A pair of fighters made their professional debuts on September 15. While one was well-received, the other had a nightmarish performance that had the New York State Athletic Commission buzzing about whether to suspend him.
Although they had never met before, Jason Thompson and Mike Ruiz will be forever linked because of a punch that was thrown after their junior middleweight bout at the Huntington Townhouse in Huntington, New York.
Their match was one-sided. Thompson dropped Ruiz with a right hand in the first round and finished him in the second with a left hook that prompted the physician at ringside to ask the referee to stop the fight at 2:53 of the second round. Enraged that the fight was stopped, Ruiz threw a punch at Thompson when Thompson walked over to shake his hand.
While the crowd booed, Thompson and Ruiz were restrained from attacking one another by their trainers. Thompson regained control and was pacing up and down the ring as Ruiz made a series of obscene gestures to the crowd before he left.
Back in the dressing room, which consisted of a large curtain separating the opposing boxers, both fighters were livid, Thompson over getting sucker-punched and Ruiz because the fight was stopped.
While Thompson, who is from Brooklyn, undid his gloves, Renson DeLosantos, Ruiz’s trainer, walked over and offered an apology.
“He didn’t know what he was doing,” he said to Thompson. “He was just upset; he didn’t mean to do it. He’s a nice kid. He was just upset over what happened. I’m going to ask him to apologize for what he did.”
DeLosantos disappeared behind the curtain and reappeared with Ruiz, who was still wearing his boxing shorts and seemed to be hiding under his curly black hair.
“He’s come to say he was sorry,” DeLosantos said as he held onto Ruiz’s side, sort of pulling him toward Thompson. Rogelio Jackson, Thompson’s trainer stood near Thompson, as did a couple of friends who had come to see Thompson fight.
Appearing somber with tears in eyes but staring at the floor, Ruiz extended his hand and Thompson took it. The handshake was quicker than the wink of an eye, and Ruiz was behind the curtain just as fleetingly. The odd reconciliation quieted Thompson’s celebration for a moment until Ron Katz, a matchmaker who has worked for Sugar Ray Leonard Promotions and currently is the director of boxing for Northeast Promotions walked over.
“It’s obvious that he has a good amateur pedigree,” he said. “I liked how he put his punches together. He’s certainly on the road to becoming a prospect. I was here scouting another fighter, but here I am talking to him.”
Then Pete Brodsky, the show’s matchmaker came over and heaped more praise on him.
“Stop talking to my fighter,” he joked. Brodsky said he might put Thompson on an upcoming show in October.
For a fighter who turned pro in virtual anonymity, Thompson received a lot of attention for his first fight. He spent 8 years in the amateurs where he was known for his steel chin and heavy hands, and for fighting anyone, anytime.
He fought as heavy at 178 pounds, and he has probably fought every highly regarded fighter in New York City, from Joe Greene, who stopped his opponent in the third round on the same Huntington show, to Danny Jacobs, Julian Townsend and Leon Hines. Thompson turned pro without the assistance of a promoter or manager.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even expect the fight to go like this,” he said. “I knew that I was in super shape, and I was prepared to throw a lot of punches – I was prepared to go six rounds if I had to – I didn’t think it would go this well.”
Losing in the pros is far more devastating than losing in the amateurs, so the New York State Athletic Commission chairman, Ron Scott Stevens, was charitable with Ruiz, giving him a sixty-day suspension because of the stoppage but letting the illegal punch go unpunished.
“He shook hands with the other fighter, and I thought he suffered enough by losing his debut and getting booed by the crowd,” he said. “Ruiz spoke to the other kid in the dressing room and apologized. He’s been warned that if anything like this happens again he will be in serious trouble. He’s on a short leash right now with the commission.”
Stevens initially thought the punch after the fight missed its mark. When told it actually grazed the side of Thompson’s face, Stevens expressed surprise but kept to his earlier decision.
Nonetheless, Thompson is troubled by the commission’s handling of the situation.
“If I had known that the kid was going to get off with nothing, I would have swung and tried to hit him and whipped his a**,” he said. “The handshake he gave me wasn’t sincere because I know his corner put him up to it. The corner said he was going to come over and apologize – whatever. He came over and gave me a little bullsh** handshake. I can’t believe that he’s not going to be punished. Regardless if the punch landed or not, just the attempt alone should get him suspended.”
He added, “I thought that if I didn’t attack him back it would be a better look for me as far as being the bigger man. I don’t like what he did because he makes the whole situation ugly, makes the sport of boxing look ugly.”
Thompson is an entertainer in the ring; he throws punches that inflict punishment but are also artful in design. To listen to Thompson describe the way he set up the knockdown in the first round is to indulge in the joy of accomplishing something exquisite.
“The set-up was beautiful,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t realize what I did, though; they didn’t notice it. If you look at the tape, I was popping him with the jab to his body. Right before the knockdown, he’s feeling those body punches, then he tried to move and I was cutting off the ring on him. I threw a jab to the body that wasn’t forceful; it was more like a diversion to make him look for the shot for the body. Then I came up top with the right hand and knocked him down. It was beautiful.”
Thompson entered the ring wearing a blue and red robe that fluttered as he hopped up the steps to face the crowd. The robe – a vanishing piece of attire in boxing as more and more fighters are outfitted in snappy looking jackets – was unbuckled, allowing his torso to show. Stalking around the ring with a nasty expression on his face, he looked raw and primordial in the same way that Jake LaMotta did when he wore his trademark leopard skin robe into the ring, as though he had just rolled out of bed at dawn and was pissed off needing to take out the garbage.
“My stuff is old-fashioned,” he said. “The modern stuff is cool, but I like the old-school stuff more.”
Ruiz, on the other hand, entered the ring wearing gaudy sunglasses encrusted with diamonds on the side. He had on white and blue shorts with the Puerto Rican flag across the front, and he didn’t remove his sunglasses until he met in the center of the ring for the pre-fight instructions.
From the opening bell, it was apparent that Thompson was the stronger and more skilled than Ruiz, who is only 19. While Ruiz, a Golden Gloves winner in 2003, was throwing sweeping, hard shots, Thompson was peppering him to the body, making him fight backward. A headbutt midway through the first round stopped the action; referee Steve Willis checked for blood, of which there was none, and the fight proceeded. Ruiz rose from the knockdown quickly, but in the second round, a heavy left hand clipped the top of his head, causing his legs to do that bizarre dance fighters do when they are hurt.
Thompson took his time, slowly putting his punches together when the doctor stepped up to stop the fight. Ruiz appeared to be ok, but it was apparent it was not going to end well for him because Thompson was gearing up for another assault.
“I was upset when they stopped it,” Ruiz said after the fight. “I was really upset. I don’t know where my mind was at. I was thinking about what happened, and I felt really bad. That was my first debut. The reason I came to this country was to become a world champion. I’ve watched the tape of the fight like ten times, and I can’t believe they stopped it.”
Ruiz left Puerto Rico two years ago to pursue a boxing career in the United States. DeLosantos, his trainer and manager at the Hempstead Boxing Club, realized he had the chops to make it in boxing because whenever Ruiz would get hurt in sparring, DeLosantos noted that he would always come back as if nothing had happened. A lot was riding on his debut. DeLosantos was hoping to catch the eye of a promoter at the show.
“He was hurt from a punch, but so was the other kid,” DeLosantos said. “The doctor should have given him a chance to recover. I saw Mike after the stoppage and he was ok. I don’t know why they stopped the fight. Mike wasn’t cut; he wasn’t bleeding. The fight was stopped 30 seconds after the punch landed.”
There is no disagreement over what happened next. Thompson celebrated the win, jumping up and down and went over to shake Ruiz’s hand when Ruiz, still fuming over what happened, and who was actually being held back by his trainer even before he threw the punch, uncorked a left hand that glanced off Thompson’s face.
“I was trying to calm him down,” DeLosantos said. “Mike had tears in his eyes he was so upset. You have to understand: the kid was looking to get signed by a promoter. This was a big opportunity for him.”