ANDY RUIZ vs. JOSEPH PARKER — In boxing the “home field advantage” looms large. Indeed, professional oddsmakers assign more weight to the home field advantage in boxing than to any other sport. At New York’s fabled Stillman’s Gym, an old-school fight manager was heard talking on the phone to an out-of-town promoter in need of an opponent for his next show. “Level with me,” said the fight manager, “if we win, can we get a draw?”
Andres Ponce “Andy” Ruiz Jr. would seem to be at a severe disadvantage this weekend when he locks horns with Auckland’s Joseph Parker in Auckland for the vacant WBO world heavyweight title. Ruiz, born in the Sonoran Desert community of Imperial, California, and raised largely in Mexico, has ventured a long ways from home. A non-stop flight from LAX to Auckland is in the sky for roughly 12 hours. Passengers cross 21 time zones. It was Sunday in New Zealand when Ruiz landed in Auckland and the consensus among betting men was that he would have been wiser to arrive a few days earlier to better re-set his biological clock.
Nonetheless, the view from here is that the oddsmakers may have overreacted in establishing Joseph Parker a 7/2 favorite – which isn’t to suggest that we have a good read on the relative merits of the two gladiators. What we have here is a very intriguing fight, but a fight that is basically a crossroads fight between two rising contenders that just happens to have the words “world title” printed on the label.
Parker (21-0, 18 KOs) was born in Auckland to immigrants from Samoa. At 6-foot-4, he’s two inches taller than Ruiz and has a longer reach. Coming up the ladder, he feasted on mildewed meat. His victims included 42-year-old Sherman Williams, 44-year-old Frans Botha, and 45-year-old Kali Meehan. In his last outing, he demolished Alexander Dimitrenko in a bout stopped in the third round. It was a smashing performance but Dimitrenko, a 15-year veteran, wasn’t as good as his 34-2 record and hadn’t defeated anyone of note since being stopped by Kubrat Pulev.
Parker is trained by Kevin Barry. If the name seems familiar, this is the same Kevin Barry who defeated Evander Holyfield by disqualification in the semifinal round of the 1984 Olympics. Holyfield knocked him out with a massive left hook, but the Yugoslavian referee, to the amazement of the spectators, decided that the punch had landed after he had commanded the fighters to break.
In the U.S., Barry will always be remembered for this incident, one of the more egregious heists in the besotted history of Olympic boxing, but in New Zealand and Australia he is renowned as the top boxing coach in the Antipodes, as was his father before him.
Barry’s former pupils include David Tua, who knocked out five men who at various times held a version of the world heavyweight title. Joseph Parker, says Barry, doesn’t hit as hard as Tua but has faster hands and is a more well-rounded boxer who is more dedicated to the sport.
When it comes to fast hands, however, Parker may take a back seat to Andy Ruiz who at age 27 (three years older than Parker) is still in his prime. When enumerating his plusses, Ruiz’s boosters always begin the conversation by touting his hand speed. He’s also light on his feet, notwithstanding his chubby torso. The problem is that he competes in a sport that requires great dedication. Ruiz (29-0, 19 KOs) weighed close to 300 pounds in his earliest fights and while he has pared down considerably to where he now fights around 250, there’s still a roll of flab around his midsection.
Ruiz’s last three fights were against men in their forties, specifically Ray Austin (45), Josh Gormley (42), and Franklin Lawrence who at age 40 was two weeks shy of his forty-first birthday.
When one observes this pattern in a fighter with a solid record, particularly a heavyweight, it’s a fair guess that he is being fattened up to serve as fodder for a rising contender overseas. But Andy Ruiz is promoted by Top Rank which doesn’t play this game (they will import fighters with misleading records, but they don’t export them).
Ruiz comes out of a hot barn. When the Parker-Ruiz deal was made, Bob Arum made arrangements for Ruiz to live and train at Abel Sanchez’s compound in Big Bear, California. Sanchez doesn’t run a frat house. He famously shooed Sergey Kovalev away because Kovalev, in his words, “just wasn’t a good fit.”
Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman recently had this to say: “With Andy now being up in Big Bear and training with Abel Sanchez, I think he is a completely different fighter with his confidence levels, his dedication and the proper sparring…Throughout his career, the one thing Andy had problems with was dedication. He was always the boss, always wanted to go with his time, do whatever he wanted, slack off if he wanted to. But Abel doesn’t play any games like that…it’s either his way or you’re out of there.”
Stuart Duncan, Goodman’s counterpart with Duco, Joseph Parker’s promoter, discounted Sanchez’s influence. “You can’t transform a boxer in 60 days and that’s all he had with Ruiz,” said Duncan, who noted that in the pecking order at Sanchez’s compound, Ruiz played third fiddle to Gennady Golovkin and Murat Gassiev.
Sanchez wasn’t with Ruiz when Ruiz arrived in New Zealand with his parents and assorted functionaries in tow. Sanchez wasn’t done taking care of business in Moscow where Gassiev toppled Denis Lebedev to win the IBF cruiserweight title. The previous week Sanchez was in Las Vegas where he worked the corner of super welterweight Konstantin Ponomarev who kept his unbeaten record intact on the Lomachenko-Walters card, and the week before that he sat ringside in Las Vegas with Gennady Golovkin watching the Kovalev-Ward fight. One suspects that his biological clock might be a little off-kilter.
Bob Arum, who recently promoted his 2000th boxing event, celebrated his 85th birthday (Thursday, Dec. 8) in Auckland. The assumption was that Arum wouldn’t have come this far unless he was confident that Andy Ruiz would win, but that assumption was depreciated by the news that Arum had reached an agreement with Duco to promote Parker in the U.S. and China with Duco retaining all rights in the Australasian and European markets. That gives Arum a pecuniary interest in both fighters, a win-win situation. Don King would be proud.
We have no doubt that Arum feels a greater loyalty to Ruiz. There will be fewer fingers in the pie if Ruiz wins and there’s more gratification in building a heavyweight champion brick by brick than in latching on to one that is ready-formed.
“The road is a treacherous place” said a grizzled old fight manager who hung his hat at Stillman’s Gym, and that presumably goes double when a road trip takes one above the clouds to the other side of the world. But this grizzled fight writer can’t shake the nagging suspicion that Andy Ruiz is a very live dog.
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