His boxing nickname is simple and to the point: “Destroyer.”
And perhaps that moniker was never more apropos than on December 7, 2019, when then-unified world heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. put up his four newly minted title belts in a rematch with Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia.
Just six months after shocking the boxing world by handing England’s Joshua his first defeat on short notice to become the first heavyweight titlist of Mexican descent – instantly making him a hot property – Ruiz had an epic fail in his first defense. He again stunned the boxing world, but not in a good way, showing up badly out of shape and 15-20 pounds overweight, handing the titles right back to Joshua by unanimous decision and suffering untold embarrassment as well in his second career loss.
Many among the massive Mexican and Mexican-American fan base of the affable, rotund Ruiz felt that the Destroyer, who got his name from destroying things as a kid, had taken a giant step toward destroying his burgeoning boxing career. The Imperial, California, native even considered retirement after letting down his family, friends, fans and mostly, himself. Ruiz became depressed, stopped training and started eating. He told Men’s Health magazine the only running he did during that time was to the grocery store or for fast food.
Fortunately, Ruiz got past the depression and thought better of abandoning the sport he had been working at since he was six years old. Nineteen months after his devastating loss, “Destroyer” fought again. Despite being knocked down by 40-year-old Chris Arreola early in their May 2021 fight, Ruiz won a unanimous decision to put his career back on track.
That track leads to Sept. 4 – Labor Day Sunday – when Andres Ponce Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22 KOs) makes his long-awaited return to the ring to face hard-hitting Cuban southpaw Luis “King Kong” Ortiz (33-2, 28 KOs) at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. The 12-round headliner bout will be televised on FOX Sports PBC Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p/m. PT).
Ruiz, 32, returns with a new trainer, his third in his last three fights. Mexican Alfredo Osuna takes over those duties from trainer of the year Eddy Reynoso, who’s made his name coaching Canelo Alvarez. Previously Ruiz was trained by Manny Robles through the second Joshua fight. The fighter has his reasons for the latest change.
“(Osuna) has a lot of experience fighting lefties and when we do mitts, he switches to orthodox, too … and that’s exactly what Ortiz does, so we wanted to take advantage of the opportunities,” Ruiz said in a recent interview. “We got a lot of time with (Osuna) and he’s 100 percent dedicated to me. That’s what we want because this is going to be a tough fight.”
Ruiz will have been in intensive training for about four months by the time he steps into the ring with Ortiz.
“It’s difficult coming back from a long layoff, but that’s why we’ve had a long training camp,” Ruiz says. “And since my last fight against Arreola, I’ve had surgery on my knee. There’s a lot of things I should have done before that fight but I took it too lightly, and I did my best.
“I got dropped, got back up and had to figure out a way to win that fight. What helps me is I’ve been boxing since I was six so that muscle memory always stays with you. As long as you stay busy and dedicated for so many months and with the sparring we’ve been having, we shouldn’t have an issue.”
The lengthy training camp is particularly helpful to the heavyweight known for his quick hands and explosive combination punching power. “We’re fighting a different style so we have to be careful on our feet, and where we drag our feet because Ortiz is a southpaw,” Ruiz explains. “So we gotta be throwing the combinations different, we gotta keep moving to the left and right, a lot of little things that (Osuna) is giving me pointers on that are working in sparring and in the gym.”
Ruiz and Reynoso parted on good terms, and there’s a chance they may work together in the future. “Down the line I’m pretty sure that for other fights, I’m going to have him come to my gym and help me out as a team,” Ruiz said. “I appreciate everything he’s done for me, and he knows it. This is why I wanted to create my own gym (in El Cajon, Calif., east of San Diego) so I could be more dedicated in this sport and not depend on other gyms.”
“ This is a big fight for me to climb back up the ladder. ”Former Unified Heavyweight World Champion - Andy Ruiz Jr.
Ruiz comes into the Ortiz fight “feeling strong and not focusing on losing weight.
“I’m just trying to be myself, as I was (for the first Joshua fight) and carry a little bit of weight to have that power because Ortiz is a big guy. Of course, I don’t want to be too thin or anything like that; I want to carry my weight well. I feel comfortable in the 260s, I feel that’s my type of weight; I hit harder and feel more explosive at that weight.”
One fan who unquestionably remains with Ruiz through all the training and ups and downs is his 10-year-old son AJ, the second of Andy’s five children with his wife Julie.
“He’s a big motivation. I always have him around me. I want him to see what his Daddy is trying to do, trying to build a big legacy for him and his future,” Ruiz explained. “And I want to show him what hard work means. I tell him ‘Son, you don’t have to fight. Let me do the fighting so you don’t have to struggle and get hurt, because this is a hurt business. I just want you to worry about school, worry about your education and just be smart.’ ”
The son wants to become a boxer, too, but for now, “he’s focused on just being around the boxing game,” Ruiz said. “What I would love for him to do is be a part of ARJ Promotions and help me create young fighters and try to turn them into champions. That’s what we’re doing for the three fighters I have, helping them out so they can … make their dreams come true by giving them the opportunities.”
Ruiz has a special relationship with his faithful Mexican fans, who, “without them there wouldn’t be a real Andy Ruiz. They inspire me a lot because my first goal was to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion and thanks to God we made that history,” he says. “We made my dreams come true and it feels so good to have them open up their arms and receive me as a true Mexican warrior … It means a lot because even when I was fighting for my country, fighting for Mexico in the Olympic trials and all that, I was representing my country. I’m a Mexican at heart and I’m doing this for my people.”
Ruiz expects to slug it out with Ortiz on September 4th.
“God willing, it will be (a slugfest), but as Mike Tyson said, we all have a plan until we get hit. My plan is just to go in there and do what we’ve been working on, throwing combinations, and we have to pressure him, try to get him out of there, and wear him out by going a lot to the body.
“I know he’s going to try to go for the knockout, so we’re prepared for that. I feel Ortiz is most dangerous for the first six rounds, and the main thing for me is just to be cautious and break him down and throw combinations. We gotta be smart, be careful and pick our shots.”
Should he get past Ortiz -- far from a certainty -- Ruiz eyes a wide-open heavyweight division.
“(Deontay) Wilder has started training already, he’s coming out of retirement, and that fight could be easily made because we’re both signed with Al Haymon,” Ruiz explained. “I would really like to fight Joshua again because we’re one and one against each other. That’s why I chose Ortiz because, just in case (Oleksandr) Usyk wins their rematch (which he did on August 20 to sweep both meetings) at least I have a resume that I fought a lefty and I can do good with a lefty. I know Usyk is an awkward style as well, but I’m going to show people I can adapt.”
But make no mistake, it is King Kong who totally occupies the Destroyer’s psyche right now. And he knows nothing less than his future in the sport is at stake.
“This is a big fight for me to climb back up the ladder.”
For a closer look at Andy Ruiz Jr, check out his fighter page.