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Congrats to AJ, But Fat Andy Obliged His Redemption by Forgetting History

Bernard Fernandez

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A wise man, Spanish writer/philosopher George Santayana, once observed that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

All right, so the original quote attributed to Santayana, who was known for aphorisms, was worded slightly differently. But the rationale expressed in either version has remained the same almost forever, and in the specific case of now-dethroned heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr., the closest parallel to the harsh life lesson he learned Saturday evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, took place on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo.  Ruiz can be excused for not seeing the HBO telecast of Buster Douglas’ shocking, 10th-round knockout of heavyweight king Mike Tyson on that date because, well, the now-30-year-old Ruiz was still an infant, having been born only 155 days earlier. But you have to figure that by now he’d heard plenty about the most famous upset in boxing history, and how Douglas, the newly crowned champion and momentary toast of the pugilistic world, squandered his opportunity to be something more than a one-hit wonder by getting knocked out in the third round of his first and only title defense, by Evander Holyfield on Oct. 25, 1990, at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

There are, of course, several differences between the cruel price Ruiz must now pay for becoming too self-satisfied with his instant wealth and celebrity, as was the case with Douglas, who never again came within whiffing distance of the form he displayed, boxing-wise or belly-wise, that magical night (well, it was actually Sunday afternoon Tokyo time) in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Douglas went down on his back vs Holyfield and was counted out by referee Mills Lane; the disturbingly chubby Ruiz (33-2, 22 KOs) remained upright for the 12-round distance, but was handily out-boxed from the get-go in losing a wide unanimous decision in his rematch with Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), the man from whom he had lifted the IBF, WBA and WBO belts on a seventh-round stoppage in  their first meeting on June 1 of this year in New York’s Madison Square Garden. And while Douglas never did share the ring a second time with Tyson, relinquishing his WBC, WBA and IBF straps to a new opponent, Holyfield, whom he also did not face again, Ruiz’s precipitous fall from grace came in a do-over with Joshua, which may or may not be a precursor to a rubber match that suddenly seems neither assured nor in that much public demand.

“I  think I was chasing him too much instead of cutting off the ring,” said the ostensibly 6-foot-2 Ruiz, who officially weighed in at a preposterous 283.7 pounds, or 15.7 more than he did for his successful first go at Joshua, which was widely hailed as boxing’s biggest shocker since Douglas beat up the seemingly invincible Tyson. “I just felt like I couldn’t throw my combinations. But who wants to see a third fight?”

It would have been interesting to see if CompuBox, the punch-counting outfit, could have quickly scanned the sellout crowd of 15,000 in the outdoor stadium on the outskirts of Riyadh to tabulate how many hands went up in support of the possible rubber match that logic almost dictates will never happen. Where Ruiz, a United States citizen and the first heavyweight titlist of Mexican descent, was the taco-tasting flavor of the moment as soon as he had his hand raised against Joshua six months earlier, he now is teetering on the border of irrelevance, just as Douglas was when he demonstrated he did not have the will and discipline to ever again be the same fighter he was in cashing his lottery ticket against Tyson.  Ruiz, his considerable girth aside, still has fast hands and decent power for a man his size, but his waddling pursuit of AJ in the Saudi desert now stamps him as little more than a more mobile hippo in a river teeming with faster-moving crocodiles. With Ruiz’s seeming expulsion from the club, what had been a Big Four of heavyweight boxing again has been constricted to a Big Three, with Joshua reclaiming a favored place at the head table along with WBC champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and humongous  Brit Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs), who technically remains the lineal champ.

Wilder and Fury are set to square off a second time on Feb. 22 at an undetermined site in a reprise of their classic first matchup, which ended in a controversial split draw on Dec. 1, 2018 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Some observers felt that the sharp-boxing Fury had banked enough rounds to get the nod, while dissenters sided with Wilder, who registered two knockdowns, including a 12th-round flooring from which Fury barely beat the count. Whomever survives that showdown automatically becomes the people’s choice to go for the undisputed title against Joshua, unless, of course, there is some sort of undisclosed contractual obligation for Wilder and Fury to swap punches a third time.

Nor is Joshua, who has expressed his desire to fully complete his collection of bejeweled championship belts, likely to voluntarily surrender any to accommodate Ruiz’s entreaties to get it on a third time. The WBO announced immediately after the fight that Joshua must make his mandatory defense against Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) within 180 days, while the IBF wants AJ to defend against its mandatory challenger, Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs). A pairing of Joshua and Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion who 17-0 with 13 KOs, is of much more global interest than Joshua-Ruiz 3 would be, and the likelihood is that AJ would accede to the IBF’s wishes rather than allow one of his titles to be vacated.

Where does that leave Ruiz? Likely back in the outer waiting room of title contention, where he either can buckle down and prove that he is not Buster Douglas Not-So-Lite by paying some dues to his craft instead of hefty restaurant bills. As Douglas – who ballooned to almost 400 pounds after his retirement from boxing — proved, it is one thing to enjoy living large, but it quite another to allow your appetites to go unchecked.

“It was his night,” Ruiz said of Joshua. “I don’t think I prepared as good as I should have. I gained too much weight, but I don’t want to give no excuses. He won, he boxed me around, but if we did the third (fight), best believe I will come in the best shape of my life.

“(The weight gain, from the 268 he came in for the first meeting with Joshua) kind of affected me a lot. I thought I would come in stronger and better. But you know what? Next time I am going to prepare better with my team. This time I tried to train myself at times, but no excuses. Anthony Joshua did a hell of a job.”

Perhaps a third Joshua-Ruiz bout, if it ever happens, should seek sponsorships from Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. The subject of weight, both gained and lost, almost superseded more traditional boxing considerations from the time the rematch was announced right through the bell ending the 12th round.

For his part, Ruiz either was in denial or simply lying about the level of his conditioning, which is tied so closely to the number that is displayed on a scale. Even after arriving in Riyadh, he insisted that he expected to come in “around eight pounds” lighter than he had for the first fight with Joshua, an estimation that either was a blatant prevarication or one of the worst miscalculations ever. Despite already having an Adonis-type physique, Joshua had determined that he needed to slim down to increase his mobility and endurance, a goal which appeared to be achieved when he whittled himself from 247.75 pounds for the first fight to 237.8. His reconstructed body more closely resembled that of an Olympic gold medalist swimmer than an Olympic gold medalist fighter. This AJ looked less Lennox Lewis than Michael Phelps, and the boost in his stamina was evident as he pranced around the huge 22-foot ring like a frisky colt for all 12 rounds, peppering Ruiz’s reddened face with stiff jabs, occasional overhand rights and change-of-pace left hooks downstairs.

It will be interesting to see if AJ will retain his sleek, more mobile look when the time comes to get it on with so feared a slugger as Wilder, or as monstrously large a man as Fury. That is another story for another day, and that day is surely coming.

Not so certain is how the saga of Andy Ruiz Jr. transitions to another, perhaps final chapter. With fleshy love handles spilling over the waistband of his trunks like crème filling from a squeezed doughnut, he has never looked the part of an elite heavyweight, but his lumpy appearance belied real skills that might have been even more evident were he to eat to live instead of living to eat. Which brings us back to his predecessor of squandered opportunities, Buster Douglas.

When Douglas beat Tyson – not only beat him, but beat him up – he was inspired to perform at a higher level than ever before by the untimely death of his beloved mother, Lula Pearl Douglas. That motivation, coupled with Tyson’s arrogant belief that he need only to show up and another frightened foe would collapse before him, produced an unexpected outcome that has become the stuff of legend.

Fit as he had ever been at 231 pounds for the Tyson fight, rumors abounded that Douglas was having pizza regularly delivered him in the hotel sauna as he prepped for Holyfield. When the man from Columbus, Ohio, weighed in at a jiggly 246 for a title defense for which he was being paid $24.075 million, hundreds of spectators at the open-to-the-public event literally sprinted from their seats to the casino sports book to get bets down on Holyfield.

That scene, of course, could not be repeated in Riyadh because there is no legalized gambling in Saudi Arabia, although it might have been a kick to see men in flowing white robes and keffiyehs on their heads sprinting toward the nearest sports book, had one existed. And while there is no gambling tolerated in Saudi Arabia, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages also is against the law, as is male fraternization with women (most of whom are wrapped up like mummies anyway) who aren’t their wives. In other words, the place is never to become as much a travel destination for fun-seeking Westerners as, say, Vegas, which is why it says here that Riyadh can never become as much of a fight town as the free-spending sheiks and promoter Eddie Hearn might want, despite the fact that Saudi backers ponied up a massive site fee somewhere between $40 million and $100 million to host Ruiz-Joshua 2. Oh, and there’s also that little matter of Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian governmental policies, which might explain why superstar golfer Tiger Woods has steadfastly declined to journey there the past couple of years to play in the Saudi Invitational tournament, despite offers of a $3 million appearance fee regardless of how he fared on the links.

So, we shall see whether Ruiz, a father of five who celebrated his stunner over Joshua by splurging on a mansion and Rolls-Royce, among other shiny new toys, finally reins himself in or continues to drift into the hazy limbo to which Buster Douglas is forever relegated. After Buster was knocked down by Holyfield, and seemed in no particular hurry to get up, the gentlemanly trainer Eddie Futch – who was there as an interested spectator, without any connection to either fighter – lambasted the now-former champion as he almost never did when speaking publicly about anyone.

“Buster Douglas fought a disgraceful fight,” said Mr. Eddie, now deceased. “He allowed himself to get in such poor condition that he had nothing – no snap, not one good punch in three rounds. For the heavyweight champion to come in such condition is just outlandish.”

And this, from Mike Trainer, Sugar Ray Leonard’s longtime attorney and adviser, who was serving as The Mirage’s boxing consultant at that time.

“We break our necks to give the public a great evening and to keep the promise, which is why we have a beautiful stadium. Wynton Marsalis, Sugar Ray Leonard and fireworks. We compliment Evander Holyfield for coming into the ring well-prepared to keep that promise. However, our attitude is that fight purses should be more along the lines of winner-take-all so that the only incentive is victory.”

That isn’t going to happen either, but it does give pause for thought when one of the two participants in a big-ticket fight shows up seemingly not prepared to give his best effort.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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Ryan Garcia, Canelo’s Protege, Announces Fight With Manny Pacquiao

Kelsey McCarson

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Ryan Garcia has just about everything he needs to become the next Canelo Alvarez, even the champ’s terrific training team led by Mexico’s Eddy Reynoso.

“It’s great, man. They support me. They stay by my side. They believe in me. They know what they see, even Canelo,” Garcia told me before his last fight.

So, it should come to no surprise that the 22-year-old lightweight contender would be attempting to pull off the same kind of trick that led to Alvarez’s first and only loss in the professional ranks, but the same one that probably helped the Mexican more than any other as a learning experience inside a boxing ring.

Just as Alvarez did in securing his 12-round dance with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. back in 2013, Garcia wants to sign up for the same kind of tango with boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.

“I’ve been boxing my whole life, and I’ve been ready for the biggest fights,” Garcia said.

Lots of fighters say things like that, but almost nobody actually attempts to do it.

Alvarez does.

Now, Garcia does, too.

“Canelo brings me to the side at times out of nowhere and says ‘you’re one of the most talented fighters I’ve ever seen in my life. I just want you to work as hard as I do and you’re going to have the world’,” Garcia said.

On Sunday, Garcia posted via Instagram that his dream fight vs. Pacquiao was a done deal, though it’s important to note no other confirmations of any kind have followed that post.

Additionally, the promotional poster used by the social media superstar in his announcement didn’t look official, and Pacquiao has remained eerily silent about the matter publicly.

Still, Garcia seems to believe his next fight will be against Pacquiao, and it must be a near-enough reality that everyone else involved with the matter has decided to remain silent until everything is sorted out.

“I want to leave a true legacy when I’m done with the game,” Garcia said.

That Garcia even wants to face Pacquiao right now testifies to that truth, and it’s absolutely something worth celebrating.

The undefeated Instagram idol might have over 8.3 million followers for many reasons, but the most notable claim Garcia has to the mantle of being boxing’s next big thing is less about those attributes and more about the talent, skill, and ability he possesses inside a boxing ring.

To put it another way, it’s one thing to be as handsome as Oscar De La Hoya. It’s quite another to actually fight like him.

Case in point, Garcia is coming off the most important win of his career.

Making good on his pre-fight promise to stop Olympic gold medalist and world title challenger Luke Campbell on January 2 was an important rung to take on the ladder to success, and that became especially true after Campbell dumped the prodigy to the canvas in the second round of the fight.

But Garcia weathered that early storm and eventually came back to pull the stoppage win over Campbell five rounds later.

Nobody had done that before. Campbell went 12 full rounds with both Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares in previous losing efforts against world-class lightweights, so Garcia’s stoppage win was more evidence that he’s legitimately special where it matters most.

After his viral knockout, Garcia was lauded by some of the most notable sports celebrities on the planet. The kid can barely purchase alcohol in all 50 states and his massive fanbase already includes the likes LeBron James, Damian Lillard, and Carlos Correa.

In some ways, that puts Garcia way ahead of Alvarez’s early all-star pace, at least at the level of notoriety.

Say what you want about Garcia’s social media-centric fanbase, the incredible level of fame the American has already achieved was previously only reserved for the likes of specific Olympic gold medal winners with a perfect mix of qualities.

De La Hoya comes to mind again, and that type of talent only comes around once a generation in our sport.

Look, Garcia isn’t ready for Pacquiao.

In fact, one can easily argue that the 23-year-old Alvarez that lost to Mayweather eight years ago was way more prepared for that fight than Garcia is right now for Pacquiao.

And we all know how that one went.

But Garcia’s daring attempt at making such a huge splash at such a young age is a wonder to behold.

A rising superstar like Garcia choosing to go against the conventional wisdom that would otherwise tell him to steer clear of fights he’ll probably lose is a breath of fresh air.

The reason he wants to do things like that is just as great.

“I have a gift. I’m a true talent. I can’t let all that go to waste,” Garcia said.

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Fulton Wins Inside War to Win WBO Title and Other Results from Connecticut

David A. Avila

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This time Stephen Fulton passed the Covid-19 test and then out-worked Angelo Leo in a brutal inside war to take the WBO super bantamweight world title by unanimous decision on Saturday.

Philadelphia’s Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) was supposed to box and move against the body puncher Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas but instead banged his way to victory with an artful display of inside fighting at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

When Leo won the world title during this past summer, he was supposed to fight Fulton, but Fulton showed positive on a Covid-19 test and was forced out of the fight. Not this time. Instead, the Philly fighter would not be denied.

Fulton planted his feet and banged to the body against body shot artist Leo and kept it going toe-to-toe for most of the 12 rounds.

Leo had his moments and was able to start slightly quicker, but by the sixth round it seemed Fulton was the stronger fighter down the stretch.

“He started breathing a little harder,” said Fulton. “I pushed myself to the limit in training.”

It showed.

Fulton took control for the last four rounds and just seemed fresher and more active to win by unanimous decision. Despite fighting primarily inside, the Philly fighter seemed comfortable.

“The game plan was to box at first. But I had to get a little dirty,” Fulton said. “I made it a dog fight.”

All three judges scored it for Fulton: 118-110 and 119-109 twice. TheSweetscience.com scored it 115-113 for Fulton who now holds the WBO super bantamweight world title.

“I’m the only champion Philadelphia has,” said Fulton.

Aleem KOs Pasillas

A battle between undefeated power-hitting super bantamweights saw Ra’eese Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) knock down East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas (16-1, 9 KOs) multiple times before ending the fight in the 11th round.

“I believe I put an exclamation point in my victory,” said Aleem who trains in Las Vegas but is a native of Michigan.

Aleem showed off his quickness and power in both hands that resulted in knock downs of Pasillas in the second, sixth, ninth and 11th rounds. It seemed that Pasillas never could figure out how to combat the awkward looping blows and quickness of Aleem.

Pasillas had a few moments with his ability to score with counter lefts and right hooks from his southpaw stance. But every time he scored big Aleem would rally back with even more explosive blows.

As Aleem mounted a large lead, Pasillas looked to set up a needed knockout blow but was instead caught with an overhand right to the chin and a finishing left that forced the referee to stop the fight at 1:00 of the 11th round.

Aleem picks up the interim WBA super bantamweight title. It’s basically a title that signifies he is the number one contender.

Lightweights

Rolando Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) floored Avery Sparrow (10-3, 3 KOs) in the first round and then exhibited his boxing skills to win by technical knockout.

It looked like the fight was going to end early when Romero caught Sparrow with a left hook. But Philadelphia’s Sparrow survived the first round and the next few rounds to slow down the attacking Romero. Things settled down but Romero kept winning the rounds.

Sparrow dropped to the floor during an exchange of blows in the sixth round which the referee quickly ruled “no knockdown.” Noticeably in pain Sparrow was under full assault from Romero and resorted to firing low blows. The referee deducted two points from Sparrow for the infraction.

The Philadelphia fighter limped out with a still gimpy knee to compete in the seventh round but within a minute Sparrow’s corner signaled to the referee to stop the fight. The stoppage gave Romero the win by technical knockout at 43 seconds into the round.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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