Andy Ruiz was broken. It was last spring, months after his lopsided decision defeat to Anthony Joshua. Ruiz, a doughy 283 pounds for his rematch with Joshua, now weighed more than 300. His confidence was gone. His spirit was shaken. “I felt empty inside,” Ruiz says. One night, Ruiz dropped to his knees. He had already apologized to his friends and family for blowing his chance to defend the heavyweight titles he took off Joshua. Now he needed to speak to God.
“I was so depressed, so sad, and I started praying,” says Ruiz. “And I was like, ‘Man, God, I’m sorry for not doing the right things. I’m sorry for not following your orders.’ I made a promise to Him and I told Him that I was going to do the right things again.”
Last week, Ruiz, who will make his ring return Saturday against journeyman Chris Arreola at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. (FOX PPV, 9 p.m.), settled into a straight-backed chair for a Zoom interview. He looked different. Ruiz has dropped nearly 30 pounds from that disappointing night in Saudi Arabia, when Joshua boxed circles around him. He sounds different. There is a liveliness to Ruiz’s voice, one rarely heard in the Mexican American fighter.
“I feel good,” says Ruiz, smiling. “Motivated.”
But is he different? In the aftermath of the loss to Joshua, Ruiz followed the typical rebuilding boxer playbook. He fired his longtime trainer, Manny Robles. Scapegoating Robles, who guided Ruiz to the upset win over Joshua six months earlier, drew criticism, like blaming the ice cream sandwich for filling up your midsection. But Ruiz, 31, says he needed a change. “My life was just like a roller coaster,” he says. “I wasn’t happy.”
He flirted with working with Teddy Atlas, who has trained heavyweights like Mike Tyson and Michael Moorer. Atlas asked Ruiz to fly to New York to meet with him. Ruiz never did. He had someone else in mind. On Instagram, Ruiz messaged Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighter. The message: Hey, Canelo. You think you could open the doors for me? I’m tired of the way that I’m trained. I’m tired of the way that I’m living. Alvarez, according to Ruiz, said he would talk to his trainer, Eddy Reynoso.
Initially, Reynoso was reluctant. Arguably boxing’s top trainer, Reynoso has a small stable. There is Alvarez. There is Ryan Garcia, the rising lightweight star. There is Oscar Valdez, a 130-pound champion. There is Frank Sanchez, a heavyweight contender. When training Ruiz came up—Reynoso says it was Ruiz’s father, Andy Sr., who first approached him—Reynoso needed to think it over. “I had to look at videos to see how he fit in with me,” Reynoso said in a telephone interview. “I knew he was a nice guy, but through the press I was hearing he was undisciplined.”
A week later, Reynoso and Ruiz met. Reynoso was direct. “He said, ‘look mijo, we know that you have what it takes; we know you have a lot of skills, but I need your dedication,’ ” recalls Ruiz. “He said, ‘I need you to be at 100% and be disciplined. So, if you’re going to come over here with us, you’re going to train hard. You’re going to do exactly what Canelo does, and we’re going to show you how to be disciplined.’ I told them I would.”
By all accounts, Ruiz has. He has committed to training. “I’m going to the gym every single day,” says Ruiz. He changed his diet. “We made some recommendations on what to eat,” says Reynoso, “but he just needed to be disciplined.” Ruiz absorbed information from Reynoso and Alvarez, adding increased head and foot movement to his game. “I’m not where I want to be at,” says Ruiz, “but I’m way better than I was before.”
On Saturday, Ruiz will face Arreola, a former title challenger. Ruiz is a heavy favorite. At 40, Arreola’s best days are well behind him. He’s nearly two years removed from his last fight, a wide decision defeat to Adam Kownacki. In 2016, he was knocked out by Deontay Wilder. For Ruiz, it’s an opportunity to win and look good doing it.
And then what? Ruiz is certainly young enough to get back into the heavyweight title picture. He has a name and a compelling story. His affiliation with Premier Boxing Champions puts him in line for compelling matchups with Kownacki, Wilder and Luis Ortiz. A Wilder fight would be particularly interesting: two ex-champions, one with a clubbing right hand, the other with speed and a granite chin.
But can Ruiz stay disciplined? Reynoso admits Ruiz represents his biggest challenge. “The biggest thing,” says Reynoso, “is him having a winning mentality.” If Ruiz wins, Reynoso hopes to see him back in camp within a few weeks. “He’s objective driven,” says Reynoso. “He’s been that way since he got here.”
Ruiz says his failures still haunt him. The belts he won are on display at his parents’ house. Looking at them, though, brings mixed emotions. “But they give me a lot of motivation that knowing that anything is possible,” says Ruiz. “I lost them, but for sure I know that I could get them back.”
Indeed. That journey begins Saturday against Arreola. Ruiz isn’t looking past Arreola. But he is ready for what comes after him.
“I had the belts. I made history. I became the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world and I lost them because of lack of discipline, of lack of training,” says Ruiz. “Now that I’m doing everything right, I feel amazing. I know exactly what I’m capable of doing and what I can accomplish. Imagine me being really disciplined, training really hard, I could go really far. I’m still a young kid and every fighter, we’re still learning every single day in the gym. We’re still learning and of course, man, I’m hungry, bro. I’m really hungry. I want those belts back.”
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