Derek Bonnett looks at the recent success of Andy Ruiz Jr and delves back into recent history to recall four other quality heavyweights who were not quite chiselled
Boxing pundits are still clamouring over this weekend’s monumental upset in the heavyweight division. Andres Ponce Ruiz, better known as Andy Ruiz Jr, became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage with an off-the-canvas, seventh-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Anthony Joshua. The Mexican-American, born in Imperial, California, boasts some of the fastest hands in the division as openly as he admits to consuming fast food during training camps. The common man with ample girth on top of his frame toppled an Adonis and Goliath rolled all into one.
Body type is often a blinding factor that can mislead in the sport of boxing. It can be an indicator of hard work and a degree of athleticism, but one thing it surely does not directly correlate with is stamina. The bodybuilder boxer mould is not without success, but it is hardly the ideal in a combat sport where heavy build-up of lactic acid from punching can topple a fighter from within. Men like Evander Holyfield and Frank Bruno appeared chiselled from the finest stone, but even amid their successes they fought great battles with fatigue. Bruce Seldon sure as hell appeared the part of what we would want a heavyweight champion to look like, but his jab only took him so far.
In the case of Ruiz-Joshua, it was the fleshy challenger who was quicker, sturdier, busier and fresher by the time Michael Griffin called a halt to the contest in the seventh after five knockdowns, all but one suffered by Joshua. However long Ruiz, 29, remains atop the division is unclear, but he has succeeded in proving that boxing aficionados need to look well beyond the waist-line of a fighter to assess his true merit in terms of hand skills, footwork and dogged determination.
Andy Ruiz Jr, 33-1 (22), is not the first chubby chaser of heavyweight glory, but, for now, his win is among the most significant. The following are some other robust heavyweights of the modern era who had thick waists and fast hands and met varying results in their ventures against the best of the heavyweight division. Excluded from consideration are George Foreman, who was once a finely built giant himself, but retirement and age proved prominent factors in his later build. Also, Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the biggest of them all, does not fall into greater mention as the self-proclaimed “King of the Four-Rounder” was a boxing novelty act and not a legitimate contender. He could sure move his hands though!
Buster Mathis Jr
Mathis Jr, 21-2 (7), was a boxing legacy who laced up his gloves in the 1990s. However, Mathis was not an athletic standout and preferred the life of a homebody on the computer. Mathis used boxing to better fit in with his peers and dropped from over 300lbs. Like his daddy, who tussled with the likes of Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Jerry Quarry and Ron Lyle, Mathis used speed and technique to navigate his way to ring success. Mathis Jr was a smallish heavyweight, standing only 6ft, but weighing in above 230lbs regularly. His pectorals sagged and his waist jiggled, but the gentleman heavyweight contender used good trunk movement to avoid blows. He placed a nice uppercut and right hand on the inside to produce wins over Justine Fortune, Tyrell Biggs and Alex Garcia among some other staple heavyweight opponents. Lack of a heavyweight punch hurt Mathis Jr in bouts with Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson. In 1994, Mathis was able to outhustle Bowe in spots and tagged his body, but Bowe’s size was a huge obstacle. In the end, Mathis can brag that Bowe didn’t actually beat him as the bout was ruled a No Contest. Bowe landed a fight-ending blow while Mathis was already on a knee, leaving the outcome officially inconclusive. Against Tyson in 1995, Mathis’ movement made a rusty, post-prison Tyson miss a lot early on. Mathis smothered Tyson’s offence for most of three rounds, but Tyson’s class emerged over time and his own uppercut prevented Mathis from beating the count in the third. Mathis fought only three more times and hung up the gloves in 1996.
A member of the Blackfoot Tribe, Hipp, 43-7 (29), held aspirations of becoming the first Native American to win the heavyweight championship. At 6ft 1in, Hipp usually hit the scales near 240lbs, but did shed some for bouts of greater significance. Hipp, a southpaw, also used speed and steady pressure to win fights with Alex Garcia and Rodolfo Marin. His punch was not lacking though and ended fights with David Bey and Jose Ribalta. The Blackfoot boxer found himself up to his hips in trouble when he met Bert Cooper in 1991. Hipp initiated an inside battle and did well until his eyes began swelling shut. Hipp was the busier fighter and did not seem to tire, but the referee saw enough once Cooper began opening up in the fifth and Hipp’s sight seemed to be failing him. The following year, Hipp broke Tommy Morrison’s jaw and had the heavyweight contender in all kinds of trouble. The two boxed with heavy, straight shots on even terms into the mid-rounds. The pudgy pugilist fought vigorously while the chiselled Morrison began to fade and drop his hands. Morrison summoned his power though to drop Hipp in round five, but the tough Hipp got up and punished “The Duke” with jabs and right hands. Hipp would come up short though and succumb to the thudding power of Morrison in the ninth. Three years later, Hipp would fight for a heavyweight title against Bruce Seldon, but the champion jabbed him to death and tore his face apart in 10 rounds to prompt a stoppage. Hipp fought on and mostly won, but never found himself in another high-calibre bout.
Born Cristobal Arreola, the 38-5-1 (33) fighter angered fans because his questionable work ethic seemed to impede his progress as a serious heavyweight contender. Arreola, 6ft 3ins, tipped the scales in the 240-250lbs range most often, but was plenty capable of making the 230s. Arreola came into the ring fleshy without much evidence of muscle, but moved his hands well. Unlike Ruiz, Mathis or Hipp, Arreola brawled first and made no attempt to be eloquent or proper in speaking. Yet, his ‘Take me as I am’ manner added to his popularity, especially since he had a self-deprecating side. Arreola built up his résumé against Cliff Couser and Chazz Witherspoon, but added more meaningful wins over Travis Walker and Jameel McCline before getting a title shot against Vitali Klitschko in which he fought bravely but lost in 10 rounds. Arreola sightings with beers and hot dogs in the lead-up to important fights were not uncommon. Arreola lost an important battle with former cruiserweight and light-heavyweight champion Tomasz Adamek. Afterward, Arreola clowned himself, saying he was so beaten up that he looked like Shrek. Weighing over 250lbs for the fight, Arreola shared some commonalities with Shrek before the opening bell. Arreola put his punches together well in combination. He rebounded to remain a contender, completing some of his best work between 2010 and 2012, beating the likes of Manuel Quezada, Nagy Aguilera and Eric Molina. He blitzed Seth Mitchell, but the nice win was sandwiched between losses to Bermane Stiverne. Arreola has been inactive, but took WBC king Deontay Wilder eight sessions in 2016 and fought as recently as March 2019. With Ruiz Jr atop the heavyweight division, it isn’t hard to imagine the spin that could be placed on an all-Mexican-American heavyweight title affair down the road.
“TNT” Tubbs, 47-10 (25), goes back the furthest on this list, but was kept for last because he actually managed to claim a heavyweight belt. Tubbs, as his name suggests, was thick around the waist with skinny legs and massive arms. He did not conjure images of great athleticism, but the big man was nimble on his feet and could move his hands quickly with class. His stamina was not a great concern either as one might expect. In fact, well past his best days, he outworked the younger Bruce Seldon and Alexander Zolkin, who held contender status at the time. He even pushed Riddick Bowe dangerously close to his first defeat. Tubbs beat Jimmy Young and James Smith before he upended Greg Page to win a piece of the heavyweight pie. Those were all distance fights in which Tubbs had no problem keeping pace until the end. His title loss to Tim Witherspoon was a majority verdict in the 15-round era. Tubbs’ weakness was always his chin as he got starched early by Mike Tyson, Lionel Butler and even Jimmy Ellis. Mostly, Tubbs showed up flabby, but with his lungs more than capable of lasting the distance. In 2004 and in his mid-forties, Tubbs had more than enough to beat men in their twenties such as Brian Minto, who was still unbeaten. If Tubbs was a prime fighter today, I don’t think too many boxers would be jumping at the chance to meet him.
Following Andy Ruiz’ victory over Anthony Joshua, the comments and memes on social media have been full of mirth and jest. It’s hard not to like our new heavyweight champion because he is a lot more like more of us than most heavyweight champions in history. Ruiz is an inspiration and testament to what hard work and determination can deliver in lieu of fine genetics. With Ruiz making no excuses for his body and Tyson Fury sharing his battles with mental illness, maybe the world is coming around in a time when many of us feel so divided. Maybe our hopes and dreams aren’t as predicated upon the varying factors we believe them to be.