John Ruiz: Why He Doesn’t Have Puerto Rico

14.12.05 - By Anthony D. Perillo: When John Ruiz defended his portion of the heavyweight championship against Roy Jones, Jr. in 2003, I had a group of guys come over to watch the historic David vs. Goliath match. One of my friends, an avid Jones supporter, asked me how conflicted I was about the bout. You see, I share the same hometown of Pensacola, FL with Jones and have supported him throughout his career. At the same time, though, I’m half Puerto Rican and the type of guy who wears his heritage on his sleeve. Truly there’d be a mix of emotions trying to figure out who to root for, right?

“Are you kidding? I hope Roy kicks his ass!” I immediately snapped back.

In my lifetime, Puerto Rican boxing fans have rooted vehemently for guys like Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho, Wilfred Benitez, and now Miguel Cotto. These are fighters Puerto Ricans are proud to call their own, guys who openly appreciate their fans and drape the flag of their land over their shoulders for everyone to see.. Such pride can really touch those who share the same roots. Even when Don King swaps his mini American flags for a “Viva Puerto Rico!” chant, no amount of hidden insincerity can bring down the rally cry that ensues from Puerto Ricans everywhere.

I cannot speak for all Puerto Rican boxing fans out there. I’m only 50% blooded and have never lived on the island. Nonetheless, from what I have experienced with my community, I can reasonably surmise that the vast majority of Puerto Rican fans do not embrace John Ruiz. Banished to Germany for a non-televised (in the USA) defense of his title this Saturday (facing undefeated, 7’1” Nikolay Valuev), Ruiz has never felt one ounce of the passion Puerto Rican boxing fans give to, say, Kermit Cintron. In fact, many shun Ruiz completely in the same way the rest of the boxing community does, wishing he would step aside to preserve the honor of our precious sport. Here we have a fighter of Puerto Rican descent, a champion in the most glamorous division in boxing, the first Latino to hold a belt over the biggest and strongest fighters around… and not even the most diehard of Puerto Rican boxing supporters can stomach supporting him in the ring.

Many of the reasons Ruiz has failed to win over the people of his own heritage are the same reasons for his low standing with boxing fans in general. Simply put, John Ruiz is a boring, safety-first, undeserving beltholder. In a Ruiz fight, the only time you’d have a high punch count is if Compubox suddenly decided contact with the back during a clinch is a new type of punch. Ruiz has been an embarrassment in losing his title to 2 former middleweights, only to regain the title both times without defeating a beltholder. Many believe he even stooped so low as to exaggerate (or completely fake) many of the low blows that led to Kirk Johnson’s disqualification in 2002. To top it off, he has a terrible nickname, The Quietman, that will never lead to a meaningful battle cry (I still say Ruiz should change his nickname to “The Huggy Bear”).

But as a mother is supposed to love her son unconditionally, through thick and thin, so too are boxing fans supposed to support their man, even if they didn’t choose him at the onset. Puerto Ricans do have a loophole here, however, as Ruiz was born and raised in the states. He may be of Puerto Rican heritage, but in a way, he can be considered Massachusetts’s problem. If this weekend’s Ruiz-Valuev fight were on HBO, Michael Buffer would not be shouting, “de Cupey Alto, Puerto Rico…” Instead, he would nonchalantly state, “from Chelsea, Massachusetts…” which can’t possibly excite anyone 20 miles outside of Chelsea.

This cannot justify the lack of support Ruiz receives from Puerto Ricans raised in the United States, however. There must be something deeper that isolates John Ruiz from a community that lives to show support for its fighters. The issue goes beyond his vanilla persona and not being a native Puerto Rican. As where most of the Ruiz disdain rests, this returns to his style of boxing.

The term “Puerto Rican fighter” doesn’t just stand for a nationality. It symbolizes a style in its own right, and John Ruiz contradicts the very essence of a Puerto Rican fighter.

Recall the celebrated Puerto Rican fighters I named before. Trinidad. Camacho. Benitez. Cotto. Cintron. While all these fighters have their own unique traits, most of them present similar mentalities upon entering the ring. A certain energy resonates through them, and the crowd can feel their controlled intensity. These Puerto Rican fighters have always preferred forward pressure over the backpedal. Their aggression is persistent but contained, a ticking time-bomb effect so to speak. Even when stunned and on their way toward defeat, they swing with one last punch, giving one last effort. They live and die by their determination, accepting that they may have to pay for their aggressive ways. They represent fighters one could be proud to cheer. They fight to win.

John Ruiz can’t even be called a “fighter” without the label sounding odd. He’s a boxer who has developed a safe strategy for suppressing his opponent just enough to edge out one round at a time. His strategy suggests that his ultimate goal isn’t to win, but rather to avoid losing. Can you imagine Wilfred Benitez being content to jab-and-grab Sugar Ray Leonard to a lackluster decision? Puerto Rican fighters like Benitez accept that they may go down while maintaining the only way they know how to fight. They are unwilling to sacrifice their passion for the fight for a technical points victory.

When Ruiz enters the ring, he goes against everything the great Puerto Rican fighters have done to secure a legacy. He shows very little energy and never looks to the crowd as an outside motivator. When faced with adversity, he shows little determination in overcoming it (use the Jones fight as an example, when after a few rounds of crosses to the nose, Ruiz seemed content to serve as a standing bobo doll in the middle of the ring). He is willing and ready to provide the bare minimum, as long as he can suppress his opponent into doing even less.

This Saturday, Nikolay Valuev will have boxing fans around the world cheering for him to take down the current champion once and for all. Ruiz, unfortunately, will not be able to rely on his fellow Puerto Ricans to balance the crowd. They may not be as outwardly hateful as other boxing fans, but little bond exists between John Ruiz and the Puerto Rican boxing community. He has failed to offer anything for Puerto Rican fans to embrace. His approach to the sweet science is a clinching contradiction of everything Puerto Rican boxing fans celebrate in their fighters. John Ruiz doesn’t have Puerto Rican boxing fans supporting him because, in essence, John Ruiz doesn’t have Puerto Rican boxing in him.

Article posted on 15.12.2005

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