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Mr. Ruiz, this is Mr. ...

BY Rick Folstad ON January 28, 2002
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Maybe you’ve heard of John Ruiz.

He’s the WBA heavyweight champion of the world, though you probably don’t know where he’s from (Boston) or how to  pronounce his last name (Ru-eze).

He doesn’t have a lot of flash or a demoralizing punch or a chin you could light a match on. He doesn’t call anyone names or make bold predictions  or hog center stage.

He’s known as “The Quiet Man,” which in the fight game means you don’t get your name in big letters on the marquee very often. Most of the time,  you don’t get your name on the marquee at all.

But the thing about Ruiz is, he’s fought Evander Holyfield three times and the two have finished dead even at 1-1-1.

Those are pretty good credentials, not that he’s bragging.

On Saturday, July 27 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Ruiz (37-4-1, 27 KOs) defends his WBA title against undefeated heavyweight contender Kirk “Bubba” Johnson (32-0-1, 23 KOs) of Nova Scotia.

It’s one of  those championship fights you probably won’t read about Sunday morning unless  you scan the agate page of the sports section.

Despite holding the title of heavyweight champ of the world, Ruiz still  remembers the night David Tua put his mark on his career, stopping him in the  first round of their fight in March 1996. It’s one of those nightmares a  fighter never forgets.

Asked on a teleconference call earlier this week if the gorilla - the  devastating loss to Tua - was still on his back, Ruiz said it’s never gone away.

“People still ask me about it,’’ he said.

 “But going forward is the  main thing. I sat down by myself that night and decided what I wanted to do with my life.  And I never looked back.’’

The first Hispanic to hold a heavyweight crown, Ruiz still moves  unnoticed in most crowds. He’s a stranger outside of Boston, and though he’s  the defending champion, he’s the underdog going into his fight against  Johnson.
That’s because Johnson is undefeated and Ruiz, remember, was stopped by Tua. For Johnson, this fight is a lifelong dream. “It’s going to be a glorious night,’’ he said. “I have great respect  for John.  We’re both young and in our prime. I think this is going to be a much better fight than (Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis). I’m finally living my  dream.
It’s time for me to put up or shut up.’’

Still, it’s hard to imagine a guy named Bubba winning the  heavyweight championship of the world. In a call dominated by both fighters’ handlers and managers, Johnson and Ruiz remained quiet until spoken to.

“These guys are class,’’ said Lou Duva, who promotes Johnson. “They’re very respectful guys and they’ll remain gentlemen after the fight. They’ll go  into the ring to fight, not put on a circus.’’

Polite, yet confident, both fighters are looking for some of the respect they believe they’ve earned, but never received.

“The day I become a favorite is the day I’ll probably retire,’’Ruiz  said. “But it does motivate me.  I love proving people wrong.’’

Now you know who John Ruiz is.

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