Post-fight press conference reactions from Andy Ruiz and Callum Smith
According to those who never gave Andy Ruiz a chance against Anthony Joshua (let’s see some hands… yep, that’s just about everyone in press row, thank you!), he was aiming for a modest showing that would merely add some value to his name. For a few most optimistic observers, all he could aim for was to become the second-best fighter named Ruiz in the division’s history, right below his fellow U.S.-born Latino champ John Ruiz, and not get knocked out in the process.
Instead, what we got was an upset for the ages, one that we’re all still trying to process ourselves, and another Madison Square Garden moment that will certainly earn a spot in the museum-like exhibit that populate the walls of the fabled “Mecca of Boxing.”
If we’re to believe him, the man of the night himself is still trying to process this whole thing as well.
“Man, I am still pinching myself,” said Ruiz, surrounded by the IBF, IBO, WBO and WBA belts he had earned in a stunning upset a few minutes earlier, during a post-fight press conference in which he was the sole protagonist, with his foe secluded in a locker room while doctors examined him for a possible concussion (that’s according to the fallen heavyweight star’s promoter Eddie Hearn; some media cynics opined that the doctors were merely nursing a wounded ego while his team sheltered him from what could have been a rather contentious presser in front of a mostly British press row in attendance).
“Can you believe it? I am the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world!”
‘Belief,’ as it turns out, was in short supply in the stands of the MSG earlier on, when an 8,000-strong legion of British fans rained down a loud and emotional version of “Sweet Caroline” to salute the U.S. debut of their hero, an Olympic gold medalist and unified heavyweight titlist, in what was expected to be a night to showcase British talents in America.
Three national anthems and seven rounds later, the tune changed, and heavyweight history took a turn that no one seriously expected to happen, from the fat-shaming casual fans who couldn’t look past a seemingly structurally unsound body without even looking at his boxing record, to the know-it-all scribes (hi, mom!) who gave him zero chances of scoring a win.
And we’re not the only ones who learned a lesson from this fight.
“I learned that I am a warrior, because I fell to the canvas and I got right back up and I put him on the canvas” said Ruiz, who went down hard on his back less than a minute into that fateful third round, in which he returned the courtesy twice to set up one of the greatest comebacks in heavyweight history. “I learned that if I get knocked down I can get back up, and put them down.”
A much different lesson was learned by the promoter of the soirée, Hearn, who had the unenviable task of hosting the presser wearing a tuxedo and looking the part of a flustered 007 explaining to His Majesty how did that lone KGB agent managed to blow up the MI6 building after escaping with the all-too-secret microchip in his hands.
Blowing a potential blockbuster Joshua-Wilder matchup will be just as hard to explain to his fans and compatriots, but one hard fact must not be lost in this analysis: by putting the best fighters in his stable in harm’s way and making competitive fights that didn’t necessarily go his way, Hearn succeeded as a promoter by putting on the best possible shows for the fans and the network (or streaming platform in the case of DAZN), and a night worthy of the venerable venue that will forever be remembered as the stage of the biggest heartbreak in his professional career.
A rematch is all but guaranteed, but it is difficult to imagine Ruiz’s advisor Al Haymon’s level of enthusiasm (“arousal” rings improper in this context, though it is probably a more adequate word) now that he has collected all the heavyweight belts under one promotional umbrella. After Ruiz is done with the rematch, a possible Wilder-Ruiz unification will certainly generate interest and revenues that the embattled and controversial adviser could only dream about before this bout.
As for Ruiz, the days ahead will be unlike anything he ever envisioned. He will now have time, money and plenty of inspiration to finally finish his sparse tattoo collection, but another higher task might end up engulfing him, whether he likes it or not, as the new flagbearer of a community that has been under social and political fire during the current administration.
And although that is one of the many tasks that has not dawned on Ruiz just yet, it certainly will come up, and he seems ready to take the mantle for his embattled ‘compadres’ in that ring too.
“Now that we have the Mexican heavyweight championship, I think it’s going to do a lot for my community and for Mexico,” said Ruiz, already perceiving the non-boxing implications of his accomplishments, “and now that they can say that they have the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world… and… I was going to say a bad word…”
After a quick reminder that profane language definitely falls within his acquired rights as champion of the world and inheritor of the title of the ‘baddest man on the planet,’ Ruiz obliged with gusto.
“I am so f__king happy right now, man,” quipped the newly minted heavyweight king, to the roaring delight of the usually non-partisan press crowd.
For this fleeting moment that will certainly live forever in his heart, an entire country – and the millions of sports observers who look to odds-defying underdogs reaching for the impossible – shared his feelings, profanity notwithstanding.
Callum Smith: “This was a huge platform and I wanted to take advantage of it”
It may have been a bad day for the city of London in the boxing ring and the soccer pitch, but Liverpool had plenty to cheer for. Starting with their local team taking over Europe with a win over Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League finals, and ending with Callum “Mundo” Smith staging his own version of a Liverpool-based act invading America with a handful of smash hits of his own in his three-round demolition of Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, in which he scored one knockdown per round to defend his Ring title belt along with the “super” WBA belt and the “diamond” WBC trinket.
Choosing to fight in America as a co-main event instead of doing it at home as a headliner in such a special day was a no-brainer for the 29-year old Smith (26-0, 19 KOs), who chose exposure over home advantage as he sets his sights on bigger things ahead.
“I want the fight fights, I want the big names, I want fights that motivate me”, said Smith. “This was a huge platform and I wanted to take advantage of it.”
With controversial and close decisions plaguing this card (from Tommy Coyle’s defeat at the hands of Chris Algieri, Josh Kelly’s draw against Ray Robinson, and Katie Taylor’s hotly disputed decision over Delfine Persoon), Smith’s victory stood out as the most impressive performance of the night, and his aim of sending his next foe a message was more than accomplished.
“I think Canelo is a great fighter, the best at 160 pounds. I don’t see anyone at 160 beating him,” he said, masterfully blowing away his competitors with a back-handed compliment to the man he wants to face in his next fight, “but I believe it is a fight I am confident in winning.”
Expecting Alvarez, the sport’s biggest draw, to simply make an eight-pound jump in what would be his attempt to win a title in a third weight class without an arduous negotiation is not something that is likely to happen, and there is an issue that stands out among all others.
“I wouldn’t do a catchweight,” said Smith, confidently, in what can only be interpreted as the opening round of bluster in a fight that he will likely lose. “If he wants to fight I’ll fight him at 168, I am the champion at 168. If he wants to be the champion, then we’ll fight at 168. I am a big 168, I feel I am the champion and he’s coming to my weight division, and that’s where we’ll have to fight at 168”.
Smith can repeat that magic number 168 times more in an equal number of interviews, but it would be interesting to see whether he and his promoter Eddie Hearn can stay in that foxhole through an eventual negotiation in which a pound of flesh will be likely required from him – if not more – to face the Freckled Boy Wonder.
Given the bad piece of luck that Matchroom had on this night, at the end of the day we could very well see Hearn doing the cutting, if that’s what it takes to make the next big fight of 2019 that he was expecting Joshua to have.