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Yo Rocky, Viva Balboa

Jeffrey Freeman

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Andy Ruiz

In December of 2014, I was contacted by the publicist of a 25 year-old ham and egger heavyweight named Andy Ruiz Jr. At the time, Ruiz was 24-0 with 17 knockouts. He was only just starting to make a name for himself and his eager publicist was desperate to get her client some much needed publicity. Evidently his being signed with Top Rank just wasn’t getting it done. So I agreed to make Ruiz Jr. the featured KO Digest interview for January 2015.

In the informative Q&A session, Ruiz Jr. lambasted his own overweight frame; agreeing with the haters who disparaged him for it but saying he’d be willing to fight anybody to prove himself to them: “I fight well with a lot of skill. My only problem is my weight. I’m still winning, but there are a lot of critics in boxing saying they’re not happy with my weight and that I’m just too fat. But to tell you the truth, I agree with them. I do need to change that so I can have their support.”

We asked the humble Ruiz Jr. about his goals in boxing. “To prove to the world who I am, what I can do. All the guys that are up there, I would fight. I want to prove myself against elite fighters. Tyson Fury, Klitschko, Wilder—all the guys who say they’re the best are the guys I want to fight. That’s what I’m trying to do. I proved a lot of people wrong, a lot of people underestimated me, thinking I was going to lose against Hamer, Hanks, or Liakhovich, but I’m still winning.”

VICTORIOUS

I don’t know if the new Heavyweight Champion of the World Andy Ruiz Jr. wants an immediate rematch with dethroned kingpin Anthony Joshua, but there’s definitely gonna be one. It’s in the cards and it’s in the contracts. Ruiz, now 33-1, with 22 KOs, scored a Balboa quality upset last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in NYC, stopping an exhausted Joshua (now 22-1) in seven rounds to become the first Latino American heavyweight champion since John Ruiz beat Evander Holyfield for the WBA title in 2001. It was arguably the biggest upset in heavyweight boxing since James “Buster” Douglas did the impossible against Iron Mike Tyson in Tokyo.

This underdog Ruiz earned his title shot the same way Balboa earned his; by being willing to fight a heavily favored champ on short notice when a more qualified title challenger fell through. And despite looking like a bag of Bermuda onions, Ruiz moved his hands with the precision of a chef against Joshua, dicing him up and knocking him down a handful of times before Canadian referee Mike Griffin stopped the fight with AJ on his feet but unresponsive to verbal commands.

How big an upset was it?

Absolutely nobody picked Ruiz to win this fight and the most that was expected of him was to maybe go the distance. In the third round, Joshua rocked his challenger with a clean left hook for a knockdown and it looked like Ruiz would be outclassed and put away early as expected. Instead, he got up and fought back like Balboa against Creed, like Douglas against Tyson. By the end of the round, Joshua had been put down twice and was already breathing heavily.

As the middle rounds went on, Ruiz made hitting Joshua look very easy, especially to the body, forcing the chiseled defending champ into a defensive posture that he was never really able to get himself out of. Ruiz showed no fear of Joshua’s power and almost no respect for his pedigree. Ruiz simply walked in and did what he wanted just about whenever he wanted to.

In the seventh, Ruiz (with ‘Victorious’ tattooed to his back) made his dreams come true, decking AJ twice more for the improbable TKO-7 victory and for the unified WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight championships. Was the referee’s decision to stop the title bout a little premature? Some might have seen it that way but the former champion stayed classy in defeat and didn’t make an issue of it at all, instead congratulating the new champion and giving him all the respect now due.

Many expect Joshua will come back like Lennox Lewis did after being upset by Oliver McCall in 1994. You’ll remember Lewis was on his feet when that fight was stopped after McCall knocked Lewis down in the second. Lewis ultimately got his revenge, forcing a crying McCall to quit. Others argue this exposes Joshua as the next Frank Bruno—a chinless robot with no stamina. WBC titlist Deontay Wilder has already slagged the now beaten Joshua as a liar and a fraud.

Lewis pulled a similar trick in 2001 when he was upset again by another underdog American named Hasim “The Rock” Rahman. In the rematch just seven month later, Rahman was brutally knocked out and left out in the cold of a lucrative heavyweight division. Can Ruiz Jr. repeat his Upset of the Year performance against Anthony Joshua? He will absolutely need to in order to convince people this wasn’t just a massive fluke or a questionable referee stoppage.

AND THE NEW

Ruiz Jr. seems to understand the nature of the fight game. Asked to elaborate on the biggest differences between the amateur and professional ranks, the future champ shed some light on the system; revealing what he learned about leaving your fate in the hands of ringside judges.

“A lot of people, like the judges, were cheating. The pros are different. In the pros, you can get hurt and you are actually risking your life, so you have to go one hundred and twenty percent. This boxing thing is not a joke and we have to come prepared. There is a big difference between the amateurs and the pros, but amateurs are where we planted the seed and now it’s growing.”

On Saturday night in New York City, it flowered beautifully. In 2015, Ruiz told us he could be the “Mexican Mike Tyson.” No, Andy Ruiz Jr. is now the real life Rocky Balboa. Yo!

PHOTO by Kyte Monroe used with permission

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 7-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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