Retired Ruiz may finally earn some Respect
By Bobby Jones (May 2, 2005)  
Photo © Marty Rosengarten
John Ruiz announced his retirement shortly after losing to James Toney on Saturday night. Now, before we all go throw John Ruiz going away parties because we may never have to see him fight again (I say ‘may’ because this is boxing after all, and boxers tend to change there minds more times then not) let’s take a step back and honestly look at what ‘The Quiet Man’ accomplished in his just under 13 year professional career.

John Ruiz, who was born in Methuen, Mass., but lived most of his life in Chelsea, Mass., didn’t have an easy rise to the top. No, John Ruiz never was considered the ‘real’ heavyweight champion. Still, whether we like to admit it or not, he is one of the most recognizable names in the heavyweight division. Ruiz started his career against the regular run-of-the-mill fighters that most promising young boxers fight (John Basil Jackson, Juan Quintana, Exum Speight) before being matched against another promising contender in the summer of 1993, Sergi Kobozev. Kobozev, 15-0 at the time and one of the most promising cruiserweight contenders to come along in a long time, gave Ruiz his first loss, by split decision.

Ruiz followed up his narrow loss by winning his next four fights in a row, which included a victory against a 6-0 Julius Francis in Ruiz’ first fight as a heavyweight. In just his third fight as a heavyweight, he was pitted against one-time hot heavyweight prospect Danell Nicholson for the vacant IBO heavyweight title. The fight came almost a year after his loss to Kobozev. Once again Ruiz was on the wrong end of a split decision and was forced to go back to the drawing board.

After reeling off four more victories he got his chance to fight for another vacant title in the summer of 1996. Ruiz traveled to London and knocked out Derrick Roddy in the second round to capture the WBC International heavyweight title. After fighting and winning three more fights where his WBC International title wasn’t on the line, he fought David Tua in a title defense.

Now this is where many people thought the John Ruiz story would come to an abrupt halt. A few seconds into the first round David Tua unleashed a powerful left hook that sent ‘The Quiet Man’ into quiet land. Including the count, the bout took a total of 19 seconds. This is where Ruiz should get a lot of respect. Ruiz had the ability to come back from an absolutely humiliating loss to accomplish what he has. Just three months later—that’s right, only three months after being knocked out by a single blow—Ruiz was back in the ring, wanting once again to climb his way into the heavyweight limelight.

After winning 11 fights in a row against fairly respectable competition (including Jimmy Thunder, Tony Tucker and Fernely Feliz) he stepped up to fight the biggest name of his career without a doubt. Evander Holyfield, while obviously on the downside of his career, had many fans that still thought he could take John Ruiz out—maybe not in the same fashion as he once could, but rather spectacularly nevertheless. Little did Holyfield and his legions of fans know, Ruiz had other plans.

Ruiz came into the fight implementing what we have all grown to hate: the "jab and grab" style. From this fight through the end of his career, this is how we know John Ruiz. Ruiz lost a unanimous decision against the aging Holyfield. Immediately a rematch was signed and this time Ruiz won with a clinching marathon and by knocking down Holyfield in the 11th round, so naturally they signed for a rubber match. The third fight was the easiest to score, but perhaps the most boring to watch. There were more than 100 clinches in this fight. It ended with a draw, and for many people, the end of this trilogy was a welcoming occurrence. One thing that can't be taken away is that John Ruiz split three fights with one of the greatest fighters to ever lace up the gloves.

After defeating Kirk Johnson, another fighter that was supposed to dispose or Ruiz, he signed on to face the light-heavyweight king and the best pound-for-pound fighter over the last 10 years, Roy Jones Jr. Jones Jr., gaining around 20 pounds of muscle for the fight, defeated Ruiz by staying away from the infamous ‘jab and grab’ style and beating him from the outside. Now, excuses in boxing are common, but Ruiz might have had a legitimate one for this night. Ruiz was in the middle of a divorce and perhaps his head wasn’t entirely in the fight that night. Still, many believed Jones Jr. would have beat Ruiz even if it was Ruiz’s best night as a boxer. After the loss, Ruiz didn’t disappear, but went right back to fighting top contenders.

Hasim Rahman, Fres Oquendo, and Andrew Golota. Take a look at those names; it’s fairly easy to say that many people would say Ruiz had no chance of beating two of them (Rahman and Golota) and was only a slight favorite to beat the other (Oquendo). Ruiz went 3 and 0 against this group of fighters. Rahman, the former undisputed heavyweight champion, was first to go by route of another painful to watch unanimous decision. Next was Oquendo, who had just lost a very questionable split decision against IBF champion Chris Byrd. Ruiz showed he didn’t always have to go the distance and knocked out Oquendo in the 11th round after repeatedly landing his very underrated sneaky right hand. Finally, Golota. Ruiz showed he had heart by getting up after two knockdowns in the second round and went on to win eight out of the final 10 rounds on two of the judges’ scorecards. While this was also a questionable decision, it showed that Ruiz had the willpower to battle back from adversity and make a competitive fight from one that looked grim in the early going.

On Saturday night John Ruiz fought another former middleweight champion, James Toney. Ruiz made millions of boxing fans respect him more when he actually came out throwing punches. As Harold Lederman of HBO told us, in Ruiz’s last fight he averaged 16 clinches a round. Ruiz threw double the punches per round (60) than he had for all his previous fights in his career (around 32). While it was more exciting to see Ruiz throw punches in a fight, he probably should have held on (pun intended) to his old style. Toney landed counter right hand after counter right hand, even wobbling Ruiz two or three times during the fight. Ruiz was knocked down, but upon closer look you could see Toney assisted the knockdown by stepping on his foot. Ruiz lost a decision—eight rounds to four on two cards, and seven to five on the other—making him the only man in history to lose a version of the heavyweight title to two former middleweight champions.

In 20 or 30 years when new boxing fans are examining past champions records, they are going to come to the record of John Ruiz. It is my best guess that many people will look at Ruiz’s career and think he was a pretty good fighter. These fans will see that he defeated two former heavyweight champions—one of them an all time great—and numerous people that challenged for the championship. They may see that he lost to David Tua in 19 seconds, or that he not only lost to one former middleweight champion but two. This is undoubtedly how many fans today see it, but in the future it won’t look so bad. Ruiz wasn’t a crowd-pleaser, but he went out and accomplished what thousands of other fighters with more talent had tried to do. And that can never be taken away from him.

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