Earlier today, John "The Quiet Man" Ruiz sent out a press release that he has retired at the age of 38. The former two-time heavyweight titlist retired with a record of 44-9-1, including victories over Evander Holyfield, Hasim Rahman, Andrew Golota, Fres Oquendo and Tony Tucker.
Ruiz started his career 25-2, with both losses being controversial split decisions and having a good win over Steve Pannell as a stand up boxer with a solid jab. Then, in a bout that would shape much of the rest of his career, he met up with David Tua on a card billed "Night of the Young Heavyweights." Tua knocked Ruiz out in less than 30 seconds, in such a devastating fashion that it still helps shape the legend of Tua today, and forced Ruiz to make some major adjustments.
Coming off such a big knockout, Ruiz developed a style that was nothing less than difficult to watch, where he would generally throw a few punches and then clinch. Rinse, lather and repeat. However, as ugly as the style was, it was very effective for him and allowed him to step up in class without fear of being cold clocked once again. Using his "huggy bear" tactics, Ruiz was able to rattle off a series of victories over good opposition before getting a title shot against future hall-of-famer Evander Holyfield In three extremely close bouts with Holyfield, Ruiz went 1-1-1, winning as many rounds as he lost and becoming the first Latino heavyweight to capture a title in the process. Fourteen of his last sixteen bouts would be either for the WBA title or an eliminator for the WBA title, including a stretch where he went 6-5, mostly against the top guys in the weight class not named Lewis or Klitschko. This included victories over Kirk Johnson, Rahman, Oquendo and Golota, with a wide loss to light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. thrown in there for good measure.
His days as a top fighter ended in 2005, after getting convincingly beaten by James Toney in a bout that was turned into a no contest because Toney tested positive for steroids. At that point, a beaten man who was finding it difficult to get fights because he was perceived as dangerous but fans wouldn't watch him because of his style, Ruiz spent the last few years of his career trying to earn both redemption and a third title. After the fight, his colorful trainer Norman Stone retired, and Ruiz worked to get back the style he once had as a prospect, as a boxer who could move around the ring and score points by throwing punches, not tying up. Unfortunately, it was a little too late, and after losing two close decisions to Nicolai Valuev and another close decision to Ruslan Chagaev, he corageously took a beating at the hands of David Haye, who broke Ruiz's nose while knocking him down four times.
Ruiz is a character I've long been ambivalent about. Despite him being a top American heavyweight for the better part of a decade, it was easy for him to rub people the wrong way. He clinched constantly. He'd have rounds where he'd throw 20 punches. His press people sent out a steady stream of press releases, most of them complaining about how he had been mistreated in prior fights. By listening to him you'd think he'd never lost a fight. He once appeared to act to earn a disqualification win, and dirty tactics were never above him when he was at his peak.
On the other hand, there's a lot to admire about John Ruiz. He always tried his absolute hardest, and never went half-ass about anything. In an era where a beer gut on a heavyweight is an acceptable thing, Ruiz always entered the ring in tip top shape. Everything in his style was designed for him to be able to win, whether you liked it or not, and then once he no longer had the tools to win that way, he changed his style so you would actually like to watch him fight. His final fight was truly indicative of his career - he was knocked down in the first round, but he got back up, worked his ass off and stayed in the fight. No beating or injury could make him waiver in his conviction that he was there to fight, and he was there to try to win. Even when things looked completely hopeless, he didn't himself become hopeless, and he tried his darndest to get the job done. One difference, however, is that in that fight he came up short. In his career he did not. Meaning this in the nicest way possible, I don't know if there's a fighter since I started watching boxing who got more out of less than John Ruiz. His talent was average in just about every way, but sheer willpower, heart and ring smarts were able to get him to win two titles and fight even with an all time great.
In retirement, there's even more to admire about John Ruiz. While he has lived in Las Vegas for the last few years, the Methuen native is moving back to Boston. There, he plans to open up a gym for underprivileged kids. In the words of Ruiz, "I want to go home and open a gym where kids will have a place to go, keeping them off of the streets, so they can learn how to box and build character. Someday, I’d like to see one of them go on to represent the United States in the Olympics. I want them to have the same opportunity to see the world that I had as an amateur." He won't be training for now, but considering how much intelligence he showed in the ring, how eloquent he's always been in post-fight interviews, and how much drive and determination he's been able to find internally, I have little doubt that he would make a great trainer if he chooses to do so.
And now it's time for the Quiet Man to walk off into the sunset. Happy trails, and thanks for the memories, as ambivalent as they may be.