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ANDY “THE DESTROYER" RUIZ JR. is training at House of Boxing in San Diego in a black t-shirt that shamelessly proclaims Ya No Quiero Estar Gordo: “I don’t want to be fat anymore.” To further highlight the former heavyweight champion of the world’s sense of humor, the words encircle a drawing of a giant pig.
It’s easy for the 31-year-old Ruiz to laugh now, on the eve of his May 1 bout with fellow Mexican heavyweight Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola, for which he is in the best shape of his life. At 6-2, Ruiz is now a well-muscled 255 pounds, but his journey back to fitness from a dark place of excess and indulgence was a tough one.
It began last spring with Ruiz, lost, despondent and tipping the scales at 310 pounds. In the span of a little over a year, he’d gone from extreme underdog to unified heavyweight champion, only to lose the title in an equally spectacular moment of self-destruction that keep on spiraling. Kneeling by the side of his bed, he asked God to show him the light.
“I was so depressed and tired of the way I was living,” Ruiz says. “I prayed to God to forgive me for the things I’ve done, and to give me the strength to change. The next day, all the temptations went away, my mind focused and I knew what I wanted and needed to do.”
It sounds overly simple, but the next day, Ruiz had a plan, and he was putting it into action.
‘THE DESTROYER’ VERSUS HIMSELF
IT STARTED WITH another man’s mistake. In mid-April of 2019, just seven weeks ahead of a heavyweight title fight with unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua of the UK, American challenger Jarrell Miller had failed multiple drug tests and was pulled from the fight.
Fight promoter Eddie Hearn needed a qualified and legitimate opponent for Joshua, and he needed one as soon as possible. A half dozen marquee fighters showed interest, but all of them wanted a big paycheck, including Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz whose manager declined Hearn’s offer of $7 million. At that point, Hearn reached out to Ruiz Jr., who had just beaten German heavyweight Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20, 2019 and said after the fight that, if given the opportunity to fight Joshua on short-notice, he’d go immediately back into camp to prepare.
The deal was done, and on June 1, 2019, Ruiz stepped into the ring against the undefeated Joshua at Madison Square Garden with four title belts on the line. At a paunchy 268 pounds, Ruiz looked out of his league alongside the chiseled Joshua, who was a 1-25 favorite. But Ruiz moved well and punched hard, dropping the Brit to the canvas four times en-route to a stunning seventh-round TKO and one of biggest boxing upsets in recent memory. “This is a surprise to boxing fans and the world,” said boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, commenting ringside. He called Ruiz “the epitome of ‘don’t judge a book by his cover.’”
Ruiz, born in Imperial, CA, to Mexican parents, was the first boxer of Mexican descent to become the heavyweight champ. It was a victory for the underdog and the doughy dad-bod–Ruiz and wife Julie have five children—and it was a dream come true. But the success went directly to Ruiz’s head, and to his waistline. Ruiz bought a garage full of luxury cars–a Mercedes, two Rolls Royces, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a Porsche. He partied hard, drinking and eating to excess. And by the time his December 2019 rematch with Joshua in Saudi Arabia rolled around, Ruiz rolled into the ring at 284 pounds, 16 pounds heavier than he had been in their first fight.
One British boxing writer noted that “while Joshua sported a six-pack, his opponent appeared to have consumed one.” Joshua danced around the ring, landing speedy hooks and jabs while avoiding trading big blows with the comparably sluggish Ruiz, who was unable to throw his trademark combinations. “I didn’t prepare how I should have,” said Ruiz, who lost by unanimous decision. “He boxed me around. I gained too much weight.”
And it didn’t stop there. Fueled by the embarrassment and regret of losing his title, Ruiz lifestyle deteriorated further. He stopped training altogether, stating matter-of-factly the only running he did was to the grocery store or for fast food. “I was empty and sad and I felt I let everyone down,” he recalls. “I had lost what I’d been working for my whole life and I didn’t want to do anything, and I was still partying, trying to find stuff to make me forget about my loss.”
Until that day in the spring of 2020, when Ruiz finally decided he’d had enough.
THE COMEBACK PLAN
IN A LATE March Instagram post, Ruiz is slipping and dodging a swinging teardrop heavy bag, with his newly developed teardrop quads peeking out from underneath the bottom hem of his shorts. A similar post appears on the Instagram of super middleweight champion and fellow Mexican Canelo Alvarez, who is widely viewed as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. And it’s no coincidence.
The day after calling on God for help, Ruiz called on Alvarez. Ruiz told Alvarez he was tired of the way he was living and asked if he and his trainer Eddy Reynoso–one of the best in the sport—would consider taking him on. At first, Reynoso was skeptical; he knew Ruiz was a talented boxer, but was concerned about his reputation for being undisciplined and lazy.
But after talking with Ruiz and meeting with his father, Andy Sr., who had coached his son until he was 14 years old, Reynoso agreed to become Ruiz’s new coach and welcomed him into the Alvarez camp. “Eddie told me, ‘Andy, we believe in you and we know you have the potential, but you need to be dedicated and disciplined and you need to give 110 percent,’” Ruiz recalls. “I told him I will do whatever it takes to become champ again.”
Reynoso says there is one key difference between training middleweights and training heavyweights. “You can be more intense with middleweights,” he explains. “With heavyweights, you have to be more gradual.” But from the get-go, Reynoso was focused on helping Ruiz shed those extra pounds, which he says were “pure fat.” They got his diet under control, convincing Ruiz that his beloved barbecue ribs and chilaquiles with beans, eggs and bacon were to be treats rather than habits, and turned him on to salmon, brown rice and veggies. Reynoso also immediately put Ruiz on a weight-training program, the first of his career.
Go back to Ruiz’s Instagram posts and you’ll see him throwing rapid-fire left hooks with a resistance band coiled around his body, tossing a heavy med ball against the wall with jumping footwork drills between reps, completing three-minute rounds of 300 punches in a swimming pool and doing barbell supersets. “We started doing things I had never done before, and it was really, really hard,” Ruiz says. “The first month I couldn’t bend down I was so sore, but as I saw improvement, I got more and more motivated.”
The posts helped to silence Instagram critics who had been hurling digital insults at Ruiz, like “You better start Sumo wrestling” and “You need to fight yourself, you are a disgrace to Mexicans.” He was called a “one-hit wonder,” compared to “an artic lorry” and told to “get back in the gym and train.”
The workout videos also served to show potential competitors how Ruiz’s weight loss and muscle gains have accentuated his fighting style, which is naturally different than the typical heavyweight’s. Most like to keep their distance and land heavy blows from afar, while Ruiz, even when he is overweight, fights with the mentality of a smaller boxer. He likes to close the distance and attack his opponents up close.
But with Alvarez in his corner and Reynoso in his ear, Ruiz has come to also believe in his ability to move like a middleweight. As he dropped weight, replacing fat with muscle, his natural hand speed and quick head movement only increased, and contrary to logic, so did his punching power; as Ruiz trained his legs for the first time ever, he became better able to generate power from the ground up. “Absolutely everything has improved, from his agility to his lateral movement to the power in his legs,” Reynoso says. “He is more powerful everywhere.”
Ruiz agrees. “Eddy has helped me perfect every single punch, every combination, every movement,” he says. “He brought out abilities I didn’t even know I had.”
Ruiz is now 255 pounds, 55 pounds less than his peak last spring and even 13 pounds less than the first Joshua fight. He looks fit and strong rather than round, and even his jawline is sharper. And while the physical difference is stunning, the change in his mentality is just as stark. “The difference is responsibility,” says Ruiz Sr. “Andy is not a superstar in camp, because Canelo is the superstar. He sees how dedicated Canelo is and it has made him a better fighter and a better man.”
FINDING BELIEF AGAIN
ANDY SR. INTRODUCED Andy Jr. to boxing when he was just 6 years old, because his son’s boundless energy led to broken toys and busted furniture; as a baby, Ruiz broke two cribs by the time he was a year old. Hence, his nickname, “The Destroyer,” which carried over into the ring. At age 10, Ruiz, always a big, chubby kid, was already 180 pounds and was sparring with grown men. “And he could hurt them,” says Andy Sr.
What Ruiz was missing, however, was belief. His father says he would make Andy Jr. watch the movie “Rocky” at least once a week. “I would tell him, ‘You are going to be the Mexican Rocky! You will make history!’” Ruiz Sr. recalls. “He thought I was crazy.”
But as Ruiz grew, so did his self-confidence. When he was 16 years old, he sparred against the then 25-year-old Mexican heavyweight contender Arreola. At first sight, Arreola thought, “That fat kid?” But Arreola was quickly impressed with Ruiz’s hand speed and ability to move in the ring. “I knew he was going to be a heavyweight to be reckoned with in the future,” Arreola says. “And I knew that if I was still in the game, more than likely, I was going to face this mother fucker.”
That time is now. Though they’re friendly outside the ring, the smack-talk is flowing. “He’s motivated to knock my block off but I’m motivated too,” said Arreola during a recent press conference. “I want to win. He may have been the first Mexican heavyweight champion but the best Mexican is right here.”
Arreola is nine years older than Ruiz, but is known for his stamina; he went 12 rounds in his last fight, a victory over Polish fighter Adam Kownacki. Arreola is also an inch taller and 10 pounds lighter than Ruiz, with two extra inches in reach. But Reynoso’s plan for Ruiz against Arreola is simple: “Move forward, attack, punish, move the waist, and in the 3rd or 4th round, get after it and go for the knockout.”
Ruiz Sr. hopes a victory over Arreola could lead to a possible fight against Dillian Whyte, whose trash-talk game has been dirty: “Ruiz is glad the only battle he’s got now is with diabetes,” said Whyte, despite the fact that Ruiz has never had the medical condition. “Diabetes he can overcome, but he can’t overcome me.” But it could also lead to a fight with longtime WBC champ Deontay Wilder, and then two-time world heavyweight champ Tyson Fury, whom Ruiz will have to best to get a third crack at Joshua to reclaim the heavyweight crown.
“I feel like this is my first fight, like the new Andy was born,” Ruiz says. “I still have a lot more to accomplish and a lot more to prove. I want to get those belts back.”
Whether he does or doesn’t, Ruiz has made it as clear as the message on his Gordo t-shirt that his values have changed. He has plans to drop even more weight from his muscled frame, and is focused on surrounding himself with good people and being a role model for his kids.
“I want to be a champion in boxing, but I also want to be a champion in life,” he says. “I want to let everyone know that if you get knocked down, you can get back up.”
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