When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, boxer Andy Ruiz Jr. was sulking at his home in Southern California. He was no longer the world heavyweight boxing champion. And he was about 40 pounds above his notoriously high weight when he had been.

Nine months earlier, Ruiz had stunned Anthony Joshua in one of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history. Ruiz gained attention for his imperfect physique and a weakness for candy and beer. Now he was suddenly the first fighter of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight crown, having vanquished Joshua and his god-like physique.

Enjoying the spoils of victory, Ruiz packed on 15 pounds after winning the title and was ill-prepared for a rematch against Joshua in Dec. 2019. He lost the title belts in a one-sided bout that took place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.

“I don’t want to say that [months] of partying and celebrating affected me,” Ruiz said. “But it kind of did.”

Ruiz said his weight ballooned to over 300 pounds around the time the sports world was shutting down last year.

“After Saudi Arabia, I was depressed. I was kind of mad at myself because I didn’t do the right things that I was supposed to do,” Ruiz said. “One day I woke up crying, telling myself, ‘Man, this is not me. I shouldn’t be doing this.’ I need to make a change in my life.”

Ruiz says he “hit the reset button” and vowed to hit the gym as hard as he once hit the buffet table. Now after a 17-month hiatus, a slimmed down Ruiz is set to return to action on Saturday, May 1 in a pay-per-view event against Chris Arreola.

“When the pandemic hit, I was 310 pounds. Right now I’m at 255 pounds,” Ruiz said during an interview with the Journal in mid-April. “I’m not where I want to be at but I’m better than where I was at.”

To get into the best fighting shape of his life, Ruiz messaged super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez and asked the star boxer if he could join Alvarez’s training camp in San Diego. “[Alvarez] was getting ready for a fight. He and [trainer Eddy Reynoso] opened the doors for me and we just started training,” Ruiz said.

The 31-year-old Ruiz has heard the taunts about his weight since he first began his boxing career at the age of 7.

“At one point, I was a little sensitive about it. I was always this big, big kid,” Ruiz said. “My first amateur fight, there was no kid at my weight at that age so I always had to fight older guys.”

Ruiz said he would often try to deflect the attention on his body shape by joking about it, calling himself “the little fat kid.”

Ruiz acknowledged that the insults “would sometimes [get] me down” but he used it as “motivation” when he beat Joshua in a seventh-round technical knockout at New York’s Madison Square Garden in June 2019.

The 6-foot-2 Ruiz weighed in at 268 pounds for the first Joshua fight but tipped the scales at 283 pounds for the Dec. 2019 rematch. By comparison, the finely-sculpted 6-foot-6 Joshua was 237 pounds for the second fight, 10 pounds lighter than the first bout.

Ruiz said he felt sluggish during the rematch, which Joshua easily won in a unanimous decision.

“It was the weight. It was the way we were training. I didn’t have that much confidence to throw a lot of punches,” Ruiz said. “I was being pulled over here, over there. I wasn’t really thinking about the rematch. I was living in the moment at that time.”

During an interview with the Journal in 2019, Joshua talked about the discipline it took to be a world champion and how he avoided empty calories in his diet. “On the plane, they always have these lovely scones. I was going to order one but I went ‘No.’ I shouldn’t do it. I got fruit instead,” said Joshua.

Now, it’s Ruiz who is counting calories. It hasn’t been easy.

“Instead of having a cheat meal, I would have a cheat day,” he said. “All of the hard work I would do the entire week, I would destroy in one day. One day, I would eat so much stuff thinking it’s my one day that I could do whatever I want, I could eat whatever I want. Now, we have to look at the calories that we eat.”

Ruiz’s weakness is something that anyone with a sweet tooth can relate to.

“Sweets. Candies. Pastries. Cupcakes. Snickers. Sodas. The list goes on,” said Ruiz.

Ruiz said he is hungry to prove that he isn’t a one-hit wonder and brushed aside concerns that he has lost some of his punching power due to his weight loss.

“We’re turning that fat into muscle. Before, I wouldn’t do weights. I wouldn’t do weightlifting. I wouldn’t work out my legs, nothing like that. It’s actually given me more ability to be faster, to move around. To bob and weave.”

Andy Ruiz says he has lost 55 pounds during training.

“I talked with Andy and his entire team and they gave us the confidence that Andy would work hard,” Reynoso said. “The most important thing for Andy is the discipline and his mentality.”

While Ruiz has been busy losing weight, his heavyweight rivals have largely moved on. Joshua, holder of the WBA, WBO and IBF belts has an agreement in place to fight WBC champion Tyson Fury in a mega-bout this summer. Ruiz said he’d welcome the chance to reclaim the titles he lost but his focus for now is on the upcoming bout against Arreola.

“Maybe there was a good reason that I lost [the belts]. What if I had won against Anthony Joshua being chubby and fat and almost 300 pounds? I would have been thinking ‘Man, I can win all the other fights like this.’ Now I see things a lot clearer,” Ruiz said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *