Andy Ruiz Jr. Knows His Journey Back To The Top Of The Heavyweight Division Is Just Beginning

On June 1, 2019, Andy Ruiz Jr. had the best night of his life. With a seventh round knockout of Anthony Joshua, Ruiz shocked the world to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion, taking Joshua’s WBA, WBO, IBF, and IBO heavyweight titles and vaulting into superstardom overnight.

On December 7, 2019, Ruiz found himself at rock bottom. He lost the rematch with Joshua in Saudi Arabia in disappointing fashion, ballooning to 283 pounds on fight night and providing little activity or resistance in a unanimous decision loss. The six months in between was a whirlwind of parties, parades, and celebrations, with little in the way of training or structure. As such, the result in Saudi Arabia was unsurprising, but still painfully disappointing for Ruiz. He spiraled, further diving into the bad habits that had led him to a sluggish, non-competitive effort. Not long after losing to Joshua, he stepped on a scale that read 310 pounds and found himself at a crossroads.

He could fade into obscurity, fulfilling the predictions that he would become this generation’s Buster Douglas, a one-time champ who got lucky with the right punch and never came close to being a title contender again. Or, he could commit to the work, remove the distractions, and begin climbing up boxing’s heavyweight ladder once again.

“You know what?” Ruiz asks me over Zoom. “I was to the lowest of my lowest one day, and I just went down on my knees and I asked God for a change. To change my heart to change my mentality, and I just started praying for a new change. And what do you know? The next day all the temptations, all the negativity, all the bad people around me, they all started, little by little, started getting better.

“After I seen that, I just started training even harder,” he continues. “I started dedicating myself even more, I started being more disciplined, I started doing all the right things that I should have done since the beginning. It wasn’t easy. It was really hard. We all go through roller coasters and all that but thanks to God that I overcome all that all that stress and negativity that I had around me, and you know I had to make a change.”

Ruiz will return to the ring on May 1 to show the work he’s put in over the last year in a battle with Chris Arreola on Fox Sports PPV (9 p.m. ET). It will be the first proof point in what Ruiz understands is a lifelong journey to bettering himself, one that started with a message to the pound-for-pound king, Canelo Alvarez.

Seeking the structure and support he needed to make a lifestyle transformation, Ruiz sent a message to Alvarez asking if he could come train with his camp, one that includes fellow champions like Ryan Garcia and Oscar Valdez. Alvarez took a week to talk it over with trainer Eddy Reynoso and agreed to bring Ruiz in under the condition that he prove his commitment to boxing and doing the work that was needed.

“We end up having a meeting,” Ruiz says. “I was talking to Reynoso and Reynoso told me, ‘Man, if you’re gonna come over here, I need you to be in 100 percent. I need you to be dedicated. I need you to think like the champion like you were and to do all the right things like how Canelo does.’ So, thanks to God, I’m at this point. I’m not where I want to be at but I’m better than I was before.”

That last point is the best indicator — even more than the 50-plus pounds he’s dropped in recent months — that he’s serious about that commitment. Losing weight and maintaining that requires an entire lifestyle change, one that has to go beyond pushing yourself to a target weight with a diet and exercise regimen. For Ruiz, that started with removing the negativity around him. Gone are the “cousins” he never knew existed who showed up after he knocked out Joshua and the friends who steered him to parties instead of the gym. His circle now tightened to his family and the Canelo Team, he can take that hard look in the mirror at his own habits as well.

It’s a journey he needed to take sooner than later, and even though he’s barely a year removed from the most gutting loss of his career, he’s able to look back on it as a needed wake up call.

“What if I would have won against Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia? Would I have been thinking the same way that I’m thinking now? I don’t think I would have,” Ruiz says. “I think I would have still been thinking the same way that I was thinking before, but this loss has has made me realize what’s important and what’s not. And you can’t play boxing, so you got to give it 100 percent and be disciplined, be dedicated to this sport. One of the main things that I learned from Canelo is the main word is discipline. Being disciplined inside the ring, being disciplined outside of the ring, being disciplined of the things that you’re not supposed to do and you are supposed to do.”

He’s learning how to find that balance outside the ring, with five children — “I got a lot of mouths to feed. So I got to work hard, man.” — including his oldest son, AJ, who is often by his side in the gym providing a little extra motivation. He’s become devout in his faith, crediting God at every opportunity for turning his life around, but the work he’s doing is all his and isn’t something everyone is willing to do. That commitment has resulted in Ruiz truly meaning it when he says he’s in the best shape of his life. It’s something every fighter says after a training camp, but take one look at Ruiz and it’s undeniable he’s telling the truth.

What that means in the ring is that he can take his elite hand speed and couple that with dramatically improved head movement and foot speed. His hand speed allowed him to shock Joshua, but he needed to learn how to move better to avoid punches and create room for counters that didn’t involve just firing back after he got hit. That’s been the focus of camp, with Reynoso putting him through his paces over and over on the bag and in the ring to improve that movement. The result, Ruiz says, is going to be a better fighter than the one that won the belts two years ago, much less the one from the second fight.

“I think we’re gonna see a more disciplined fighter. A fighter that’s that is going to show more ability than I had for the first and for the second fight,” Ruiz says. “More movement, just try to focus on everything that we’ve been working on and try to perfect every single punch that we’ve been working on. I think the main issue was the weight. The weight was the main issue in the second fight. So we’re not trying … I could have dropped as much pounds as I wanted, but I wanted it to be strong at 255 and see where that gets me. I’m just trying to tighten up, trying to get the fat into muscle. I’m not trying to look like Anthony Joshua and them [laughs], but I’m trying to look strong and feel strong. That’s the most important thing is to feel strong, and I think that’s what people are gonna see. I’m the same Andy, you know, the speed is there, the combinations are there, it’s just the head movement, the ability, the feet work, that’s what we’re practicing.”

For Ruiz, winning the belts was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and suddenly finding himself on the mountaintop, he didn’t know how to handle it. There was no longer a carrot to chase or a dream to catch. He was living the dream and live it he did. But as he learned, “you can’t play boxing,” as few sports are as quick to humble the overly confident.

Now, Ruiz understands the long game. He has designs on reclaiming his belts should he get past Arreola on Saturday. Fellow PBC fighter Deontay Wilder is a potential name for the future, as are Joshua and Tyson Fury. The latter of those has become a friend of Ruiz’s, as the two have shared similar stories. Fury, after beating Wladimir Klitschko, went through his own mental health battles and weight issues, relinquishing the belts (not with a loss, but with not fighting) before making his own journey back to the ring.

The two recently spent some time together, talking about life and faith, and sharing their stories with others to try and inspire them and show that they aren’t alone. As Fury told me back in 2019, he hoped his story of struggling with mental health and seeking help would help others, to prove no one, not even the heavyweight champion of the world, is above those problems.

“I got very bad where I was trying to commit suicide and to come back from that, to get back to this level back on top of the world in heavyweight boxing, it’s a testament of anybody can achieve anything,” Fury said back then. “I’m not no special person. As we saw, I was on me knees. Mental health brought me to me knees like a four-year-old child as the heavyweight champion of the world, 6’9. If it can do that to me, it can do that to anybody. No one is untouchable from this disease. It’s a silent killer, but the more awareness we raise, the more people around the world can get help and be saved.”

Ruiz likewise notes it’s something that could happen to anyone, and he wants to prove that anyone can bounce back. It starts with surrounding yourself with the right people and finding the motivation needed to change your habits and your lifestyle. For Ruiz, that’s his family and his new fighting family with Alvarez and Reynoso, who make him accountable not just to himself, but to others who have invested and believed in him. He’s fulfilled his promise to do the work and show that he can be disciplined, and the result is working in one of the best boxing gyms in the world alongside the current pound-for-pound king.

“Canelo, when he sees that I’m not doing something like throwing the right punches, he’ll go out of his way and tell me, ‘Hey look, Andy, you need to throw it like this, you need to pivot your feet, you need to do some stuff like that.’ And it means a lot to to have him guide me as well and some of the stuff that we’ve been doing, and, like, it’s amazing man,” Ruiz says. “I’m really blessed to have this team and, like I said, we don’t try to compete with each other. We help each other and we want the whole team to grow.”

Ruiz’s personal growth over the last year has been evident, and now he’s ready to show his growth in the ring. Beating Arreola would be a great way to reintroduce himself to the boxing world, but he makes it clear that this fight is just the first step of his journey, not the culmination.

“I know I’m not going to look 100 percent for my first fight or nothing like that, but the dedication isn’t a show,” Ruiz says. “The improvement that we’ve been working on isn’t a show as well, but to get to where I want to be at, I got to stay busy, I got to stay active, I got to stay focused. So that’s the main thing I need to do. Soon as, God willing, we get the victory May 1, I got to get back to the gym, keep training,. This is like a lifestyle. It’s not just —before I would think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna fight,’ then I will start training, you know? I got to be training every single day. Even if it’s not boxing, I still go run and go be active.”