In the remarkable tale that is the life and career of Andy Ruiz Jr., there has always existed one constant—a gravitational pull from outside sources working to prevent him from capitalizing on his gifts inside the ring.
The former heavyweight champion Ruiz will return to the ring this weekend against Luis Ortiz, breaking a second-straight lengthy layoff between bouts chock full of struggles.
Growing up in Imperial, CA, Ruiz took an early liking to fighting, albeit not the kind his grandfather and father both taught professionally. Ruiz fought in the streets from an early age, and has told stories of his father, Andy Sr., having to drag him out of dark alleys and strange houses to bring him to the boxing gym on more than one occasion. Ruiz didn’t care who his opposition was either, and didn’t just limit himself to fighting other kids, at the ages of 10 and 11, Ruiz has said he fought police officers too.
Even a night in jail orchestrated by Andy Sr. and his friend on the police force couldn’t keep Ruiz on the tracks permanently. The turning point, Andy told the Los Angeles Times’ Lance Pugmire in 2019, was a conversation with his father while working for his construction company. After a long day of drywalling and heavy lifting, Andy Sr. asked his son if he wanted to be a worker or a boxer.
Andy Jr. chose the latter, to great success both professionally and financially, but every once in a while, has felt that pull. Just months before his shocking heavyweight title victory over Anthony Joshua, Ruiz was evicted from his apartment and was considering quitting boxing to work construction full-time. After winning the title, Ruiz was able to live lavishly in a way he’d never dreamed, and readily admits to partying and eating in excess, showing up significantly heavier in the rematch with Joshua and losing his belts. Ruiz told Bryce Miller of The San Diego Union Tribune earlier this month that it was “like (he) totally forgot about the rematch (he) had.”
Following the loss, Ruiz fell into a depression, often finding himself in tears and even more often away from the gym. He claims he was as heavy as 310 pounds during the dark period. He parted ways with trainer Manny Robles who told ESPN at the time that he was “worried about him.”
Weight has and always will be central to Ruiz’s story. As he and family members have pointed out, as blessed as he’s been with hand speed and power, he wasn’t gifted with genetics that would make him a slender heavyweight. Ruiz has to fight to keep weight off, a lot harder than some other heavyweights. In addition, he doesn’t shy away from his love of indulgences. Short of showing up with washboard abs, Ruiz’s physique will always lead to suggestions that he isn’t working hard in the gym, even during the times when he actually is.
Following his period off the radar in 2020, Ruiz eventually reemerged and connected with Eddy Reynoso and joined Team Canelo. Much of Reynoso’s efforts, as well as Canelo Alvarez’s, were focused on Ruiz’s fitness and altering his habits. Their time together produced some shocking “transformation photos,” and indeed a slimmed down version of Ruiz at 256 pounds for his comeback victory over Chris Arreola last May.
Ruiz underwent knee surgery in August of 2021 to fix what he and his father described as a nagging issue that had been plaguing him since at least 2019, one they said tried to mitigate with numbing gels. Reportedly, the issue was bad enough to prevent Ruiz from running some days, not exactly an ideal situation to be in for a fighter looking to trim down.
But after a clean bill of health was issued, it seemed like that pull was dragging Ruiz back again. Reynoso claimed that he hadn’t seen Ruiz in 15 days, and later said that he “no longer comes to training.” However, Ruiz did not ultimately have an acrimonious split with Reynoso as some other fighters such as Ryan Garcia have had. Instead, Ruiz, who is now training with Alfredo Osuna, has had nothing but positive things to say about Reynoso in recent interviews and even suggested the two would work together again in the future.
He’s also seemingly made peace with two things that were affecting him mentally. His split with Manny Robles, with whom he won the heavyweight title, and his own body image. Ruiz told Abdo that he still misses Robles, but that there are pictures of him still on his gym wall and that he is thankful for everything he learned from him.
“I was listening to too many people, like on Instagram, saying oh you’re too fat, you need to lose weight, you need to look the part,” Ruiz told Abdo. “Sometimes it gets to your head, and I was like you know what I do want to look strong, I want to look the part or like Hercules or like Anthony Joshua. But you know what, that’s not how God made me. He made a chubby fighter, having to prove people wrong and inspire a lot of kids, the way that you look doesn’t matter.”
The binary that his father proposed to him after a day of hanging drywall—whether he wanted to work or box—was in some ways a false one. Boxing is painfully hard work, the kind that can get overwhelming at times. But it’s not the kind of work one does simply to make ends meet—particularly after you’ve made enough money for ends to be met forever. For Ruiz, it’s always been a question of whether he wants a job or a passion.
Ruiz would prefer that his legacy not just be one magical night, June 1 of 2019. He’s lost things since then—a fight to Joshua, a couple trainers, a little bit of money, a few pounds. But perhaps he’s gained perspective, of what he had, what he wants and what he doesn’t. He can fight, but can he fight off that pull long enough to become champion again?
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman