Andy Ruiz Jr. moves closer to potentially explosive mega-fight vs. Deontay Wilder

Andy Ruiz Jr. punches Luis Ortiz to a unanimous decision win during a WBC world heavyweight title eliminator fight on Sept. 4, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Andy Ruiz Jr. and Luis Ortiz are among the hardest-punching heavyweights in boxing. Combined, they entered Sunday’s crucial bout at Arena in Los Angeles with 50 knockouts in 71 starts.

For the most part on Sunday, though, they went mostly with change-ups and off-speed pitches. But when Ruiz really needed that 100 mph fastball, he reached back and found it.

Both men fought a tactical, nuanced fight and there weren’t a lot of wild exchanges or toe-to-toe slugfests. Ruiz, though, threw a few more heaters than Ortiz and that’s what led him to a unanimous decision victory over the 43-year-old Cuban.

Ruiz scored three knockdowns with his right hand, including two in the second and one in the seventh. The knockdowns turned out to be the difference in the fight. Fernando Villareal had it 113-112 for Ruiz, while both Zachary Young and Edward Hernandez Sr. had it 114-111 for Ruiz, the former unified champion. Yahoo Sports had it 115-110 for Ruiz.

The win kept Ruiz’s hopes for a mega-fight alive. Former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder entered the ring after the bout to accept Ruiz’s post-fight call-out. Wilder has an Oct. 15 bout with Robert Helenius in New York. If he gets past that, as he is favored to do, it will set up a fascinating bout with Ruiz.

Ruiz has never fought anyone remotely close to Wilder in style, who uncorks fastball after fastball and turns a boxing match into a battle of attrition. Wilder isn’t the greatest defensive fighter, but he is one of the hardest punchers the heavyweight division has ever seen and he’s always willing to bet on his power.

Ruiz fought a tactical fight because of the challenges Ortiz presents. Ortiz is a left-hander who has quality boxing skills and above-average power himself. At 43, though, he can’t sustain a pace in which he’s letting his hands go. So he tried to walk a fine line and jab at Ruiz and try to goad him into a mistake.

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Ruiz was having none of that. A younger Ruiz, especially after the two second-round knockdowns, might have abandoned his plan after hearing the roar from the crowd and gone wild going for the knockout.

As fun as that would have been to see, it would have opened him to unnecessary risk. Ortiz is a good counter puncher with one-punch knockout power. Ruiz made a calculated decision, which turned out to be correct, that he could land more right hands than Ortiz could land lefts.

And with time taking just a bit of zip off of Ortiz’s fastball, it was probably a wise though not wildly popular choice.

Ruiz, though, won’t be able to play that kind of game against Wilder, who almost forces everyone he faces into a home-run contest. Wilder doesn’t just swing for the fences, he swings for the upper deck.

That’s the appeal of a potential Wilder-Ruiz fight: Wilder could no question knock Ruiz out, but Ruiz could also knock Wilder out.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 04: Deontay Wilder in the ring after a unanimous decision win by Andy Ruiz Jr. over Luis Ortiz during a WBC world heavyweight title eliminator fight on September 04, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Deontay Wilder in the ring after a unanimous decision win by Andy Ruiz Jr. over Luis Ortiz on Sept. 4, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Ruiz knocked out Anthony Joshua on June 1, 2019, in New York to win the unified title. Wilder had spent years chasing a fight with Joshua with no luck, and eventually gave up and turned his attention to Tyson Fury. That opened the door for Ruiz to step in.

Joshua, too, is a harder hitter, but he doesn’t have the kind of undeniable belief in his power that Wilder does.

If they fight, and remember, Wilder still needs to defeat Helenius for this to even become a possibility, he will give Ruiz almost no option but to stand in the pocket and trade punches.

Ruiz has fast hands which usually surprise opponents, particularly early, because his body is big and not heavily muscled. He’s quicker than he looks, though, and he can get punches to the target faster than many give him credit for, especially in the early going.

But to keep himself in the title picture, Ruiz needed to defeat Ortiz and not take risks. He did what he needed to do in that regard. The fight won’t be a Fight of the Year finalist, but Ruiz had said repeatedly before the fight that he was focused on winning, whether it was by decision or by knockout.

And fighting a smart, controlled fight was the right play against Ortiz. So he remains in the mix of guys who are trying to position themselves as WBC champion Fury and unified champion Oleksandr Usyk move closer to a bout for the undisputed title.

To earn a shot at the Usyk-Fury winner, it’s going to require some notable wins. Ruiz put one in the bank on Sunday and said he wants to be more active and fight three or four times a year in the next few years.

Wilder, too, reiterated that he wants to fight often. One of them could get a crack at Joshua, too, so there are a load of potentially compelling fights.

Ruiz turned boxer for the most part on Sunday, though he showed he had the fastball when he needed it against Ortiz.

If Wilder is in his near future, well, he’s going to need that and a whole lot more than he did on Sunday.