NEW YORK (AP) — The odds of 30-1 say it all.
Andy Ruiz barely was on anyone’s heavyweight radar when he was summoned as a replacement to fight champion Anthony Joshua. On Saturday, massive underdog Ruiz promises he could be the next Buster Douglas.
“I’ve been an underdog all my life,” Ruiz said Thursday in the final news conference before the fight that will be four-belt champion Joshua’s Madison Square Garden debut and is close to attracting a sellout crowd. “The body shape I have and the way I look, maybe, but once I get into the ring ...”
He will take a 32-1 mark with 21 knockouts into the ring, and that’s nothing to scoff at. Except that his range of opponents hasn’t been stellar, and in Ruiz’s biggest bout thus far, he lost a very close decision to Joseph Parker for the WBO crown that Joshua now owns.
He’s also stepping in after fighting on April 20, when he stopped Alexander Dimitrenko. Jarrell Miller’s failed drug tests sent the trash-talking New Yorker to the sidelines.
Still, Douglas pulled off one of the great upsets in sports history when he knocked out Mike Tyson in 1990. When Douglas’ name was mentioned to Ruiz, he smiled.
“If he looks past me,” Ruiz said of Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), “I think he should be focused on this fight first.”
Joshua is. Sort of. He claimed the overview of the heavyweight division, particularly unifying all the titles, remains on his mind.
But not ahead of his American debut Saturday night in the fight for the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts that will be streamed on DAZN.
“I’ve been practicing and am prepared for June 1,” the champion from England said. “But I cannot not look at the bigger picture. I am not looking past him, but I know if I beat this guy what’s out there for me.”
That would be WBC champion Deontay Wilder at some point, though Wilder has a rematch with Luis Ortiz on his plate. It also could be an all-British fight with Tyson Fury, who drew with Wilder last year and likely would mean a huge purse.
Still, in heavyweight boxing, anyone who steps into the ring has a puncher’s chance. Ruiz, whose father, a native of Mexico, got him into the gym when he was 6 and had his son in bouts a year later, knows how his life would change with a win.
Boxing, in fact, changed his outlook on life.
“Boxing kept me away from big trouble,” he said, noting he hung around with the wrong crowd and saw friends wind up in jail or on drugs in Imperial, California. “Then I joined the Mexican Olympic team when I was 16, and started getting serious about boxing.
“When my dad (first) took me to the gym, kids were beating my butt. I didn’t want to go back. I end up keep doing it and a few months later I ended up beating them up.”
Ruiz laughs, then looks ahead, not back when envisioning the scene on Saturday night.
“My hand raised” is what he sees. “I don’t predict the knockout, the knockout comes when it comes. I’ll stay focused and humble. Know why you’re here.”
He’s here as nothing more than an opponent in the eyes of many, including, obviously, the bookmakers. Joshua, who knows Ruiz from the amateur ranks, credits him as a “top professional,” but soon after saying that is busy talking about potential fights with Fury and Wilder.
“Some say he will be easy, some say he can cause problems,” Joshua noted of Ruiz. “I am confident I can beat Ruiz.”
Should he do so, a megafight later in 2019 is quite possible. Should Ruiz stun Joshua — and the boxing world — a rematch would make sense.
But a Ruiz win might not make any sense. Then again, neither did Douglas against Tyson.