It will not prove as easy for newly crowned WBA Heavyweight champion David Haye to sell tickets to his mandated clash with American John Ruiz in the spring as the David v Goliath showdown proved last weekend. But for all the doubters, I’d like to encourage everyone to visit YouTube and refresh their preconceptions about the 37 year old former two-time WBA champion. In short Ruiz is a different beast to the much maligned jab and grab merchant he’s often described as.
John Ruiz, as regular readers will know, is one of my favourite fighters. Okay he isn’t a Manny Pacquiao in the excitement stakes and he doesn’t have that newly pressed freshness like Tim Bradley or Jean Pascal, two more fighters from my classy champions list, but he is a solid fighter who deserves more respect than he’s afforded. It’s a guilty pleasure.
I interviewed John in the days before his departure for Germany, where he defeated Adnan Serin on the under card to David Haye v Nicolay Valuev. He proved candid and phlegmatic in perspective and his subsequent display versus the Turkish journeyman showed further evidence of his renewal as an aggressive heavyweight.
His pragmatism has been clear throughout his roller-coaster journey through the heavyweight waters this past 17 years. Most noticeably his willingness to fight whoever the sanctioning bodies, usually the WBA, decreed he needed to. It surfaced again when he agreed to step aside to facilitate the Haye v Valuev face off despite his own mandatory position for the WBA crown.
A WBA crown, lest we forget, Valuev only reclaimed when common foe Ruslan Chagaev was in ‘Recess’ due to injury and Valuev elected not to proceed with their proposed rematch when Chagaev’s Hepatitis B Condition emerged. Chagaev took Haye’s place in a bout with Wladimir Klitschko instead and the heavyweight picture moved on. Valuev was restored to heavyweight champion status by the WBA without having to beat the only man, until Haye, to have conquered him. It didn’t stink, but was certainly convenient.
This last little fact was cleverly overlooked for much of the David v Goliath build-up , you cannot sell the “How can David slay Goliath?” story if you have sub-heading “Exactly how little Ruslan did”.
John Ruiz expressed no preference when pressed on who he hoped would emerge from the Haye v Valuev contest victorious; “I fought in Germany three times and all three times the decisions didn’t go my way I felt like I won the fights, at the same time if it is Haye I could fight in England. I’v e had 4 or 5 fights in England when I was with Frank Maloney and Lennox Lewis. They used to bring me over and I’d do the fights over there, I was unbeaten over there. I’m 0-3 in Germany but I think 5-0 in England. I’ll look forward fighting in England or in Germany.”
The emergence of the German and British markets to rival the traditional prize fighting riches of Las Vegas doesn’t trouble Ruiz who willingly acknowledges the global nature of the sport he’s worked in since 1992.
“Boxing is more of a world sport, boxing goes where the money is, sometimes you have to travel and you know you have to go where the promoters are and where the money is. I love the fact I get to see other countries too.”
This wisdom has come with age, Ruiz once held a much more idealistic view of the sport but a decade as a subject to the whims of the sanctioning bodies and their favoured promoters has educated him to the realities of life in boxing. I commented on how Lennox Lewis, once ostracised himself in the mid-nineties, had been particularly cruel in his descriptions of John opting to fight green-horn giant Michael Grant instead. “Boxing is a business, at one time in my life I thought, you know, have a fight, do everything you can do to win a fight and everything else would come along. But it doesn’t work that way, its about who you talk to, who is your friend, who is not your friend. Its more of a political thing than the fighting thing. I realised that a little too late in my career. But I’ve always tried to move forward, keep fighting. I know I can do something in this division, there is no one person that stands out. And I think that I still have a chance in this game.”
Despite his willingness to see the bigger picture and step aside for David Haye, I wondered whether it frustrates him that the guy with the flashy smile and big words secured the shot despite a flimsy history at the weight? “Here is a guy, like Arreola, you know a guy fights one big name, maybe two so the TV says, you know, so if the TV cracks him and they have him made if he does the right things. But you know he’s having to go to Germany, to basically Valuev’s home town, his promoters are running it. I haven’t had a good result against Valuev, you’ve got to worry about when you go to Germany and the other guy’s promoter is running the show. “
Pleasing for John was the American PPV coverage of the show, his victory over Sernin the first time the American audience had seen John live in a number of fights. It offered opportunity to surprise and educate his many critics and detractors. “It does, its been a while since I’ve been on television in the United States and some people go to You Tube but hopefully people they’ll see this live and its something I’m glad about. Chance for the critics to see the new me.”
He proved surprisingly candid and humorous about the preconception people had developed about him, I wondered what had precipitated his more crowd-pleasing style of late; “The trainer is a big part, with my previous trainer I got to a bit of a stand still and to the point where I wasn’t learning anything and I was falling back on some bad things, bad habits. That’s what happened to me and now that I’ve moved on. I’m feeling much more comfortable myself than I once was. I once was a boxer-puncher, then a boxer-brawler then I became boxer-clincher. That’s when I started thinking I wasn’t getting anywhere, so looked around and started trying out new trainers.”
Perhaps it is time Ruiz’s resourcefulness was more widely acknowledged, particularly if he has begun to couple it with a more aggressive style. After all, here is a heavyweight who rebuilt from a 19 second demolition at the hands of David Tua, overcame the humiliation of defeats to former middleweights James Toney and Roy Jones and remained willing to trade with anyone whether it be Lennox Lewis or Nicolay Valuev. For all the criticism, Ruiz harbours no regret about the trajectory of his career. “I could look back with regret, but I’ve been world heavyweight champion. How can I go back and complain about that, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that a lot of people could only dream of.”
In the fractured world of heavyweight boxing it is impossible for me to suggest John Ruiz has ever been a consensus heavyweight champion, or a dominant heavyweight champion. Like successor David Haye, he’s only ever held a portion of the title and he has always fought in the shadow of Lewis and latterly Vitaly and Wladimir Klitschko. In any other era he would have been just a leading contender. But a top ten guy for more than a decade, isn’t that accomplishment enough?
“That’s the nature of the sport, sometimes they want to put you up on the pedestal and other times they want to take you of that pedestal and that’s been my career people have always tried to downgrade what I’ve accomplished. But one day they’ll have to read the print on the paperwork and its going to say I did accomplish a lot and I did face a lot of fighters and others didn’t want to fight. That’s something that I’m proud of and I’m glad that, even though I’ve taken a tough road and try to bring boxing to a better atmosphere where I wasn’t trash –talking. Bringing boxing a little more respect, people didn’t want to see that, they wanted to hear “I’m gonna kill you!”