“Everyone knows that the heavyweight division is wide open and I know that I can clean it up a little bit.”—John “The Quiet Man” Ruiz
On March 13th, 1996, on an HBO World Championship Boxing event took place pitting the young and promising heavyweights against each other. John Ruiz faced off against David Tua and in just 19 seconds, it was over. The man known as “The Quiet Man” was silenced and was then written off by the majority of boxing fans and the media. Most fighters that suffer a knockout defeat of this sort never recover, but Ruiz did, winning the world title twice and defeating some of the more notable names along the way.
That defeat was a turning point for a fighter that would typically start off slow in the ring. He tightened up his defense, tucked in his chin, and forged ahead, beating former World Heavyweight Champion, Tony Tucker, and then would beat the legendary Evander Holyfield for the WBA Title. Standing on top of the heavyweight world didn’t change the public’s perception of Ruiz. At the time, Lennox Lewis was the recognized champion and didn’t see Ruiz as a suitable opponent despite his ranking. The Quiet Man would have to fight to gain respect and it seems like an impossible quest. Many just cannot remove the image of Tua landing that left hook in 1996 and will not give credit where it is due.
The men that Ruiz has fought is impressive: Kirk Johnson, Andrew Golota, Hasim Rahman, Evander Holyfield (3 times), Fres Oquendo, James Toney, Roy Jones, JR., Nikolay Valuev, and the current WBA Champion, Ruslan Chagaev. He holds wins over Johnson, Golota, Rahman, Holyfield, and Oquendo, and his two losses recently to Valuev and Chagaev were debatable. Ruiz remains a player in the division and may just be the best American heavyweight at this point.
In his WBA Title defense with Golota, we saw the best of Ruiz, as he got off the canvas twice to rally back to win, but the story of the night was the idiotic trainer of Ruiz, Norman Stone. Stone has not helped the career of “The Quiet Man” and in the Golota fight actually got himself ejected from the ring for cursing out the referee. He caused a ruckus by grabbing the title belt off of Valuev’s shoulder after he got the decision over Ruiz and paraded around the ring with it. Stone put himself into situations that he didn’t belong, acted like he was the star and the attraction, and hurt the career of a good fighter. I think that much of the bad press concerning Ruiz stems from the dislike that most have for Stone.
John “The Quiet Man” Ruiz, 41-7-1, 28 KO’s, is a 2-Time Heavyweight Champion and has established himself as a true champion by fighting whomever they put in front of him and even though some of his fights may not be pretty, he has never backed down and treats boxing like a competitive sport, rather than a business like so many do today. He has rebounded from a defeat to find much more success than the man that held his hand up in victory on that March night in 1996, and has done everything within his power to show that he was and is worthy of holding the heavyweight title.
RSR had the chance to speak to Ruiz to discuss the media’s affect on his career, the relationship between he and former Trainer, Norman Stone, and his thoughts about the current state of the heavyweight division.
GM: You began your career as a promising contender and the first exposure that you got to the boxing world on a large scale was the loss to David Tua. People still talk about that fight after your career has completely rebounded and you have accomplished much more than Tua has in his career. Does it bother you that people focus on that one fight?
Well it just seems that the people that do mention it have determined that I have never gotten over that hump, and have determined that I haven’t accomplished anything else, focusing just on that loss. I feel that it is something that they don’t want to look past it.
GM: Was there ever any consideration for a rematch?
Actually we asked many a time for rematch but they just wouldn’t have it.
GM: Is there any satisfaction on your part that your career has flourished, capturing the title twice, while David Tua’s career sort of fizzled and he never lived up to the hype that he once had surrounding him? Does it make you think that you would have beaten him in a rematch because you improved and your career flourished as he declined and did not?
The way that I saw it was that it was an awakening call for myself. At the time of the Tua loss, I was a very slow starter and I got better each and every round, but since that situation, I came out ready to fight from round one on. Just those things happen in boxing and they happen for a reason and I can almost say that I can be thankful it happened but can also look back and regret that it happened, but it really did help my career flourish.
GM: You had some very good wins after the defeat to Tua, including a knockout win over former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Tony Tucker. How important was that win and how much did it mean to you to stop a man that Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson could not?
It was very important, especially for my career. Everyone at the time said he was a wash up, but he came to fight. He knew that this was his second time around where he could beat me and move on to bigger and better things. I managed to come up with that win and next to my Holyfield loss, I see that as the toughest fight that I ever had.
GM: Now, you seem to be underrated, which makes it easy from another fighter’s standpoint to avoid you. There is no public demand. Lennox Lewis opted not to fight just for that reason. Does it bother you that you never had the opportunity to match and perhaps beat the man that everyone considered the best heavyweight and the true champion?
Oh definitely. I was in with their camp at one point in my career. I was being managed by the same people and we had some sparring, when he was going to face Oliver McCall, for that training camp. I only sparred with him once and that was it. I just felt like that I would have shown a lot more to the public and to the sport itself if I would have gotten the opportunity to fight him.
It seemed that they were so determined to put me down each time. It seemed like I never got the opportunity to get out of the tag that the put on me. It was very disappointing for me not to get that fight because I think that I would have won and it would have been a big money fight for me as well.
GM: Was there something in that sparring session that you think made Lewis say that I don’t want to fight this guy…he’s difficult…I’m going after easier prey?
I think so. His team did and so on. If I were in his shoes, I would do the same thing. If I’m getting ten million dollars to fight anybody, why take a hard fight?
GM: You went on to get a shot at a title against Evander Holyfield and in the first fight most felt that you were absolutely robbed. How much did it anger you that were robbed like that and did you think that it was inevitable considering that you were brought in basically as the other guy?
He did have the name and I felt like I was just a guy that they picked out of the crowd and brought into the ring. I knew that if it came to a decision that I wasn’t going to come close to getting it. It was a tough fight and I thought that I had fought every round because I knew that I was not going to get the decision if I had left it close. As you have seen, I came up short.
GM: In the rematch, you would win the WBA Heavyweight Title and actually knock Evander down along the way. Was there the urgency to stop him because of concern of another crooked decision?
There was a concern about the judges. Like I say, many thought of me as a one time fluke. He looked good the first time around, but this time, Evander is going to knock him out and clear the air. I had something to prove and I felt that the first time was not a fluke and I’m going to show them the second time around. Knocking him out…it really wasn’t a thing in my mind. I knew that he was a tough guy and he came to fight and there is no way that you can plan to knock this guy out. Like you said, very few people have done it. My plan was to go out there and fight and hope that this time around that they see…that the judges will see that I won the fight.
GM: Evander is considered by many as a dirty fighter, using his head as a battering ram to stop opponents as he did with Hasim Rahman in their encounter. He hit you with a hard low blow in the second fight and head butted Mike Tyson during their two fights. After 36 rounds with him, do you consider him a dirty fighter?
The way that I describe Holyfield is an opportunist. I can only admire him because he does things to go out there and win the fight. How can you knock that down? He has the heart of a lion, basically. If he sees things aren’t going his way, he will throw an elbow or hit you with a head butt. Even though it is dirty fighting, you have to look at it that he is coming to win and that is what I admire about him. When he comes to fight, he comes to win, no matter which way.
GM: You faced Roy Jones, JR., in a very interesting match with the Pound for Pound King moving up to the heavyweight division and taking on you for your WBA Heavyweight Title. After the fight there was much criticism from your camp against Jay Nady, the referee. What do you remember of that fight and what was wrong with Jay Nady’s officiating?
With that fight…for myself, I wasn’t mentally there. I was going through a divorce a the time. As far as the referee…I noticed from the first round when I really wanted to get in there and fight it out because as a bigger guy against a smaller guy, the best thing to do is to get in there and wear him out, but the referee would not even allow me to get close to him. Every time that I stepped close, he would break us up. At least some referees would let you fight it out or do something. That was the big thing with the referee. I honestly felt that inside that they were going to take this fight away from me and I wasn’t even there mentally before the bell rang for the first round. I think that this was the first time that I had given up on myself in a way.
GM: Do you think that the influence of Roy Jones, JR., and the boxing business was enough to push the referee in that way, considering that the marquee name was Roy and if he had the title, theoretically, everyone would make more money?
With my divorce in my head and, of course, the Roy name is a bigger name than John Ruiz and referees are going to get a lot more fights with a person that has that name. I’m really hoping that that was not the case, but sometimes you have to look at it for what it is.
GM: You came back to win your title back against Hasim Rahman. Does it bother you that you are always picked to lose and always come in as the underdog as you were with Rahman and Kirk Johnson earlier on, and of course Holyfield, in your career?
I’m just a working guy. I just go out there and work and for them to give me that acknowledgment that I can actually beat these guys is a hardship for them in a way. It is so tough for them to say that John could beat this guy or would beat this guy, but they are stuck in a frame of mind that I am just a…the word that comes to mind is a loser and that I can’t do or accomplish anything and that is the way that it is going to stay. They can’t see the fact that I have accomplished a lot of things.
GM: Norman Stone, he was your trainer for quite a while and he has made a name for himself that isn’t a very good one. Do you resent the fact that Stone turned many of your fights into circus acts and took the attention away from you, the fighter, and creating a scene when it wasn’t necessary?
We had some talks with Norman a couple times and it is not that I was worried about him taking the attention away. It was more that he was pushing important people and people that matter in this boxing world…the reporters, the judges, the referees…everyone that is important to building yourself up in this sport, he was pushing them away and making us the enemy and that is the one thing that I always thought that he was doing to the team instead of just reaching over and just talking to people, he would just criticize them.
GM: In your title defense against Andrew Golota, you got off the canvas twice, and it was one of your better performances where you showed your grit and your heart, and every time that I speak to anyone, they talk about Norman Stone’s altercation with the referee and not your come from behind victory. Now, did the ejection of Stone create more tension for you in the ring that night and did it bother you that the news coverage seemed to speak only of the ejection of Stone rather than the fight itself?
That’s the thing with Stonie. He’s, I hate to say it, got this ego issue where he has to be in the forefront of everything and it really showed in that Golota fight where he was more interested in his name than in the team’s name and I felt that if something happened…let’s say I got cut after he got ejected, then basically I could have lost for that reason alone. When he left, he took all the cut stuff with him, instead of leaving it behind. For me, it was a turning point for myself and him. I let him know that the circus act was over and he saw it as me threatening his exposure and I was like OK, and I couldn’t deal with that. It has always been a team effort and for him to think that it was just his effort, it didn’t make any sense to me.
GM: Don King probably gets the most negative press out of any promoter that has worked in the game. I don’t think that it can be argued that he has treated certain fighters unfairly as proven by several successful lawsuits against him. In your opinion, what are the pros and the cons for working with Don King?
Well, working with Don King…they say that working with any promoter…that they will rob you no matter what. You can go with any other promoter and make thousands and they will steal thousands, or you can go with Don King where he’ll make you millions and steal thousands. With Don King, it’s a person that he’s never in one person’s corner. He needs to be in his fighter’s corner and his opponent’s corner. He plays with win-win game and there is nothing wrong with playing the win-win game because as the end of the night, you end up winning.
You can never feel secure with Don King. He’s the type of guy that will promise you the world but stab you in the back as soon as he gets the opportunity. For me, I had a good experience with him and we never got to that point where we were arguing with him. Right now we are having a little discussion with him because he hasn’t lived up to his contract obligations and I have my lawyer that always stays on his toes with Don King and you have to have a good lawyer to be with Don King.
GM: During your time with King, did you ever have any options on fights? Did he say that you could fight fighter A, fighter B, fighter C, or did he say this is the guy that we are fighting.
Actually, we had the decision on which guy we fought. Don King, if he had a fighter and he always likes ending up holding both ends of the game and if I were to fight somebody, he’d want it to me to fight the person that Carl King owns or that he owns. At the end of the night, he’d go out with the winner.
GM: You faced James Toney and during that broadcast, the HBO commentators were basically saying that he could save the division by eliminating you as a title holder. After the bout was called in his favor, you stormed out of the ring. Were you more upset at the decision or the fact that the media seemingly didn’t want you to have the title to begin with?
I was more upset that they were willing to push me aside…it’s very tough for me to talk about. To be honest, I am upset with the media…not all the media, but the ones that are determined to push me out of the sport when I have done nothing but try to build it up in a way. There are some fights that can be considered terrible. But who doesn’t have those fights? Every fighter has those fights, and what bothers me the most is that they are willing to stick with my bad fights instead of my good fights and push me out of this sport.
GM: You make a valid point. You hardly hear of Wladimir Klitschko’s win over Sam Peter that was not a good performance. He got the win, but he held a lot and didn’t really show that he is the man to rule the world and same too with his win over DaVarryl Williamson, but they sort of gloss over those fights because he is the golden boy…
Yes, they are willing to forgive and forget with some fighters like Hasim Rahman who is still considered a top heavyweight for some reason. They have their own terrible fights but they are willing to forgive and forget, but for myself, they would never do that and I wonder why they won’t ever do that.
GM: James Toney tested positive for steroids again. Were there any rumors prior to your encounter that he was on this stuff and could you tell when you were in the ring with him that something just wasn’t right?
There were some rumors that he was doing this stuff. I was hitting him with clean shots and he would not budge…he just took them and kept fighting and maybe I thought he was on something. For me, that night, I thought he came to fight, and then suddenly I found out that he was on steroids. It took a lot out of my career that they gave him the decision because had I gotten the decision, I would have moved on to bigger and better things. Instead, it took away a lot more than they thought they did.
GM: Your last two fights have both been in Germany, both defeats to Nicolay Valuev and Ruslan Chagaev. Germany has a negative reputation when it comes to American fighters. So, let’s begin with this question: did you win those two fights?
I won the first one with Valuev hands down…no decision about it. The second one was tougher, but I definitely knew that I won it.
GM: Why did you risk your title in Germany when it has such a negative reputation?
I’m at a point where I feel like the USA boxing has turned their back on me and I had no other choice but to go overseas and fight to make some money. It is very discouraging when your country don’t want you and you have to go to another country and fight and that is how I felt with those two fights. I don’t know what else to do. I put on two great fights over there in Germany and came up short again with the referee and the judges and now I’m looking for another fight now. Everyone knows that the heavyweight division is wide open and I know that I can clean it up a little bit.
GM: Have there been any opponents named for your comeback fight?
That’s the weird part. You see Rahman getting an opportunity. Doesn’t make any sense to me that they would take these fights with guys that they can beat instead of fighting somebody that would actually have a chance to beat them?
GM: Which of the current champions would you want right now and do you think that it will be an uphill battle for you to get your opportunity because of your difficult style and the fact that they can say that this guy has two losses in a row and he’s not worthy of a shot?
That’s the whole thing. This is killing me right now. These two losses in a row that they managed to take away from me. It seems that every time that I try to build myself up, they find a way to pull me back down. I am the type of guy that didn’t come up the easy way. I fought the tougher guys out there and I will always fight the toughest guys out there because that is what boxing is. You fight the best guys out there and you prove to the world that you are the best. Maybe that frame of mind isn’t alive anymore because you have guys that fight nobodies until they fight for the championship and then if they win, they won’t fight anybody else. I either have to change my state of mind or move on with my life and forget about boxing.
GM: You and Chris Byrd were both champions at the same time and under the same promotion and neither of you seemed to duck anyone. Why wasn’t there ever a unification bout?
It was because of the bad publicity for myself and Byrd. We never had the great publicity behind us in a way, stating that we were good fighters and such. I think that is why it never happened because many thought that we couldn’t fight or put on a show.
GM: Wladimir Klitschko is taking on Lamon Brewster. Who do you pick and what advice would you give Brewster, the American going over to Germany.
Well, he’s been over there before, and you can’t tell him to just go out there and fight every round and you’re going to get the decision. You have to go out there and knock this guy out and they’ll have no choice but to raise your hand.
GM: Do you have anything to say to your fans in closing?
I just want to thank them for standing by me because it has been very hard because of all the criticism I get. It is hard to stand by somebody who is getting criticized each and every day. I just want to thank them for that and hopefully I will get the chance to be in the ring again as the newer John Ruiz. The reason that me and Stonie parted ways…well, another reason, is that I brought in another trainer to train with me for the Valuev fight. Actually, Stonie wasn’t my trainer. My trainer had retired after a conflict with Stonie and he sort of assumed the duties of the trainer, but at the same time, he is not a trainer. So, I brought in somebody to train me and I thought that with Valuev, I had one of my easiest fights and I knew that I needed somebody to train me that knows the sport and has been in the sport and Stonie didn’t agree with me. He felt that I was threatening his spot in a way.