Best I Faced: Razor Ruddock
Big-punching heavyweight contender Donovan “Razor” Ruddock was a serious player in boxing’s glamor division in the late 1980s-early 1990s.
Ruddock was born in St. Catherine, Jamaica, the middle child of five, on December 21, 1963.
“Growing up in Jamaica is different – it’s a paradise, it’s beautiful,” Ruddock told The Ring. “I used to fight a lot in school. I was the baddest in my neighborhood.”
His parents wanted more for their children. Ruddock’s mother moved to Canada to live with her sister and work as a dressmaker, and his father, who was a barber, a butcher and also dabbled in boxing, looked after the children back in the Caribbean. The family was split for three years before his parents had saved enough money to reunite in 1975.
When they moved to Canada, Ruddock attended J.R. Wilcox community school, Emery Collegiate Institute and Westview Centennial Secondary School, but a few issues led to him turning to boxing at 15.
“It was so different; it was a culture shock,” he said. “In Jamaica, there are a lot of colored people. I brought the attitude to Canada and was fighting with all the kids.
“My friend said, ‘Donovan, why don’t you go do boxing?’ I was getting too rough with the kids in school. I said, ‘You’re smart’ and went from there.”
Although Ruddock didn’t have an extensive amateur career, he did win a Canadian national title, the Golden Gloves in Canada and the AAU in America.
Interestingly, as a teenager, he edged past future undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis at the Ontario Junior Boxing Championships in March 1980.
“I wasn’t supposed to beat him, but I knew I was going to win,” said Ruddock, who claimed a 3:2 decision at 165 pounds. “We didn’t get a lot of attention. It was amateur and we were young.”
After going 17-1 in the unpaid ranks, Ruddock turned professional in March 1982. He went 9-0-1, but then lost his unbeaten record to David Jaco when his corner retired him due to breathing problems that also threatened his career.
“I had an asthma attack and the doctor stopped the fight,” Ruddock explained. “The doctor told me I couldn’t fight anymore because I had exercise-induced asthma. When you start to exercise it appears.
“I tried to get a job driving a truck, but after a while, I realized they had this new medication, Ventolin, that can help you. I resumed my career and started to use Ventolin before every fight. It gave me a two-hour window – [where I could] count my punches, not throw too many [that could lead to me having] an asthma attack.”
Following a 10-month hiatus, Ruddock resumed his career with great success. He notably beat former heavyweight titlists Mike Weaver (SD 10) and Bonecrusher Smith (KO 7) over the next couple of years and became a top contender.
“When I fought Mike Weaver, I knew I could not knock him out,” said Ruddock, who won a 10-round split decision. “In the fourth round, he dropped his shoulder like he was going to the body and then he came over the top with a left hook. I held on and recovered and went on to win the fight.”
Ruddock had been scheduled to face then-undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in November 1989, but the fight was canceled.
“I was looking forward to that fight with Mike Tyson in Edmonton, (Canada),” Ruddock said. “I was training, I was in good condition, and Mike Tyson said he wasn’t going to tackle with me at that time. [He] went and fought Buster Douglas in Tokyo, but ran into a brick wall down there.
“I had to fight the leftovers, the nobody wants, the more dangerous fighters. If no one fights them, they call me in. I’m what they call, ‘a closer.'”
Ruddock stopped another former titleholder Michael Dokes (TKO 4) in spectacular fashion. He was still unable to secure a title shot, but did face a comebacking Tyson in March 1991.
“It was an experience fighting Mike Tyson the first time,” he said. “When you walk in the ring it’s like going into hell and seeing the devil (Laughs).
“I knew that the odds were against me. He had Don King, the ref (Richard Steele), he had everyone there. Tyson’s strength was stopping you on the ropes and beating the crap out of you. I realized I’m going to have to outsmart him. Every time he came too close to me, I made a move back, so I don’t give him a target. I don’t stay in one place, I move all over the place.
“What he did, he stepped on my toe and hit me and they called it a knockdown. I waved at Richard Steele, I had my hands up, Richard Steele turned his back on me, grabbed Tyson and waved the fight off [in Round 7]. He didn’t want to see me wave my hands.”
Due to the controversial nature of the stoppage both teams agreed to a direct rematch three months later.
“We didn’t get clarity in the [first] fight,” said Ruddock in relation to accepting the rematch. “[Tyson] was devastating, he was knocking everyone out in the first round, and because I stood up, people respected me.
“The second fight, I bust his eardrum and he still came at me. He broke my jaw and we still went 12 rounds. We never really clarified that much, so I think we want to do it a third time.”
Despite the defeats Ruddock, who made career high paydays against Tyson, had cemented his position in the division. He returned with wins over former WBA heavyweight titleholder Greg Page (RTD 8) and rising contender Phil Jackson (KO 4).
Those victories saw Ruddock lined up to meet childhood rival Lennox Lewis in a de facto WBC eliminator. The winner would fight for the undisputed title, which was set to be decided between then-champion Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.
“I decided to take a vacation in Puerto Rico with my family. They called me in the middle of my vacation and asked me if I wanted to fight Lennox Lewis,” recalled Ruddock, who was stopped in two rounds. “I said, ‘No.’ I wasn’t ready for this because I’m trying to relax. My brother said, ‘It’s a $2 million dollar fight.’ We don’t get $2 million, at that time, so rapidly from anyone.
“So we went into training. I was number one in the world and they wanted to get that position. They decided to sweeten the path. They put me on a concord to take me to London and paid me a lot of money.
“I knew I could have beat Lennox. I used to spar with him every week. I knew I could go over there and deal with him, but it didn’t work out that way. There’s reasons I don’t want to discuss.”
After some time off, Ruddock returned with a lower-level win before meeting fellow gunslinger Tommy Morrison in June 1995.
“I was off a year after the Lewis fight,” said Ruddock. “I had to analyze that fight to see what went wrong because I’m beating up this kid in the gym all the time.
“You can’t take nothing from away Tommy. He’s very strong, his punches are very strong, he hit hard. He reminds me of Tyson; similar style and power as Tyson. I put him down with an uppercut and went in too fast to finish him. I went in carelessly and got clipped. That’s the way it is – he caught me with a good left hook.”
Ruddock beat several lesser-known fighters before drifting away from boxing in the early 2000s. He returned almost 15 years later and still has aspirations of fighting again.
“I am not finished,” argued Ruddock. “It’s not a young man’s game. It’s an experienced man’s game. It’s a well-trained man’s game. There’s no young man on the planet who can stay with me. People will say, ‘No.’ It’s OK, I will show them.”
Ruddock, now 58, is married and lives in Toronto. He has seven children and four grandchildren. During his time away from boxing, he invented a garbage compactor.
The former No. 1 contender graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he faced in 10 key categories.
Lennox Lewis: Lewis’ variation of the jab was disruptive because it was forceful and maintained distance. Usually a jab doesn’t have much force. However, with Lewis, his jab was very fast and powerful.
Michael Dokes: Even though we only went four rounds, his defense was impeccable. [He was] extremely slippery, feinting the entire fight without a hiccup. He was constantly moving his head, making it difficult to connect. Very good at escaping punches and responding with combinations.
Dokes: His hands were quick and he was exceedingly experienced. He had lightning speed that you would not see coming. At the end of Round 2 he stunned me with his sharp left hook and I knew I had to keep my cool because he was going to keep coming at me. There is a reason his nickname was “Dynamite”.
Greg Page: He sprouted from Muhammad Ali’s backyard (Louisville, Kentucky) and sparred with the icon on a regular basis. Imagine fighting a younger Ali. He was exceptionally light on his feet and knew how to work the ring. Page would be moving constantly but instead of jumping around like Dokes, Page would glide. He did a great job at controlling the space.
Mike Weaver: He has explosive brute force with his punches but he doesn’t neglect his defense. I remember he was labeled a slow starter, but I think he was just studying his opponent. When we fought, I could feel him studying my movement and adjusting for the following round. He was always thinking three-four moves ahead. After he deceived me with that deceptive shoulder drop, I was not going to allow him to bait me. Instead of brawling and looking for a knockout, I decided to maintain distance by being quick on my feet and outpointing him.
James “Bonecrusher” Smith: At the weigh in, I tried to feel his strength. I leaned on him and it was like leaning on a wall. He was fucking unbelievably strong. He was terrifying and embodied what it meant to be a slugger. Bonecrusher would punch through you. I tell you, when he punched me it felt like an earthquake. Every inch of your body felt that power.
Mike Tyson: I consider myself a hard puncher. I hit this man with some haymakers and he shook it off, like, ‘Is that all you got?’ They called him “Iron” Mike Tyson, and that was not a joke. He was iron-chinned. I ruptured his ear-drum and he still came back.
Tyson: Tommy Morrison had a very good left hook; he caught me and dropped me. Lennox is a strong puncher. Weaver’s punch was a single-punch that would be a devastating knockout. Tyson’s punch was a series of powerful punches, like a submachine gun looking to annihilate you. Tyson has a punch to remember.
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Page: He was so crafty because he came from the Muhammad Ali camp. He was very slippery. He had good skills; he was champion of the world. I would have him on the ropes and his hand and footspeed would work in tandem to comfortably dodge a wave of punches and dance away. He would then continue to dance around the ring. Page was a superior fighter with a remarkable uppercut that tagged me several times. It was an all-out war between us from beginning to end. When I landed, he would absorb the blow and just continued to move his head despite the punishment. He just kept bouncing around exhausting my energy as I threw power punches. He had great stamina with a lot of heart. It was remarkable.
Tyson: I’d have to go with Tyson. He’s very good at his job. There’s different levels to boxing and Mike Tyson fluctuated in levels. When he’s training and [switched] on, it’s hard to beat him. I shared a ring with him for 19 rounds. Tyson had good defense – he was always slipping punches and had great head movement. He made it difficult to land power shots as he was maneuvering inside. At the same time, he applying constant pressure, not giving you any time to recover or breathe. Tyson was also quick but had unbelievable power for his size. He also had good timing and coordination, where he was throwing punches from all angles. You never knew what to expect and when he connected you felt the damage. He broke my jaw in the second round [of the second fight]. He had that killer instinct. When he went in the ring, you knew he had the desire to try to kill you and not hurt you. When he said, “If Razor Ruddock doesn’t die, it doesn’t count,” he meant that.
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