Former two-weight world boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi says people badly underestimated Andy Ruiz Jr before the Mexican-American heavyweight stunned Anthony Joshua in their title fight at the weekend.
Ruiz Jr – a huge outsider heading into the bout at Madison Square Garden in New York – stopped IBF, WBO and WBA title holder Joshua in the seventh round after sending the Brit to the canvas four times in the fight.
Ruiz had only taken the bout at six weeks’ notice after Joshua’s original opponent Jarrell Miller had failed a drugs test.
In the build-up, much had been made of 29-year-old Ruiz’s portly physique – especially compared to Joshua’s pristine, well-chiseled exterior – as the challenger weighed in more than 20lbs heavier than his rival.
Speaking to combat sports analyst Robin Black on RT Sport’s ‘Fight Talk’ show, former two-weight champ Malignaggi, who was ringside at Madison Square Garden to witness Ruiz pull off the shock first-hand, said many observers had been guilty of judging a book by its cover.
“I was ringside at the fight, I was commentating… I was surprised, I always felt Ruiz was a quality fighter, a quality heavyweight, people judge him too much on his rotund figure, but really this was always a quality guy,” Malignaggi said.
“He’d had been on the Mexican Olympic team in 2008, on the national team, and he was a kid who’d had a solid foundation in boxing… you could tell that with his calm demeanor inside the ring even in a pressure situation.”
“But having said all that, I did not expect Andy to win the fight. I didn’t think it was a one-sided fight or a blowout like people made it out to be before, but I felt people were looking at Andy and basically judging him based on his figure, and people were judging him based on his nice guy attitude and they really weren’t giving him a chance.
“I wasn’t really thinking to that degree, ‘OK, this is a joke of a fight’, but I did think Ruiz is a quality guy, but I didn’t think he would have enough to beat Joshua, I though Joshua was a level above. Obviously I was wrong, and it was an incredible thing to see in person,” Malignaggi added.
Malignaggi – currently preparing for his first foray into bareknuckle boxing against ex-UFC fighter Artem Lobov – added that the saga surrounding Ruiz’s shock win was “a lesson” for boxing.
The result smashed the notion that three undefeated fighters – Joshua, fellow Brit Tyson Fury, and American WBC champion Deontay Wilder – would dictate the terms in the heavyweight division.
Along with his belts and unbeaten record, Joshua, 29, has also lost the gleam of his carefully-managed persona as well any pretensions of establishing himself as among the all-time greats.
When asked by Black how Ruiz’s win changed the situation in the division, Malignaggi offered comparisons from recent years.
“It changes that dynamic because this is a situation, you see with [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao this happened, you wait too long and one guy gets beat,” he said.
“Even what happened with Mayweather and Pacquiao, when you wait and you wait and you wait, and Pacquiao got beat a couple of times actually, one by Tim Bradley and one by Juan Manuel Marquez when he was knocked out while we were in the process of waiting for the Mayweather fight to happen.
“So again I think these are lessons hopefully for the business of boxing, if you have a megafight, go out and make it.
“You’d rather those two guys lose to one another, so that then you’d actually have some big money rematches, ala Frazier-Ali or Holyfield and Bowe, you know, where both those times they happened to be heavyweights, and both happened to be heavyweight title fights, and both guys put losses on each other’s records, actually, because fights became a trilogy,”Malignaggi added.
Indeed, the heavyweight division now appears in further disarray, with Joshua likely to meet Ruiz in a rematch later this year back in the UK.
By that time, however, Ruiz may have been stripped of the WBO and IBF belts due to rules on mandatory challengers, meaning only the WBA belt is up for grabs.
Fury, meanwhile, faces Germany’s Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas on June 15, while Wilder is set to meet Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz in a rematch in September – before Fury and Wilder could go again next year.
With such convoluted heavyweight plot lines, Malignaggi feels promoters and fighters may well rue not getting Joshua in the ring with one of the other ‘big three’ at an earlier opportunity.
“I hope that it’s a lesson to the boxing public and boxing business more so than anything else. You’ve got to get these fights made in a timely fashion.
“You may make the fight in the future, but now it’s lost what it once had, you know, it will still be fun in the future, everybody will tune in, including me, it will be great, we’ll all be talking about it, but we’ll still all be imaging what would it be if these guys were still undefeated fighting each other. Now that’ll never happen,” he said.