WBA names Ruíz "Latino fighter of the Year" (2001).
John Ruíz was born in 1972 in Methuen, Mass, where he lived for seven months before his parents decided to move back to their native Puerto Rico. Seven years later, Johnny’s parents divorced and mom moved back to Chelsea, which happens to have a very high Hispanic population, with her four children. Growing up, there was no English spoken at home and to this day his mother still does not speak English.
Ruíz’s childhood story is not uncommon. He endured a life of little money, little glamour and little hope. He was no different than other impoverished youngsters who roamed crime-infested streets every day and every night, waiting for a ticket out. “I want my kids to have it better than I did. They’re the only reason I’m involved with this sport,” he says.
Ruiz started boxing at the age of seven when his stepfather took him into a local gym in Massachusetts.
As a twenty-year-old, Ruiz went into the 1992 Olympic pre-qualifier ranked as the No. 1 light heavyweight in the United States and No. 6 in the world. Norman Stone, Ruiz's manager and long-time friend, dropped Johnny off and returned a couple of days later. He asked a group of fighters, including Oscar De La Hoya if anyone had seen John Ruiz. Their reply at first was “Who?” Then “Oh, the quiet guy. Yes, he’s over there.” The Quietman was born.
Ruíz turned professional in mid-1992. He amassed three knockouts before the year was out. After winning a decision in his pro debut on Aug. 20 against Kevin Parker in Atlantic City, N.J., Ruíz stopped nine of his next 12 opponents inside of two rounds--an impressive accomplishment even for the most awe-inspiring fighter.
Ruíz's first 14 fights, however, were all fought in the friendly confines of the Northeast. When Ruíz fought for the first time away from home, in Bay St. Louis, Miss., he suffered a hotly contested 10-round split-decision loss to Sergei Kobozev on Aug. 12, 1993. Throughout the night, Ruíz proved to be the better boxer but was hampered by a career-threatening broken hand that forced him to fight with one hand. Kobozev forced him into a brawl, and it resulted in the first blemish on Ruíz's previously perfect record.
Ruíz won his next four fights before facing Olympian Danell Nicholson, where he lost another 10-round split decision. On Aug. 4, 1994, Ruíz had been effective in the early rounds before he faded late to lose the fight by one round.
The former stable-mate of Lennox Lewis rebounded quickly from his second professional loss and won his next seven fights, six by way of knockout, all in the early rounds. Then came the greatest challenge for Ruíz in his career: A date with David Tua on March 15, 1996.
Even in the face one of the most feared young heavyweights around, many observers favored Ruíz to outbox Tua and win the fight. Tua, however, hurt Ruíz badly with the very first punch he threw, and Ruíz never recovered.
Once again, faced with adversity, Ruíz rebounded like a champion and knocked out his next four opponents to earn a North American Boxing Federation title fight with tough-punching Jimmy Thunder on Jan. 14, 1997. Although Thunder had the edge in power punches, Ruíz outboxed and outworked the champion throughout the bout to win his first championship--a 12-round decision.
In his first title defense, Ruíz overwhelmed heralded Ray Anis. The newly crowned champion attacked at the opening bell and clobbered Anis with a right uppercut. Although Anis staggered wearily to his feet by the count of nine, the referee immediately waved-off the bout just 22 seconds into the fight.
Ruíz fought Tony "TNT" Tucker for his first bout of 1998 in Tampa Fla. Tucker is the only man to last 12 rounds against Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. Ruíz controlled the bout from the outset, knocking Tucker down twice in the first round. He kept Tucker at bay by hammering at the former world champion's body and hurting him with blows to the head. Tucker barely made it out of the 10th round, staggering back to his corner. As the 11th round began, it was all Ruíz. He pounded Tucker into the ropes, forcing the referee to stop the bout at :57 seconds in the round.
After defending his NABF crown for the second time with the stoppage of Tucker, Ruíz set his sights on the vacant WBA North American heavyweight title. Fighting on the undercard of the Evander Holyfield-Vaughn Bean world-heavyweight-title fight on Sept. 19, 1998, Ruíz claimed the vacant championship when he stopped Jerry Ballard with a solid combination at 2:17 of the fourth round. Ballard managed to rise from the canvas at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., but he was unable to continue.
Fighting before millions of television viewers, Ruíz rolled on in his next bout on March 13, 1999. the newly crowned WBA North American champion successfully defended his crown when he scored a fourth-round knockout of Chicago's Mario Cawley in New York's famed Madison Square Garden.
Returning to his hometown for the first time since capturing the title, Ruíz made it two successive defenses when he dominated and then stopped the Dominican's Fernely Feliz in the seventh round on June 12, 1999. Ruíz took control of the bout in the third when he pounded Feliz with crisp combinations that opened up cuts under his eyes. The referee ended up stopping the contest at the end of the seventh round on the advice of Feliz's corner.
Maintaining his No. 1-WBC-contender status, Ruíz continued to improve his reputation in his next outing against Thomas "Top Dawg" Williams, from Washington, D.C., on Dec. 11, 1999, in Mississippi. Williams brought a respectable 24-6 mark, as well as an eight-fight winning streak, into his bout with Ruíz.
Unprecedented quickness and power from Ruíz greeted the Top Dawg, and the fight seemed to be over before it got started. Ruíz landed a brutal barrage of combinations in the first round that left Williams sprawled on the canvas, unable to recover. The fight was over after just 50 seconds.
"I just want my due," Ruíz said after the victory. "I will fight whoever I have to in order to get my world-title shot. I want to become the first Latin heavyweight world champion."
Ruíz had earned a world-title shot, and it came against the legendary champion Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield on Aug. 12, 2000, in a sold-out ballroom with over 9,000 fans at Paris Las Vegas Casino Hotel. Excepting his fans from Boston and Puerto Rico, few gave Ruíz much of a chance of prevailing for the WBA heavyweight title against the famous Holyfield.
Ruíz came out on the offensive, and he continued to bring the fight to Holyfield throughout the match It ended up being a 12-round toe-to-toe brawl, but Ruíz lost a unanimous, but razor-thin, decision. Two judges scored the bout 114-113, and the third had it 116-112. Many people felt Ruíz had won the fight.
"I was definitely robbed," a defiant Ruíz proclaimed after the fight. "I had control of the fight. Holyfield threw everything at me, including elbows and heads."
He got a chance to avenge the loss after the WBA ordered a direct rematch due to the controversy surrounding the first bout. Don King dubbed the match Holyfield vs. Ruíz 2: The Last Word and scheduled the fight for March 3 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
A more poised and confident Ruíz entered the ring for the rematch, and he was not influenced by Holyfield's attempts to intimidate him from the opening bell. Like the first match, it was a brawl for most of the fight.
Ruíz developed a welt below his left eye in round two and had his forehead was sliced by head-butt from Holyfield in the fourth round, but Ruíz managed to keep his composure while his corner tended to the bleeding.
It was a seesaw battle into round 10 when Holyfield dropped Ruíz with a low blow that led to a point deduction form referee Joe Cortez while Ruíz writhed in pain on the canvass. After taking three of the five minutes to recover, Ruíz returned to the battle.
Ruíz then landed a stunning right cross in round 11 that sent the legendary Holyfield crumbling to the mat for only the second time in his career (Riddick Bowe is the only other fighter to knock Holyfield down). Holyfield wobbled to his feet and literally held onto Ruíz for the remainder of the round to survive.
When the scorecards were tabulated after the fight, it was Johnny Ruíz who emerged as the new WBA champ by a unanimous decision of 116-110,115-111, and 114-111 becoming the first Latino Heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Nothing, however, could have prepared the soft-spoken Ruíz, for the attention he was given in the weeks following his victory. He was besieged by the media upon his return to Boston's Logan Airport, and thousands of fans waited at night in cold weather to greet him when he arrived on the steps of city hall in his hometown of Chelsea, Mass.
Shortly thereafter, United States President George W. Bush invited Ruíz to the White House to congratulate him on his victory.
But the biggest celebration was yet to come. On March 22 Ruíz landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Don King's private plane, to receive a hero's welcome. Ruíz's mother, Gladys Martinez, lives in the town of Sabana Grande in Puerto Rico. Ruíz was born and raised in Massachusetts, but lived in Sabana Grande while he was a youngster and considers himself Puerto Rican.
Ruíz has always identified with his Puerto Rican heritage, and thousands of his fans in Puerto Rico came to welcome him "home". Hundreds of members of the media greeted him at the airport to report on Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon's presentation of a gold medal of honor to Ruíz on becoming the first Latino world-heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Present and former Puerto Rican world champions like Felix "Tito" Trinidad, John John Molina, Orlando Fernandez, Alfredo Escalera and Alex "El Nene" Sanchez also came to congratulate Ruíz and pose for pictures.
Ruíz then traveled along a parade route through the city of San Juan where People lined the streets to welcome the new champion, who stood through his limousine's sun roof to wave to the islanders. The procession then traveled to a highway that would take him home to Sabana Grande. Normally a two-hour drive, it took nine hours to reach his former home as thousands of fans lined the highway to catch a glimpse of Ruíz. Fans in the larger towns of Ponce and Yauco crowded the roadway, bringing the motorcade to a crawl.
At 10 p.m., Ruíz arrived at a park in Sabana Grande where he was mobbed by 15,000 to 20,000 fans that had assembled in a park, patiently awaiting his arrival. it was obvious that the relatively anonymous life John Ruíz led prior to winning the world-heavyweight title was gone.
All this excitement hasn't off-tracked Ruíz. He's aware that there's plenty more that needs to be accomplished, “It’s been an incredible ride so far, but it’s not over yet,” Ruíz said. “I still got plenty more to do.” One of Ruiz's goals is to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world -- a feat he must go through Lennox Lewis to accomplish.
On March 1, 2003, Ruiz made an attempt to defend his WBA title for the third straight time against undisputed light heavyweight champion and pound-for-pound king, Roy Jones Jr.
Jones, who was outweighed by 33 pounds, fought a smart fight, out-boxing the bigger man, Ruiz from the outside and occasionally getting inside to land quick combinations. Jones went on to win a decisive 12 round unanimous decision to win the WBA heavyweight title.
Ruiz returned to his roots and trained in the Boston area for his WBA Interim heavyweight title fight (Dec. 13, 2003) against former world champion Hasim “The Rock” Rahman (35-5-1, 29 KOs) in Atlantic City. Despite being a 2-1 underdog, “The Quietman” upset Rahman by unanimous decision in their 12-round match.
Jones, who was the WBA heavyweight champion at the time, decided to relinquish his title to fight in the light-heavyweight division.
John Ruíz has two children, John Jr. and Jocelyn and now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ruíz is managed by Norman "Stoney" Stone and trained by Gabe LaMarca.
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