About the Quietman
John Ruiz grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and spent his childhood playing a variety of sports. Boxing stood out as an early favorite, and Ruiz spent many years training and honing his natural talents. He stood out as a competitive boxer from the beginning. Ruiz turned professional in mid-1992 and achieved three knockouts before the year was out.
After winning a decision in his pro debut on August 20 against Kevin Parker in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Ruiz stopped nine of his next twelve opponents inside two rounds—an impressive accomplishment that placed him on a rapid ascent to the ranks of the best fighters. But these first fights were all fought in the Northeast, in Ruiz's home territory. When Ruiz fought for the first time away from home, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, he suffered a hotly contested ten-round split-decision loss to Sergei Kobozev on August 12, 1993. Throughout the night, Ruiz 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 the lost match resulted in the first blemish on Ruiz’s previously perfect record.
Ruiz won his next four fights before facing Olympian Danell Nicholson, where he lost another ten-round split decision on August 4, 1994. Ruiz put up a solid fight for the first several rounds but faded late in the match and lost the fight by just one round. He 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 Ruiz in his career: a match against David Tua on March 15, 1996. Though Tua was one of the most feared young heavyweights around, many observers favored Ruiz to outbox Tua and win the fight. But Tua hurt Ruiz badly with the very first punch he threw, and Ruiz never recovered.
Ruiz's injury threatened to derail his career, but once again, despite adversity, he rebounded like a champion and knocked out his next four opponents to earn a North American Boxing Federation title fight against tough-punching Jimmy Thunder on January 14, 1997. Although Thunder had the edge in power punches, Ruiz out-boxed and out-worked the champion throughout the bout to win his first championship—a 12-round decision.
In his first title defense, Ruiz 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. Ruiz next fought Tony “TNT” Tucker, the only man to last 12 rounds against Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. It was Ruiz's first bout of 1998 and was held in Tampa, Florida. Ruiz controlled the fight from the outset, knocking Tucker down twice in the first round. Tucker barely made it through the 10th round and nearly fell while staggering back to his corner. As the 11th round began, Ruiz dominated the floor. He pounded Tucker into the ropes, forcing the referee to stop the bout just 57 seconds into the round.
After defeating Tucker, Ruiz 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 September 19, 1998, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia, Ruiz claimed the vacant championship when he decked Jerry Ballard with a solid combination just 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the fourth round. Ballard managed to rise from the canvas but was unable to continue.
Fighting before millions of television viewers, Ruiz 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 against Chicago’s Mario Cawley in New York’s famed Madison Square Garden.
Returning to his hometown for the first time since capturing the title, Ruiz made two successive defenses when he dominated and then stopped the Dominican Republic’s Fernely Feliz in the seventh round on June 12, 1999. Ruiz 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, Ruiz continued to improve his reputation in his next outing against Thomas “Top Dawg” Williams, from Washington, D.C., on December 11, 1999, in Mississippi. Williams brought a respectable 24-6 mark, as well as an eight-fight winning streak, into his bout with Ruiz. But the “Top Dawg” was greeted with unprecedented quickness and power from Ruiz, and the fight was over before it even got started. Ruiz 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,” Ruiz 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.”
Ruiz had earned a world title shot, and it came against the legendary champion Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield on August 12, 2000, in a sold-out ballroom with over 9,000 fans at Paris Las Vegas Casino Hotel. Other than his fans from Boston and Puerto Rico, few gave Ruiz much of a chance of prevailing against the famous Holyfield for the WBA heavyweight title.
Ruiz came out on the offensive and brought the fight to Holyfield throughout the match. It ended up being a 12-round toe-to-toe brawl, with neiher opponent clearly prevailing over the other. In the end, the judges scored the fight in favor of Holyfield through a unanimous but razor-thin decision. Two judges scored the bout 114-113, and the third had it 116-112. Many people felt Ruiz had won the fight.
“I was definitely robbed,” a defiant Ruiz 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. Ruiz 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 Ruiz entered the ring for the rematch. He didn't flinch despite Holyfield’s attempts to intimidate him from the opening bell. Like the first match, it was a brawl for most of the fight. Ruiz developed a welt below his left eye in round two and had his forehead sliced by a head-butt from Holyfield in the fourth round. In spite of his wounds, Ruiz managed to keep his composure while his corner tended to the bleeding.
It was a seesaw battle into round 10 when Holyfield dropped Ruiz with a low blow that led to a point deduction from referee Joe Cortez while Ruiz writhed in pain on the canvas. After taking three of the five minutes to recover, Ruiz returned to the battle. Ruiz then landed a stunning right cross in round 11 that sent the legendary Holyfield crumbling to the mat. Ruiz joined Riddick Bowe as one of the only two fighters in history to knock Holyfield down. Holyfield wobbled to his feet and literally held onto Ruiz for the remainder of the round to survive.
When the scorecards were tabulated after the fight, Ruiz 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 Ruiz 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, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, United States President George W. Bush invited Ruiz to the White House to congratulate him on his victory.
But the biggest celebration was yet to come. On March 22, Ruiz landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Don King’s private plane, and received a hero’s welcome. Ruiz’s mother lives in the town of Sabana Grande in Puerto Rico. Ruiz, born and raised in Massachusetts, lived in Sabana Grande for six years as a youngster.
Ruiz has always identified with his Puerto Rican heritage, and thousands of his fans in Puerto Rico came to the airport that day in March to welcome him “home.” Hundreds of members of the media greeted him at the airport to report on Puerto Rican Governor Sila Calderon’s presentation of a gold medal of honor to Ruiz on becoming the first Latino world-heavyweight champion in boxing history. Present and former Puerto Rican world champions like Felix “Tito” Trinidad, John Molina, Orlando Fernandez, Alfredo Escalera and Alex “El Nene” Sanchez also came to congratulate Ruiz and pose for pictures.
Ruiz 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 traveled to a highway that would take the champ home to Sabana Grande. Normally a two-hour drive, it took Ruiz nine hours to reach his former home as thousands of fans lined the highway to catch a glimpse of him. Fans in the larger towns of Ponce and Yauco crowded the roadway and brought the motorcade to a crawl.
At 10:00 PM, Ruiz arrived at a park in Sabana Granda where he was mobbed by close to 20,000 fans that had assembled, patiently awaiting his arrival. It was obvious that the relatively anonymous life John Ruiz had led prior to winning the world-heavyweight title was gone. Promoter Don King then announced that “Ruiz vs. Holyfield 3” would be the first world heavyweight title fight to take place in China on Aug. 4, 2001. A huge promotion ensued, but as the fighters and their entourages assembled in Beijing, Ruiz suffered a neck injury and was forced to pull out of the match. Undaunted, King rescheduled the match on December 15 at Foxwoods Casino Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Holyfield shattered Ruiz’s nose in the first round with his elbow.
The first half of the fight featured mostly clinching and mauling, as neither fighter seemed able to find a good rhythm. Ruiz controlled the best round of the fight, the 10th, with several good jabs and a four-punch combination that rattled Holyfield. Holyfield answered with two solid shots. Now face-to-face and toe-to-toe, they exchanged hooks to the inside, spinning around from the blows as the bell sounded. Ruiz appeared to have bested his foe.
When the final round began, most ringside observers felt whoever closed the show would win the title. Holyfield landed three left hooks midway through the round that left Ruiz’s nose bleeding. But Ruiz valiantly fought on to the end of the round. In the end, the judges ruled the match a split-decision draw. One judge had it 115-113 for Ruiz. The second judge scored it 116-112 for Holyfield. The third and determining judge had it a dead heat at 114-114. Ruiz retained his WBA title, as he had been ahead on all three judges’ cards when the fight was stopped.
In a WBA mandatory defense at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on July 27, 2002, Ruiz successfully defended his WBA heavyweight title for the second time, when previously unbeaten and No. 1 ranked contender Kirk “Bubba” Johnson of Nova Scotia, with a record of 32-0-1 and 23 Kos, was disqualified by veteran referee Joe Cortez in the 10th round for repeated low blows.
Going through a bitter divorce and forced to carry the promotional end of his title defense against undisputed light heavyweight champion Roy Jones, Jr., Ruiz was unable to focus and lost his WBA heavyweight crown to the future Hall of Famer on March 1, 2003, in Las Vegas. Faced with a do-or-die fight to preserve his broken career, Ruiz returned to his roots and trained in the Boston area for his WBA interim heavyweight title fight on December 13, 2003, against former world champion Hasim “The Rock” Rahman, who had previously earned a record of 35-5-1 with 29 Kos. The fight took place in Atlantic City.
Despite being a 2-1 underdog, a role he seemed to relish, Ruiz dominated Rahman and won a unanimous decision after the 12-round match. Ruiz became the WBA heavyweight champion for the second time on February 2004 when Roy Jones, Jr., who had previously beaten Ruiz less than a year prior, relinquished the belt rather than give Ruiz a rematch as mandated by the WBA.
In his first title defense as the two-time champion, Ruiz registered an 11th-round TKO on April 17, 2004, against fellow Puerto Rican Fres Oquendo, who had dropped a controversial 12-round decision in his previous fight to IBF title-holder Chris Byrd. Ruiz slowed “Fast Fres” with a barrage of unanswered punches in the 11th round and had Oquendo out on his feet when the referee stopped the fight.
Ruiz overcame two knockdowns—the second was a push—and the first point reduction of his career to win a unanimous 12-round decision against Polish strongman Andrew Golota. The final score? A tight 114-111, 114-111, 113-112. The win marked Ruiz's fourth successful title defense and improved his world title fight record to 5-2-1.
Ruiz then agreed to defend his title against trash-talking king James “Lights Out” Toney on April 30 at Madison Square Garden. Toney was highly volatile at all press conferences promoting the event, sometimes storming out in front of cameras and reporters.
Ruiz looked especially sharp in training and started strong in the match. But Toney seemed to simply absorb the best the champion had to offer and did not seem to deteriorate from the blows. Still it seemed Ruiz was the better boxer for much of the battle. But Toney rallied in the last half of the fight to win a by-decision with one judge scoring the fight 115-112. The two remaining scorekeepers had it 116-111.
A disgruntled Ruiz huddled in his Garden locker room with the longtime members of his team and told them he felt he should retire because he felt he had been ineffective in the fight. It simply didn't make any sense, and his team members agreed. Ruiz had excelled in training and had seemed to carry the fight until the end. Something was not right.
Still, Ruiz announced his retirement at the post-fight press conference. To his surprise and the surpirse of the boxing world, Toney’s post-fight urinalysis tested positive for steroids, a banned substance in the sport of boxing. Just days after the match, the WBA overturned Toney’s win and declared it a no contest, which returned the championship title to Ruiz.
Later, Ruiz traveled to Berlin, Germany, to defend his title against giant Russian Nicolay Valuev on December 17. Ruiz fought well for the entire 12 rounds of the fight, but Valuev was declared the winner. The match results were controversial and hotly contested by fans and professionals alike all over the world. The WBA did not allow Ruiz to fight a rematch against the Russian. Despite this, Ruiz retained a positive attitude.
“I enjoyed everything about our trip to Germany other than that decision,” Ruiz said. “The German people were great to me. I deserve a rematch and would fight him again in Germany if I had to. I remember thinking mid-way through the fight that it was the easiest fight I’d had in a long time. I couldn’t believe it when the decision was announced. The fans in Germany booed the decision. I felt I won the fight. You’re supposed to take the title from the champion. They gave it to him.”
Despite Ruiz's hopeful outlook, his career as a fighter was nearly over. Ruiz lost a WBA title eliminator to present WBA heavyweight champion Ruslan Chagaev by 12-round split decision in Germany, then went on to fight veteran Otis Tisdale. Ruiz dominated Tisdale and knocked him out in the second round. It marked the first time since the turn of the century that Ruiz had fought an opponent who wasn’t a reigning or past world champion or top 10 rated challenger.
In his last action on March 8, 2008, in Cancun, John dominated four-time world title challenger Jameel McCline (38-8-3), winning a 12-round decision (119-109, 118-110, 117-111) in a WBC Qualifier. No other current world heavyweight contender can match Ruiz’ record of wins against top 10 contenders. His list of victories includes fights against Holyfield, Johnson, Rahman, Oquendo, Golota and McCline. He has also beaten three world champions—Holyfield, Rahman and Tucker.
Ruiz retired from professional boxing and chose to apply his winning spirit and determination to a project that has long occupied his attention. During his years as a world class fighter, Ruiz frequently took time out of his schedule to visit schools and speak to children about the values and benefits of hard work and athleticism. He has always had a heart for children and for making sports available to kids everywhere, regardless of income levels or other social constraints. Today, Ruiz has transformed this passion into a powerful mission for change across the nation.