Heavyweight prospect Andy Ruiz has just wrapped up a photo shoot for his promoter, Top Rank. He is not the quintessential photogenic athlete, by any stretch, nor is he pretending to be. He is a heavyset 23 year old who always seems to be smiling. It appears to be as much of a struggle for him to gnash his teeth and scowl for a promo shot as it is for him to flex and hide his fleshy midsection.
Ruiz plays around with the cameraman and protrudes his belly for a few quick snaps that will surely find their way into the Recycle Bin shortly after they’re uploaded.
“Give me six more months. My body will be formed better, and I’ll be modelling underwear,” jokes Ruiz.
Except he’s not kidding entirely. Prior to becoming a professional boxer, Ruiz at one point tipped the scales at 324 pounds. When he enters the ring on Saturday night against Matthew Greer on the undercard of the Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov HBO telecast, he expects to enter the ring at 248 pounds, eight pounds lighter than he was the last time he fought in December.
Still, without a physique like Bradley’s, it hasn’t always been easy for Ruiz to get respect. The assumption immediately is that he mustn’t spend much time in the gym or take his craft seriously.
“When I was growing up, I was always a big kid,” explained Ruiz. “Everybody undestimates me. They think I’m chubby, I’m gonna be slow, I’m not conditioned to go all the way. But no, actually I train pretty hard. I know my body’s been lacking, but I’ve put it in the gym. I train hard.”
According to Ruiz, the difficulties mainly came in the kitchen, where he was admittedly clueless when it came to healthy food choices. For the most part, it never mattered, as he won the Mexican National Championships as an amateur, and has breezed through 17 wins as a pro. With the big steps up looming though, Ruiz has enlisted the help of a nutritionist, who has prepared a meal plan for him consisting of plenty of plant-based meals.
“Now I’m eating a lot of vegetables and I’ve been training a little bit more, and eating what an athlete is supposed to eat. I’m feeling better, looking better and I’ll perform better,” said Ruiz (17-0, 11 knockouts). “I’d want to be at 240, not too much muscle, but fit and a nice cut. Slowly but surely I will get there.”
It’s that “everyman” quality that makes Ruiz endearing. On top of fighting the same battle that has made the diet industry unfathomably lucrative, and doing so good-naturedly, the youngster is a publicist’s dream – polite, well-spoken and bilingual.
“He’s not a Chris Arreola, ‘motherf___er this, motherf___er that’ type. He’s a very personable kid. I think once people get to know him, they’ll fall in love with him,” said Jeff Grmoja, Ruiz’s chief trainer.
Those who see more than just those glamour shots do tend to fall in love with him. In a heavyweight landscape filled mostly with towering outside fighters, Ruiz is somewhat of an outlier. At a modest 6-foot-2, Ruiz is forced to fight at close range to outwork opponents, and has a pair of surprisingly fast hands to help him when he’s there.
At a young age, Ruiz’s father Andy Sr. noticed he was rather quick with his fists, and began drilling his son on the focus pads starting at the age of six.
“Obviously at his height we can’t be at a distance exchanging jabs. It’s a tough style, it’s a demanding style because you have to be in really good shape to move your head like this and have this kind of punch output. But it’s one that realistically is best suited for him,” said Grmoja, who has enlisted the help of fellow banger Friday Ahunanya as lead sparring partner this camp, in order to keep Ruiz’s workrate high.
Ruiz has also sparred with notables such as Hasim Rahman, Bowie Tupou, and one of his childhood heroes, Evander Holyfield.
“He gave me a lot of props. He underestimated me too as well. He didn’t think I was gonna come out with the speed and the good movement,” recalls Ruiz of the sessions with ‘The Real Deal.’
In his last two “real” affairs, the Mexicali native made quick work of Maurenzo Smith and Elijah McCall (son of former heavyweight titleholder Oliver McCall), both perceived to be reasonable steps up for him. But eventually, he will have to become more than just a pleasant surprise, or “fast for a fat guy,” as he’s been described by internet commenters.
“What everyone forgets is we have an 17-0 kid that just turned 23 years old. He’s a baby. So my goal is to try to get him the right fights. If it’s a two-year, three-year or four-year project, we’ll still have a guy who’s 26-27 years old,” said Grmoja.
And hey, maybe we’ll have a new Jockey model as well.
Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank, Harry How-Getty Images
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman