Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn
Andy Ruiz Jr: Searching for the lost soul – a story of unreturned phone calls, 6am jogs and a renewed faith in religion
“The most important thing, for me, is that he finds love for boxing again"
Last Updated: 08/07/20 2:36pm
There are serious reasons to be concerned about Andy Ruiz Jr. Since he slouched limply, apologising to his ex-trainer and the world for "partying" and becoming "overweight", he has disappeared and the world he left behind has shamed him as a lucky millionaire, derided him as the future answer to a quiz question: 'Which one-hit wonder shocked Anthony Joshua?'
There are clear parallels to the fall of Tyson Fury, before his incredible rise again. But it remains to be seen if Ruiz Jr's story will enjoy the renaissance of Fury's. The people who know both heavyweights described them similarly at their lowest ebb - fantastic talents who just needed to rediscover some purpose.
"He's okay," wistfully sighs the man who has tempted Ruiz Jr back to the gym and back to reality, but he is careful not to be overly optimistic. You don't believe him because of his tone, anyway. This is a day by day recovery process for the feelgood story of 2019, the boxer who proved that an Average Joe could beat a perfect specimen. Slowly, Ruiz Jr is "getting back on track".
His days begin early at 6am with a two or three mile run, a schedule Ruiz Jr has maintained for a couple of weeks now since calling an old contact.
Jorge Capetillo, from a family of Mexican-American boxing veterans, has a gym in Las Vegas that has recently reopened from lockdown. He is "a great friend" of Ruiz Jr and, incidentally, is the cut-man who stitched up Tyson Fury's horrific injury and kept him unbeaten against Otto Wallin last year.
"He is dropping weight little by little - but we have to work more," Capetillo exclusively tells Sky Sports about Ruiz Jr.
The 6am run becomes a 1pm boxing session. Ruiz Jr has a personal strength and conditioning coach who takes him through a third work-out of the day, and a nutritionist to ensure he continues winning his toughest battle.
Capetillo is enthusiastic when talking about Ruiz Jr inside the gym: "I'm working on his balance. As a 6'2'' heavyweight most of the other guys are bigger. I told him: 'It's about your balance, footwork, and moving your head'.
"We are giving him the right balance so he can mix up his combinations.
"I was impressed."
It is outside the gym that people worry for Ruiz Jr.
He has become an unwilling poster boy for indulgence, an underdog who dealt Joshua a shocking defeat a year ago then, according to his ex-trainer, was on a permanent holiday for the next three months. After conceding the IBF, WBA and WBO titles back six months after his greatest night, he emotionally admitted that his preparation had been lax.
"You can't convince someone to want something," then-trainer Manny Robles told Sky Sports at the time. "My job is not to call him every day. He's a man, not a kid, and must be treated as such."
It has been a constant theme throughout his career. Ruiz Jr has lost just twice in 35 fights but both times have been after his training was less than professional.
Abel Sanchez, who trained Ruiz Jr for his defeat against Joseph Parker, told Sky Sports: "I'm not there to babysit, I am there to coach and develop you if you are willing to listen. You can't develop someone who doesn't want to try anything.
"It was difficult for me because I don't like laziness."
Countless messages and calls to Ruiz Jr and his father went unanswered for this story over the past few months. Maybe he just wanted to keep his head down, fair enough. But the silence lent itself to worry, much like when Fury went off the rails.
Ruiz Sr finally answered, requested we call back in an hour, then hung up when we did.
"What happened? Fame and money came to him," Capetillo said about Ruiz Jr. "It takes maturity to adjust to a new style of life."
But recent images of Ruiz Jr across social media have been a relief - exercising and smiling. This could be start of the next chapter.
"The most important thing, for me, is that he finds love for boxing again," Capetillo said. "Then we can see again the Andy Ruiz Jr who shocked the world. He has a lot of potential and a lot of skill.
"But he needs to feel passion again for his work.
"You saw what happened. We all have disappointments with our choices and decisions. That is the past now. He has to look forwards. He has to get serious.
"We only have good conversations. I told him that I love him. I explained to him: 'You need to take this sport, your life and your decisions more seriously'.
"Now he is becoming more mature. He understands what it takes to stay humble, to stay on the right track. I see this in Andy.
"He is a humble kid, happy with his family and his kids. He is enjoying life.
"He is taking it day by day, making better choices."
Can Ruiz Jr be trusted to make better choices? "Sure, man. Of course. We all can go off course. But with new influence? He is a man of faith, he likes to pray, to talk to God. He is joyful. He is falling back in love with his job, this sport, to do it with passion.
Reconnecting with his faith is inspiring Ruiz Jr, believes Capetillo: "I really think so. Belief can be laid away for years. But if he is willing to come back, to fight again, it is because he has the will to do it."
His relationship with his father, a constant in his corner, is as strong as ever.
"He is a very important part of Andy's life, he has been motivating him since he was a kid."
Ruiz Jr has spent time in the past few months investing some of his newfound fortune into real estate and building properties.
But some well-deserved luxuries remain.
He arrives every day at the gym in a Rolls-Royce and is dripping in expensive jewels - "but he is the still same kid" that Capetillo met years ago.
Can Ruiz Jr become fitter with his new trainer?
|Anthony Joshua II||20st 3lbs||Manny Robles|
|Anthony Joshua I||19st 2lbs||Manny Robles|
|Alexander Dimitrenko||18st 10lbs||Manny Robles|
|Kevin Johnson||18st||Manny Robles|
|Devin Vargas||18st 8lbs||Manny Robles|
|Joseph Parker||18st 3lbs||Abel Sanchez|
|Franklin Lawrence||18st||Jeff Grmoja|
|Joell Godfrey||17st 9lbs||Jeff Grmoja|
|Siarhei Liakhovich||19st 1lbs||Jeff Grmoja|
Ruiz Jr plans to go home to San Diego, California, to celebrate Independence Day weekend with his family and Capetillo expects him to return to Vegas for training on Monday. The trust is absolute that Ruiz Jr will come back, as he claims.
Then in a month or so Ruiz Jr will begin his link-up with Eddy Reynoso, the feted Mexican trainer who oversees Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez. It is a mouth-watering team, Mexico's two highest-profile boxers working together daily.
"I have a lot of respect for the Reynosos, look at what they have done for Canelo," Capetillo says. "This will be a positive environment for Andy. Canelo is a great fighter and is a disciplined, hard-working man. If you can be influenced by a man like that? It will be positive for Andy's career."
Capetillo may be a part of the future team: "Any time Andy needs me, I'm here. We've been friends for years since he was really young. I've been helping him in his career for a long time. My door is always open to him, he is a good kid."
Ruiz Jr's home is 25 minutes from Reynoso's gym - it is either the lazy option or, depending on your perspective, the convenience will bring out the best in him.
"Reynoso must keep him in the gym, make him work and get rid of the baggage around him (the people that surround him and allow him to do things that he must not do)," his former trainer Abel Sanchez told Sky Sports.
But everyone that has worked with Ruiz Jr accepts that he is diamond waiting to be polished.
"He could do great things," Sanchez said. Robles added: "He is a fighter to be reckoned with". Now Capetillo adds how skilful Ruiz Jr can be when he is focused.
Mexico's first world heavyweight champion has pencilled in a comeback fight this autumn, his first since losing the rematch with Joshua.
"He needs to become more comfortable with his weight and his new team," says Capetillo but there is plenty of time before Ruiz Jr will step between the ropes, so plenty of optimism that he will provide a good account of himself.
But the return of Andy Ruiz Jr is scarcely about the performance or result of his next fight. Like Tyson Fury in 2018, the true achievement will be simply getting back into the ring.