The once-beaten heavyweight from the U.S.-Mexico border town of Imperial, east of San Diego, could become the first fighter of Mexican descent to be crowned world heavyweight champion when he meets unbeaten unified titlist Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 knockouts), 29 from London, on Saturday night [June 1] at Madison Square Garden.
Ruiz (32-1, 21 KOs) knows that a shocking win on Saturday would be significant to more people than just him.
“It means a lot, especially knowing I’ve worked from six-years-old to get to where I’m at now,” Mexican national amateur champion Ruiz said. “But it won’t mean something only to me.
“The hard-working Mexican tries to get up here looking for opportunities because America’s one of the greatest countries in the world. For me, I’m an American and I’m a Mexican. I live here. And it hurts me the way a lot of people talk about Mexicans when I know we’re all about hard work and dedication.
“Each Mexican has his own dream, and I’ve come to believe as long as we focus, you can accomplish anything you want. So maybe by winning I can change some minds.”
'Prince' Charles Martin is Ruiz’s Norwalk, California stablemate and a former IBF world heavyweight champion who lost his belt by second-round knockout to Joshua at London’s O2 Arena three years ago this spring. Martin is aware of dismissive attitudes concerning Ruiz and insists they’re completely flawed.
“He’s good, he’s ready - he came right off an (April 20) fight into this camp with no break and he fought a (tall) guy in that (Carson bout) just like Joshua, so he’s got that look in his mind of where the sweet spot’s at,” Martin said of Ruiz. “He has a damn real chance at winning this fight in my opinion.”
Ruiz’s hand speed, defence, power and endurance are all underrated because of his larger, less chiselled frame, and Martin notes that, with Joshua’s questionable stamina, there is a chance to spring a surprise: “Trust me, anything’s possible,” he added.
Ruiz wasn’t even supposed to be here. On the week he disposed of 6-foot-7 Alexander Dimitrenko by stopping him after five rounds in Carson, Ruiz learned that Joshua’s planned opponent, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, had tested positive for steroids, Human Growth Hormone and EPO, scrapping his involvement.
In messaging Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn on Instagram, Ruiz wrote, “Give me this opportunity, Eddie. I can do better than all the other contenders you’ve got lined up for Joshua. I’m better, I just got done fighting. I really want this.”
Hearn reviewed some of Ruiz’s fight footage, including his narrow majority decision loss to Joseph Parker in 2016, and granted his wish.
“He knew I could do better drawing viewers than the others. I’m Mexican,” Ruiz added.
The grip of that nationalistic pride is something Ruiz has long felt, from the time his father would transport him south daily for training sessions in Mexicali, Mexico, willing to endure the 90-minute waits at the border crossing.
On Saturday night in New York, he could make those lengthy journeys all worth it if he can topple the multiple titlist who is looking ahead to becoming an undisputed champ by adding Wilder's WBC crown to his hoard, if ever the negotiations can be made.
Ruiz may have the hope and pride of Mexico hanging on his shoulders, but he has no real expectation to succeed weighing him down, so he has nothing to lost and everything to gain. It's his chance to make history for himself but more so for his people.