A committed Andy Ruiz Jr. can correct past mistakes against Luis Ortiz

Outside of that one magical night in New York Forever life-changing Andy Ruiz Jr. was always an enticing mix of potential and disappointment.

Coaches have seen his fast hands, fast feet, and the thunder in his hands, and envisioned a man with a long run at the top of the heavyweight division, regardless of what his midsection looked like.

He was that guy on June 1, 2019 when he not only survived a tough knockdown against Anthony Joshua, but pulled himself up and stopped Joshua at Madison Square Garden to become the unified heavyweight champion. He had a small spare tire with him that night, like so many of us, but it didn’t affect his ability to get the job done.

When Oscar De La Hoya fought Fernando Vargas in 2002, Vargas displayed an incredibly angular and sleek physique at the weigh-in. He looked like one of the favorites in a bodybuilding contest, not a boxer ready to fight for the super welterweight title. But Floyd Mayweather Sr., who was then coaching De La Hoya, scoffed at Vargas’ performance. Bodybuilding doesn’t help you win fights, Mayweather Sr said. De La Hoya went on to stop Vargas, and it was later discovered that Vargas had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Nobody ever suspected that of Ruiz, although many have commented on his physique. But Ruiz, who meets Luis Ortiz in the main event of a Fox Sports PBC pay-per-view Sunday at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, doesn’t have to apologize for his body.

Mayweather Sr. was right. Big muscles and washboard abs don’t win fights. But too often, regardless of how he looked, Ruiz hasn’t given himself the best chance of winning. That was most evident in the rematch against Joshua.

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Joshua was there to be beaten – once again – but Ruiz was out of form and unable to push as he needed to repeat his performance from six months ago. Much was made of the 283 pounds Ruiz carried that night, although the number doesn’t matter. It’s what didn’t happen. He wasn’t exercising like he used to and didn’t have the stamina to push himself to peak performance.

Now he gets another chance to right all the mistakes of the past and prove that those who believed in him knew what they were talking about.

Former champion Andy Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22 KOs) takes on Luis Ortiz (33-2, 28 KOs) in a WBC heavyweight title eliminator Sunday in Los Angeles.  (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Former champion Andy Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22 KOs) takes on Luis Ortiz (33-2, 28 KOs) in a WBC heavyweight title eliminator Sunday in Los Angeles. (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

He earned a unanimous decision win over an old Chris Arreola on May 1, 2021, where he was eliminated in the second round. He won the away game by scoring 118-109 twice and 117-110, but a lot of what’s remembered about that fight is Ruiz having to pull himself off the deck.

He wasn’t thrilled with his performance that night and he said something at this week’s open practices that was revealing, even if overlooked.

“If this ends in a knockout, it ends in a knockout,” Ruiz said. “My only goal is to win. I’m fit for 12 hard rounds. We go in there and leave everything in the ring.”

I’m fit for 12 hard rounds.

That’s it. That’s all that counts. Ruiz is a better fighter than Ortiz. Period. End of the story. However, the best fighters don’t always win, especially when they cheat themselves in training camp like Ruiz did in the rematch with Joshua and presumably at several other points in his career.

All of those attributes that made Ruiz a compelling prospect remain. He can still hit extremely hard. He can still move. He knows how to box. He has a great chin.

He’s better – a lot better – than all but a very small handful of heavyweights in the world.

But he’s also less than two weeks away from his 33rd birthday. He has time to be remembered as more than a one-off flash in the pan, but he needs to put in the work.

He parted ways with highly respected trainer Eddy Reynoso after the Arreola fight and brought in Alfredo Osuna as a replacement. Like so many coaches before him, Osuna likes what he sees.

But he doubled down on Ruiz’s comment that he could go 12 hard rounds.

“Andy is in great shape,” said Osuna. “He couldn’t do better. The best thing about this training camp is that he was happy, disciplined and as committed as ever.”

A happy, disciplined and dedicated Ruiz is favored to beat just about any heavyweight alive. Tyson Fury, the WBC champion, would love to beat him. And also the unified champion Oleksandr Usyk. Ex-WBC champion Deontay Wilder would certainly be preferred over Ruiz and maybe Anthony Joshua, although that’s no guarantee. But that’s it.

If Ruiz is indeed happy and in the best shape of his life, expect him to strut around the ring with his arms raised in triumph while the doctors tend to a stunned Ortiz.

But if he’s not, well, that’s different. We’ve seen this story before.

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