January 1, 2015

KO Digest Interview: Andy Ruiz Jr — “I can be the Mexican Mike Tyson”

The Destroyer looks ahead to 2015
For over a decade, the Klitschkos have reigned supreme over the heavyweight division. But as a new year begins, Wladimir grows one year older and Vitali appears to be retired for good, meaning the time is creeping ever closer to the title door swinging open for another crop of young heavyweights ready to ascend to the throne. Mexicali’s Andy Ruiz Jr. hopes to soon be mentioned in the mix. Defying expectations, Ruiz is still undefeated at 24-0 (17 KO's) and has earned victories over notable names Joe Hanks, Tor Hamer, and Serhei Laikhovich in the last year and a half. Thanks to a promising career start, a hard hitting, heavy-handed style, and also his weight, the 25-year-old Mexican has drawn positive and negative parallels to Chris Arreola. Determined to fight often, fight the best in the division, and increase his fitness while decreasing his weight, 2015 could be a make-or-break year for the Top Rank heavyweight prospect.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: You’re a good looking prospect rising through the ranks right now, but because you aren’t a star yet, a lot of boxing fans might still be unfamiliar with your story. What makes you different from everybody else in the division? 

Ruiz wins but critics can be cruel
Andy Ruiz Jr: I’m a young heavyweight, I’m 25 years old, and I fight well with a lot of skills. My only problem is my weight. I’m still winning fights, but there are a lot of critics in boxing saying they’re not happy with my weight and that I’m too fat. But to tell you the truth, I kind of agree with them. I do need to change that so I can have them supporting me and so I have to keep training hard.

KOD: How are you addressing the weight issue?

AR: I didn’t really have a personal trainer with me last time because he was in Spain, but he’s going to come back for the next fight. For our next camp, we’re trying to go to Big Bear so we can concentrate on the weight, training, and getting ready to whoop some ass.

KOD: With changes, how different will your fitness regimen be?

AR: I am eating right, doing sprints, lifting weights—but not heavy weights, light weights—explosive stuff. It’s a lot of stuff that Mike Tyson used to do in training. If I can get my body right and get into really good shape, I can be like the Mexican Mike Tyson.

Ruiz spars Holyfield but really wants to be like Tyson
KOD: Clearly Tyson sounds like an inspiration, but when you say “Mexican heavyweight” the first name that comes to mind for most people is Chris Arreola. Is that a comparison that you welcome?

AR: Arreola is a cool guy. The first time I sparred with him I was 16 and the last time I sparred with him was two years ago, so I helped him when I was young. I have nothing bad to say, but we should discipline ourselves more. That’s what I’m getting now. Since I’m young, I have to do it right now before it gets too late like Arreola.

KOD: What did you learn from that experience stepping into the boxing ring with Arreola to spar with him as a teenager?

AR: It was actually good. I was with the Mexican Olympic team, so I was over there trying to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. I must have been 16 or 17 years old so I came over here to Riverside. We ended up sparring and I did really well. They said “man, this kid’s really young. What are you doing, trying to spar?” And my Dad was just telling them “no, I have my son. He can help you out.” We sparred and I did really well. They were so surprised, like, “what the heck? Where did this kid come from?” It was a very good experience, it was fun, and I learned a lot. I’m still learning at this stage and I need to keep going and keep training hard to get where I want to be.

KOD: Not only have you sparred with Arreola, but you sparred with MMA star Andrei Arlovski. 
How different was it sparring with somebody whose background is in MMA? 

Ruiz has a few extra pounds to sweat away
AR: It was actually easy, to tell you the truth. He was trying to fight and it was at my house, in a boxing ring. It was kind of easy, but he was a cool guy and I have nothing bad to say about him. If it was the other way around and I was in the Octagon, it would be different though. I was over there with Freddie Roach and after I sparred with Arreola I started sparring with James Toney’s sparring partners when Roach was training him. My Dad used to be a promoter and he used to have Jorge Paez Jr. We went to Hollywood with Freddie Roach and he was going to spar Pacquiao and I was in the mix too. My Dad said “hey, I have my son. He’s a heavyweight, 16, 17 years old and he can spar with James Toney.” I was a little nervous because I was young and I was sparring these already pro guys, but they let me spar with his sparring partners. That’s when everything changed. I earned respect and everyone asked who the hell this kid was that was beating up Toney’s sparring partners. That's how things started with Roach.

Ruiz is a family man with two kids
KOD: You have plenty of experience and success in the amateur ranks, but your style doesn’t seem like it goes hand-in-hand with the amateur fighting style. What were your positive and negative takeaways from the amateurs?

AR: It was kind of hard because of the system. A lot of people were cheating, like the judges. The pros are a different game. In the pros, you can get hurt and you’re actually risking your life, so you have to go 120 percent. This boxing thing is not a joke and we have to come prepared. There is a big difference between the amateurs and the pros, but amateurs are where we planted the seeds and now it’s growing. We’re in the pros and have to do the best we can with it.

KOD: That was then, but now, you’re coming off a good win against Siarhei Liakhovich although you did hurt your hand in the fight. How are you feeling now, what is the condition of your hand?

AR: It feels good, but it’s still a little swollen. I’ve been taking ibuprofen the hospital gave me and it’s getting better. It’s not broken—it’s nothing. They’re talking about me fighting in China again at the end of March, so that gives me a few months.

KOD: There are not a lot of big names on the first part of your career resume. However, you’ve recently fought and defeated Joe Hanks, Tor Hamer, and Liakhovich. What has been the toughest fight of your career so far?

Ruiz has two title belts already
AR: My toughest fight was [Liakhovich] December 20th. I went through how to win because of hurting my hand in the early rounds. It was hard to adjust while I was fighting. I couldn’t throw my combinations and be fast. I had to use the jab and work through the pain. I don’t know if he hit me in my ribs when I was leaning down, but I had this thing in my ribs. It was difficult. I hung in there.

KOD: You had a very strong amateur career and you’ve been trained by Freddie Roach. How has Freddie helped your boxing career?

AR: That’s where I started my whole pro career and it was an honor working with him. I loved working with Freddie. I’d love to work with him again. We’ve talked before that he would love for me to go back, but it’s all up to my manager and promoter. I'd love to move back to Hollywood and train with Freddie.

KOD: Who are the important people behind you helping to move you forward? 

AR: My manager is Joe Gagliardi, he’s some Italian guy from San Jose, California. My trainer is Jeff Grmoja, a tall guy—he’s 6’7” tall like the Klitschkos. My Dad, of course, Andy Ruiz Sr., and Bob Arum promotes me. Fidel Ponce is my assistant. They’re the main people behind me. There’s no reason to have an entourage and so many people just trying to be all up in the mix.

KOD: Liakhovich was once a WBO champion and defeated Lamon Brewster close to a decade ago. That was a long time ago, but now that you’ve been in the ring with somebody of that caliber, do you feel you’re ready to move up in the heavyweight ranks? 

AR: Absolutely. I think I should. As long as I actually go out of Las Vegas and go to a camp and get mentally prepared there and do everything that I have to do, of course. I think I could be better than those other guys that are up there.

KOD: You think you “could” be better, but obviously you’re still growing as a fighter at 24-0. 
Where do you think you rank in the division right now? What’s your top goal for 2015?

AR: To prove to the world who I am, what I can do. All the guys that are up there I would fight. I want to prove myself against elite fighters. Tyson Fury, the Klitschkos, Wilder, Stiverne—all the guys who say they're the best are the guys I want to fight. I rank myself fighting Stiverne, Wilder, or the Klitschkos right now. That’s what I’m trying to do. I proved a lot of people wrong, a lot of people underestimated me, thinking I was going to lose against Hamer, Hanks, or Liakhovich, but I’m still winning. I have the WBO intercontinental title and the NABF. I should get the opportunity they promised to me in 2015. Hopefully we do it.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli