I’ve just seen one of the more ludicrous headlines in the build-up to a major fight: “Ruiz Motivated by Muhammad Ali Three-Time World Champion Tag”.
Now there’s hype, and there’s hype. To suggest that John Ruiz, 2-Time WBA Heavyweight Champ, and soon-to-be cannon fodder for the emerging Brit David Haye, has any kind of claim to stand alongside The Greatest, is stretching credulity just too far.
I admire Ruiz much in the same way as I admire the pop singer Madonna – both, through a combination of street-smarts and dogged determination, have made a very tiny amount of talent go an awfully long way.
Of course, both have benefited from a crushing dearth of competing talent in their respective professions, but hey, that’s not their fault.
On Saturday night Ruiz takes his 44-8-1, 30 KO’s, record into a fight with the current WBA Champ Haye and will look to make best use of his 18 years experience in the heavyweight division.
Haye, 23-1, 21 KO’s, has by contrast been punching for pay for just eight years, and the majority of those have been down at cruiserweight. He’s made something of a splash in the current woeful heavyweight pool, simply by virtue of having a dash of charisma about him, and some pretty impressive skills to boot. Haye’s ability to talk himself up and rile the opposition (he’s got both Klitschko’s, the “other” world champions, frothing at the mouth with his antics) have motivated some to draw parallels with the great Ali, who, of course, was boxing’s finest ever publicist.
But such comparisons are demeaning to the great man. Ruiz’s 11 “title” contests have been a pale shadow of the twenty-odd championship matches Ali graced – and Ruiz has lost more than he’s won. Of course, the relative quality of opposition bears no comparison either. Ruiz lost to a 38 year old Evander Holyfield, already well past his best, Roy Jones, JR., a pumped-up middleweight, James Toney, ten years and seventy pounds divorced from his best years, and Ruslan Chagaev, who has since made something of a fool of himself in a frankly pathetic “challenge” for Wladimir Klitschko’s titles.
Ruiz has also lost twice to the giant Nicolay Valuev, who handed his title to David Haye at the end of last year with a performance that confirmed what we’ve always known – he can’t fight!
For Haye’s part, he’s also a long way short of filling Muhammad Ali’s boots. This will be only his fourth fight as a heavyweight, and doubts persist over his stamina and his punch resistance, particularly in the wake of a couple of performances at cruiserweight when he got himself separated from his senses by Carl Thompson and Jean Marc Mormeck. In his second fight at heavyweight he was dropped by Monte Barrett, in between bouncing the American up and down over five eventful rounds.
It’s the “eventful” in David Haye’s makeup that has us all rooting for him. After a generation of soporific heavyweight encounters featuring a stream of eastern European automatons, the fight game is screeching out for some life in its heavyweight division.
It’s perhaps informative that Ruiz might actually be the best American heavyweight out there, after Tony Thompson, Eddie Chambers, Kevin Johnson and Chris Arreola all made a mockery of themselves and their profession in timid and abortive challenges to the Klitschko’s supremacy. At the very least you can count on Ruiz to not shoulder arms, pick up his check, and walk away.
Over here in the UK, the card is being televised by Sky Television on pay-per-view, and everyone connected with the promotion is doing everything they can to sell it as a competitive fight. The Haye-Valuev affair sold itself with the David vs. Goliath tag, and whilst the contest itself failed to live up to its billing, Haye garnered some rave reviews for the way he stuck to a rigid game plan to unseat the hulking Russian.
Now Adam Booth, Haye’s erudite trainer and chief teamster, is claiming that Ruiz presents a bigger obstacle in fistic terms even than Valuev, but few amongst the cognoscenti are buying that. Booth neglects to mention that Ruiz hasn’t won a fight against a meaningful fighter since 2004 (and I include Jameel McCline in that equation).
In his comments about Haye, Ruiz seems to have the Britisher pegged as a mover and tactician, presumably on the evidence of the Valuev performance, but he’d do well to remember that Haye and Booth devised that game plan precisely because it was a departure from his usual mode of fighting, and because he had to come up with something to counter-act a 7 stone weight and 9 inch height discrepancy. Haye’s usual style is to come out bombing with fast, angular punches, and the two men are similarly sized this time so that he’ll feel much more comfortable doing so in this fight.
The PR machine is making a big deal out of the fact that Ruiz hasn’t been knocked out in 15 years, when he was caught cold in the first round by a then undefeated 22 year old David Tua. That record of durability says more about the quality of his opposition since than it does about his chin, but credit where credit’s due – Ruiz has been around a long time, mixed it with some of the best of his era, and deserves a measure of respect for staying on his feet for so long.
For me, that record ends Saturday night. Haye’s a real up-and-comer, and he will have smarted at some of the criticism of his performance in Germany against Valuev, when he sacrificed a crowd-pleasing style to carve out a careful, cerebral win. I expect him to want to put on a show and come out fast, throwing bombs in combination, and have Ruiz out cold within a round or two.
If that happens, perhaps the headline writers will think again. But even if it doesn’t, and somehow Ruiz annexes a third heavyweight crown, I’ll still belly-laugh when on Sunday morning they try to tell me that John Ruiz exists on the same fistic planet as the Louisville Lip.