro debut in 1992 and won his first 14 contests. He lost a pair of split decisions to Russian Sergey Kobozev and former Olympian Danell Nicholson on his way up but, to his credit, learned from those experiences and improved.
Four years into his pro career, he appeared on HBO’s “Night of the Young Heavyweights.” It would be a disastrous evening for Ruiz; he was knocked cold in just 19 seconds of the opening round by David Tua, leaving his record 25-3.
“I heard a lot about that fight then and even today,” he explained. “It’s not about getting knocked out; it’s about what you do after that. I thought about my kids and what I needed to do to give them a better life. I knew I had to keep fighting for them, to have a good career and win the world title. I always had my family in mind and couldn’t give up.”
At that point, nobody would have expected much from Ruiz, much less him to end up having a more successful career than Tua.
Ruiz went 11-0 (10 knockouts) over the next four years – winning and defending regional titles – positioning himself highly in the WBA’s rankings. He fought the legendary Evander Holyfield for the vacant throne. Though he controversially lost the first meeting in Aug. 2000, he gained revenge in the rematch – and became the first Latino heavyweight titlist – the following March, via unanimous decision. In Dec. ’01, they met in the rubber match; this time, the result was a draw, leaving their trilogy tied at 1-1-1.
Ruiz beat previously unbeaten Kirk Johnson via 10th-round disqualification before losing a decision to the precociously talented Roy Jones Jr., who unseated Ruiz as WBA beltholder, making history as the first man in 106 years to have held a portion of the middleweight championship and, later, win a version of the heavyweight title.
He bounced back, winning the vacant WBA belt for a second time by besting Hasim Rahman (UD 12). Ruiz made successful defenses against Fres Oquendo (TKO 11) and Andrew Golota (UD 12) before running into James Toney. Although Ruiz would lose a decision, it was later changed to a no-contest when Toney was found to have a banned substance in his system.
Having had his title reinstated, Ruiz packed his bags and headed to Germany where he met leviathan Nicolay Valuev, against whom he lost a majority decision in Dec. 2005. He would lose a split decision to future champion Ruslan Chagaev, 11 months later, before again losing to Valuev in Aug. 2008, this time under less controversial circumstances.
Ruiz’s final act was to head to England in April 2010, when he fought David Haye for his old WBA title. Ruiz was stopped in nine rounds and retired with a record of 44-9-1 (30 KOs). He had taken part in 12 major title bouts.
Unlike many boxers, Ruiz has embraced life since retiring: “I stayed grounded. I wasn’t out partying all the time. I went to camp, fought and then went home to spend time with my family. I always stayed in boxing but away from any bad influences in boxing.”
Despite fighting several top heavyweights, there were a couple with whom he wished he had been able to share the ring.
“Lennox Lewis,” he said. “I would have loved the opportunity to have fought him in a unification, especially because I spent a long time in his camp when we were both with Panix Promotions.
“Fighting him in a unification would have been a great opportunity. I wanted an opportunity to fight another legend, Mike Tyson, but he had problems with Don King (Ruiz’s promoter at that time) and that got in the way.”
Ruiz, 44, now owns and operates Quietman Sports Gym in Medford, Massachusetts. He first opened the gym five years ago and trains classes to stay busy and in shape. He’s moving to Florida this month with his wife, Maribelle, and 9-year-old son, Joaquin. He also has two children from his first marriage. When he moves, his brother Eddie and Eddie Rivera will run his gym.
“I’m going to fish a lot, pick up my golf game and eventually get involved some way in boxing,” he said when asked how he’ll spend his time in Florida. “I tried to make a difference (this past year as a promoter of an amateur tournament) but (USA Boxing/New England) didn’t want to change things. I don’t want to just stay at home in my retirement life.”
Ruiz graciously took time to speak to RingTV.com about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Tony Tucker: Not a lot of my opponents were known for their great jabs and I usually out-jabbed my opponent. I’d say, Tony Tucker. He kept throwing and firing his jab to set-up good combinations.
Evander Holyfield: No matter what I did, he escaped, except for that one time (Ruiz dropped Holyfield in the 11th round of their second fight).
James Toney: I hit him with some good punches and he stayed up. We got a surprise a few days later (when Toney failed his post-fight test for steroids).
Roy Jones Jr.: He was coming up in weight to heavyweight and brought his hand speed.
David Haye: He definitely moved the best against me.
Holyfield: He had the best ring smarts. He knew what was needed to be done to win.
Nicolay Valuev: (David) Tua was the strongest puncher but Valuev was the strongest opponent I ever fought. I couldn’t move him. I was so small compared to him.
David Tua: He hit like a mule. Sometimes things happen and I admit he really got me.
Jones: He moved around a lot and did everything he needed to win by boxing. He had a little help because the referee (Jay Nady) didn’t give me the opportunity to win inside.
Holyfield: He had the big name and always went to war. He brought everything but the kitchen sink into the ring to use. He knew how to win and did everything to win.