When Andy Ruiz Jr. walked out of the ring in Saudi Arabia 18 months ago, he did so knowing he’d lost his heavyweight championship belts because he didn’t give enough of a damn. He spent the six months after he knocked out Anthony Joshua to win the titles eating, drinking and partying, and the results showed when he was drubbed in a fight that was there to be had.
He walked into the ring Saturday at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, for a bout against Chris Arreola as a former champion, but left it as a guy who is clearly very much a contender in a suddenly fascinating heavyweight division.
Ruiz got himself into vastly better shape and he hired the best trainer in the game, Eddy Reynoso. That combination was the difference against a surprisingly effective Arreola and led him to a unanimous decision victory.
Ruiz won by scores that seemed a bit too wide. Judges had it 118-109 twice and 117-110, meaning two judges gave Arreola just one round and the other gave him two. Arreola dropped Ruiz in the second with a thudding short right and had him in trouble at other times throughout the bout.
Yahoo Sports had it 115-112 for Ruiz, who won for the first time since that magical night in New York nearly two years ago when he stopped Joshua in a massive upset to claim the IBF, WBO and WBA heavyweight titles.
“Chris is a veteran and a hard puncher,” Ruiz said. “We did what we had to do tonight. We got the victory that we wanted. I was at my lowest point and now I have to climb the ladder again. I’m thankful for the victory and I’m ready to move onto the next.”
He got what he needed from the 40-year-old Arreola, who didn’t get as much attention as Ruiz for his body transformation but who, as Hall of Famer Jimmy Lennon Jr. likes to say, came in at a “trim-and-ready” 228 pounds and looked every bit like a hungry contender.
Arreola appeared to injure his shoulder and didn’t throw his left as much in the second half of the fight. Against a motivated and well-prepared Ruiz, that was a huge problem.
Trainer Joe Goossen had worked with Arreola on combinations that could take advantage of Ruiz’s tendency to throw wide punches. He first hurt Joshua by throwing a right hand over the top from another county, but against a heavy hitter, it’s always a dangerous tactic.
But Reynoso showed why he’s the master, as he tightened Ruiz’s defense and straightened his punches. He wasn’t leaving the kinds of openings that Arreola expected.
For much of a career that began in 2003, Arreola has been an underachiever, and he’s never won a truly significant fight. But he made a commitment in 2019 to improve and though he lost to Adam Kownacki, he looked vastly better.
He did the same thing Saturday and forced Ruiz to raise his level.
But if he were a bit more aggressive, he might have gone home an early KO winner. He clipped Ruiz with a short right and put the ex-champion down briefly. He was too cautious on the restart and Ruiz survived.
He buzzed Ruiz in the third, but then Ruiz’s defense took over. The two went at it hard and threw a high volume of punches, but Ruiz was able to land the harder blows and connect at a higher percentage.
He served notice he’ll be a factor for Joshua, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Luis Ortiz or any other elite heavyweight he may face.
Fury and Joshua are closing in on a two-fight set, so it makes a lot of sense for Ruiz to face Wilder next. He won’t be able to get caught by Wilder like he did Arreola, but this was his first fight with Reynoso and there figures to be continued improvement.
“He got me with a clean right hand in the second round,” Ruiz said. “I was too overconfident and dropped my hands a bit. Hats off to him. We just kept pushing and pushing. I switched up and started focusing on counterpunching and working the body.”
Arreola hoped for a rematch, but that’s not likely to come. Still, he proved he has something left to offer and there are some good fights out there for him. Joseph Parker, the former WBO champion who defeated Dereck Chisora earlier on Saturday, would be a potentially good opponent for Arreola.
Ruiz is certain to be fighting one of the big names at the top. He’s got a massive fan base and was greeted by the crowd of 3,940 like a conquering hero. He’s got the name recognition, the high ranking and the style to land another massive fight next.
He got out of his own way after a disastrous bout in his rematch with Joshua. He stayed away from the junk food and beer, showed up every day to train and listened to the teachings of the sport’s hottest trainer.
With his power, slick feet and fast hands, that could easily be a winning combination again.
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