If Andy Ruiz Jr. isn’t the most mismanaged elite boxer in the world, he’s certainly in the top two. The former unified heavyweight champion is in the prime of his career and still a factor in the title race, but the odd choices he makes continue.
Ruiz will fight 43-year-old Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz on Sept. 4 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles in the main event of a pay-per-view card. It’s a curious choice of opponents and it’s hard to see how it helps Ruiz get himself back into the title chase.
It now seems a long time ago when Ruiz made history by becoming the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent on June 1, 2019, when he knocked out previously unbeaten Anthony Joshua to win the IBF-WBA-WBO belts.
Ruiz at that point was one of the hottest properties in the sport. Mexico is a boxing-mad country and Ruiz was embraced by Mexicans — and Mexican Americans — fully. He got an invitation to visit President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico just 10 days after the stunning KO of Joshua.
He was in huge demand by the media. Hordes of fans showed up everywhere he went. Every elite heavyweight wanted to fight him.
Ruiz partied so much between the time he won the belt and he faced Joshua in the rematch on Dec. 7, 2019, in Diriyah, Saudia Arabia, that he all but surrendered the title back to Joshua. Two of the judges gave Joshua, who fought timidly and conservatively, 10 of the 12 rounds. The third gave Joshua 11 of 12.
Joshua may well have won no matter what, because he’s an elite athlete. But Ruiz came in at 283 pounds and wasn’t prepared to fight a four-rounder, let alone a 12-round fight against a determined former heavyweight champion looking to make amends.
His only bout since then was against Chris Arreola on May 1, 2021, in Carson, California. Ruiz was in better shape, but what did he prove in that fight? Arreola had come to the end of the line and he wasn’t the kind of challenge for Ruiz he would have been had each of them met in their primes.
Ruiz won a unanimous decision, but it was a meh fight. At that point, Arreola wasn’t an elite opponent and no one considered him a contender. It was a baffling fight for Ruiz to take, as it didn’t do much to enhance his position.
The fight with Ortiz will be his next since then. When Ruiz walks into the ring that night, a week before his 33rd birthday, it will have been more than 16 months since he last fought. He’ll be using his third trainer in as many fights.
Manny Robles coached him in his two fights with Joshua. He hired Eddy Reynoso for the Arreola fight and is now with Alfredo Osuna.
“I wanted to work with Alfredo Osuna a long time ago, it just wasn’t the right time then,” Ruiz said at a Los Angeles news conference earlier this week. “He’s used to training for lefty fighters. I feel like this is exactly what I needed for this fight. My team is going to bring the best out of me.”
Ruiz’s problems since winning the belt haven’t been his trainers. Robles is an excellent, professional trainer. Reynoso is one of a handful of the best in the game. It’s been his attitude and the matchmaking.
Ortiz is a curious choice of opponents because while he’s big and powerful, he’s nearing the end of the line and other than two KO losses to Deontay Wilder in WBC heavyweight title fights, he’s fought mostly journeymen and fringe contenders.
A Ruiz-Wilder fight would have been great for September. Despite his two losses to WBC champion Tyson Fury, Wilder remains an elite opponent and has a style that would pair well with Ruiz’s.
A Ruiz-Wilder fight would be bombs away and have fans on the edges of their seats from the beginning of the fight. It would also help raise Ruiz’s profile because Wilder is not only better than Ortiz but is far better known.
Ruiz is still relatively young and could still be a factor in a division that is getting increasingly better. One-time hot prospect Daniel Dubois is now a legitimate contender and has a secondary world title. Fury, if he doesn’t retire, unified champion Oleksandr Usyk, Joshua and Wilder make a formidable top four.
Ruiz is in that next tier with guys like Dubois and Joe Joyce. And then there are guys like Jared Anderson, Filip Hrgovic and Frank Sanchez who are on the rise.
But Ruiz has that massive fan base that could bring a huge amount of excitement and interest to the division, if he gets back to beating the elite contenders.
“We didn’t come here to cherry-pick anybody,” Ruiz said. “We wanted a tough opponent and that’s why we picked Luis Ortiz. He’s strong, he’s awkward, he’s a lefty, but we’ve had a long training camp and we’ll be ready.
“The main thing for me is going to be staying busy. I’m not underestimating Luis Ortiz, because he comes to fight. He wants to be world champion. On Sept. 4, we’ll go toe-to-toe and we’ll see who’s going to win.”
Ruiz should win, but he doesn’t always do what is expected. He was sitting on a gold mine after beating Joshua, but has let much of that fritter away. A clear, decisive win over Ortiz that leads to a significant opponent in a high-profile fight is critical for him right now.