By David Robinett
Hours before Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs faced off Saturday night in Las Vegas, Matchroom Sport managing director Eddie Hearn formally introduced Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs), as the replacement opponent for unified heavyweight title holder Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) on June 1, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Ruiz was selected after Joshua’s original opponent, Jarrell Miller, was withdrawn for failing multiple drug tests during training. Hearn, Ruiz, Ruiz’s father, and Ruiz’s trainer Manny Robles all met with the assembled media early Saturday afternoon at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
“It’s been a real shitty ten or eleven days to be honest with you,” opened Hearn. “We worked very hard with Jarrell Miller to give him opportunities and he cheated us and cheated the sport of boxing by failing not one drug test but three drug tests, with three different substances inside his body. He [Miller] had the opportunity for himself to change his life, his family’s life, but he couldn’t bring himself to fight Anthony Joshua on a level playing field.”
Hearn also talked about the difficulties in finding an opponent willing to step up and challenge Joshua for the unified heavyweight title, though not mentioning his first choice, Luis Ortiz (who reportedly turned down an offer over $5 million to face Joshua), directly by name.
“One thing that is, quite frankly, annoying me at the moment are the fighters that talk about stepping up,” explained Hearn. “Saying, ‘yeah I’ll take on Joshua,’ or ‘I’ll do this, yeah,’ and then making unrealistic financial demands or deciding to put half of Walgreens in their body.”
Hearn then explained what drew him to Ruiz as a potential opponent for Joshua. “So, when we got the bad news, my first thought was, ‘Who? Who is it gonna be?’ And we looked around and the first thing that I wanted more than anything was to make sure that we had a real fight on June 1st because, I have to be honest with you, I’m a promoter, but I’m also a fan. And I didn’t want to bring Anthony Joshua to Madison Square Garden, to walk into an arena knowing we can’t lose, knowing he’s going to go two rounds, knowing we have an opponent that’s coming for the money, and not one that’s trying to fight for his family, for a legacy, for history.”
Although he didn’t get into the details of their conversation, Hearn said that he and Ruiz began communicating and quickly reached an agreement for the Mexican-American from Southern California to challenge for Joshua’s WBA/IBF/WBO title belts. Hearn also commented on Ruiz’s notoriously soft heavyweight body, an issue that has followed Ruiz throughout his career.
“The casual fans may question that Andy Ruiz is not carved out of stone,” admitted Hearn. “But the ones who know their boxing know that this is a big, credible fighter at the Garden on June 1st. Many say this man should already be world champion, he went to New Zealand and lost a very close fight to Joseph Parker for the WBO world championship. This is the only loss on his record.”
When Ruiz took the microphone, he echoed Hearn’s sentiment that there was more than meets the eye to him.
“Everybody’s underestimating me, just the way I look and all that,” acknowledged Ruiz. “But, tell you the truth, I have heart, I throw a lot of punches. I’m gonna show the world what I am and what I can do. I’m going to bring those belts back to Mexico, because they’ve never been to Mexico, so I’m going to make history, God willing.”
Ruiz’s trainer Manny Robles added that the timing of this opportunity should work to his fighter’s advantage, with Ruiz having fought just two weeks ago after a full training camp, knocking out fringe contender Alexander Dimitrenko.
“Andy’s ready, it could not have come at a better time,” noted Robles. “People think we’re taking the fight on short notice, but really we’re not, we just got back from a ten week camp heading into our last fight. We took a few days off but we’re right back into the gym.”
Robles also weighed in on, well, Ruiz’s weight. “A lot of people will doubt Andy because of his physical appearance but this guy, don’t worry about what you see on the outside, because what this kid has on the inside, this guy has got big cojones. He [Joshua] has never fought a Mexican fighter and this kid is definitely a pressure fighter. Being a shorter fighter, of course we’re going to look to get on the inside and break down that body. Personally, I don’t think Joshua has ever been hit [consistently] to the body, but this kid goes to the body, he’s a Mexican fighter. Mexican fighters are known for that, to go to the body, to punch the body, so that’s what we’ll do.
For his part, Ruiz was not lacking in confidence, noting that he was hungry to atone for his first unsuccessful title challenge three years ago in New Zealand.
“This is my second chance to make history, to make my dreams come true,” said Ruiz. “It couldn’t have happened at a better time than now, I’m sharp, I’m prepared, we don’t have to start a new training camp, it just keeps going. June 1st is going to be a really exciting fight, two big guys hitting each other in the face, getting hurt. I’m the type of fighter who can do it all, I can box, I can move around, I can slip punches, bob and weave, throw punches, counterpunches, and I’m here to shock the world.”
Hearn concluded by reiterating Ruiz’s opportunity to win a heavyweight title on behalf of both his home country and his ethnic heritage.
“Although there’ll be a huge amount of British fans among that 20,000 [at Madison Square Garden], there’s now going to be a lot of American fans, and there’s now going to be a lot of Mexicans,” predicted Hearn. “He [Ruiz] has a chance to become Mexico’s first ever world heavyweight champion, and that is a legacy that may never be repeated, that is an opportunity that may never happen again. He will become a national hero, an icon, in Mexico, if he can win this fight, and Joshua knows this is a real fight, Joshua knows this is a real test.”
Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz, Jr., will take place on June 1, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York, streaming live on DAZN and on Sky Sports Box Office in the United Kingdom.