Hello, casual American boxing fan! I have a quiz for you: Without Googling, can you tell me the name of a heavyweight champion this century who was not named Klitschko? Any belt, any boxer. I’ll wait.
What, you forgot Charles Martin, whose 85-day reign as IBF champion in 2016 stands as the second shortest in heavyweight history? What about Joseph Parker, the New Zealander who held the WBO belt for about 14 months between 2016 and 2018? There’s always Tyson Fury. Remember him? Dressed up like Batman at a news conference that one time?
But great work on the Lennox Lewis guess! His most recent fight was nearly 16 years ago, however, and in the interim the weight class has mostly been the domain of the Klitschko brothers — Vitali and Wladimir — and a host of other anonymous pugilists who did the majority of their fighting in Europe.
That all might have changed on Saturday night at the Garden.
Andy Ruiz Jr., who loves eating Snickers bars and has the physique to prove it, genuinely shocked the boxing world with his seventh-round TKO of Anthony Joshua, snatching the WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight titles away from the chiseled British heavyweight as a 25-to-1 underdog at some sportsbooks. And while he wasn’t quite the long shot Buster Douglas was when he sent Mike Tyson lurching to the canvas in search of his mouth guard in 1990 (42 to 1), Ruiz still accomplished much the same thing: a world-shocking win that got people talking about heavyweights again.
It’s an immense opportunity for a weight class that has lumbered anonymously into the background since the likes of Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lewis left the stage. Not only does Ruiz have an everyman body that a wide swath of America can identify with, but he’s also the first fighter of Mexican descent to win the heavyweight belt, and fight fans from that country (along with Mexican Americans in the United States) are among the sport’s most passionate.
“I think it’s going to do a lot for my community, for Mexico,” Ruiz, a native of Southern California, said after Saturday’s fight, per the Associated Press. “Now they can say that they have the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world. I’m just happy that it’s me.”
Now all Ruiz has to do is the exact opposite of what Douglas did. In 1990, the latter followed up his stunning upset of Tyson by coming into his next fight against Holyfield 15 pounds heavier. The result — a third-round knockout — was hardly surprising, and Douglas wouldn’t step into the ring again for more than five years, his career relegated to casinos in Mississippi and Connecticut instead of Las Vegas, plus arenas in Boise and Burlington, Iowa.
Ruiz’s next bout is pretty much set in stone, as there was a rematch clause in his contract for the Joshua fight. That is bound to disappoint a certain loud ESPN personality, who was looking forward to a bout between Joshua and unbeaten American Deontay Wilder and now thinks the former has irreparably damaged his career thanks to his loss to a fighter who doesn’t exactly have a physique associated with non-sideshow boxing.
“A damn disgrace,” Stephen A. Smith called it.
To which the new heavyweight champion responded:
Ruiz, who has just one loss in his professional career (by majority decision, no less) and sent Joshua to the mat four times Saturday night, also will have added bonus of more time to prepare for his next fight. He only earned his title shot against Joshua as a last-minute replacement for Jarrell Miller, who failed drug tests for PEDs, and Ruiz only got that chance after audaciously sending promoter Eddie Hearn a direct message on Instagram asking that he be allowed to step into the ring. The bout was officially announced only on May 1.
“Now that I have this time, I want to get in shape and look like a Mexican Anthony,” Ruiz said with a laugh after the fight. “But I was ready for war. I was ready for all 12 rounds.”
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