THERE was always a sense Andy Ruiz would first have to shame, beat up and destroy the old version of himself before he could get around to doing the same to others and finally, at long last, it appears he is prepared to do just that.

Tonight (September 4) in Los Angeles, for example, almost three years after losing against Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia, he stood toe-to-toe with often-avoided Cuban Luis Ortiz for 12 rounds and came out on top, winning a narrow decision at the bout’s conclusion. Best of all, though, he did so while weighing 268 pounds, meaning he was some 15 pounds lighter than he was when trudging after Joshua in the desert back in 2019.

That, for Ruiz, is as big a victory as anything else, for it is a sign he is taking things seriously again and sees the value in staying in some sort of shape between fights. It was still not his career-lowest weight, nor was he as light as he was when outpointing Chris Arreola last May (256 pounds that night), but at least Ruiz is in the right kind of ballpark now and appears to realise that, at 32, he is entering his prime years as a heavyweight contender and former champion.

Moreover, forgetting numbers for a second, there is an overall cleanness to Ruiz now that wasn’t something you would associate him with back in 2019. Back then he was slovenly and sluggish, his hand speed both a gift and a surprise, and everything about him smacked of not taking things seriously and not caring about himself, his appearance, or his potential.

Now, however, he seems to have addressed this, re-emerging not only lighter than he was when surrendering to Joshua but also maintaining a cleaner and more respectable appearance, one indicative of somebody who actually cares. That, in terms of moving forward and maintaining this encouraging form, is probably as important for Ruiz as winning and will go a long to way to ensuring he sticks to his newfound habits and routines.

Sometimes all you need is a bit of vanity and maybe, at 32, Ruiz has finally got some. Maybe he has found it not in the gold watches, necklaces and rings he took to buying in the aftermath of shocking Joshua in June 2019, but from a much deeper place, a place within, and maybe now he glances in the mirror and wants to take pride in the way he looks, and feels, and performs.

Appearance is not everything, as true in boxing as it is in life, yet if boxing is the only arena in which “fat shaming” is still considered responsible, considerate advice, you can be sure Ruiz, at some point, has heard and heeded this advice and tried to do something about it, knowing deep down his undoubted skills will be all the better for it.

Andy Ruiz
Andy Ruiz in the gym (Sehun Han/TGB Promotions)

This ran true against Ortiz in LA, a fight he wouldn’t have been able to win if not in relatively decent shape. It was there, in the presence of Ortiz, a man only Deontay Wilder has shown a willingness to fight in the past, Ruiz initiated a strong pace from the off and mostly sustained it , using his quicker, busier hands to steal rounds from his more economical and methodical opponent.

His victory was then rubberstamped, in the eyes of the judges, by a trio of knockdowns scored against Ortiz, two of which arrived in the second round and the third in the seventh. Each time Ruiz managed to get to the target quicker than Ortiz, usually with his right hand, and would surprise the Cuban with his speed, his accuracy, and his power, which, while perhaps not at a Wilder level, was more than enough to make a dent in Ortiz, 33-3 (28).

They were in the end the difference, those knockdowns, with the fight otherwise competitive, back-and-forth and thoroughly entertaining. Ruiz had his moments, and landed his best shots, while Ortiz, a well-schooled southpaw, also had his moments, and landed his best shots, though such was the difference in age (11 years), freshness and punch resistance, the impact of Ortiz’s shots on Ruiz was not half as obvious as the impact of Ruiz’s shots on Ortiz.

That said, whether landing on the face of Ruiz or the face of Ortiz, for some reason every shot that landed clean seemed to have fight-ending potential. In fact, what made the fight all the more dramatic and entertaining were the bodies and heads involved, targets so large that every time a significant blow landed it would cause a ripple effect across either a stomach or face, images perfect to capture on camera, only adding to the drama of it all.

While images like those can sometimes be deceptive, here, in the case of Ruiz and Ortiz, they did a pretty good job of telling the story of the fight. Yet, following 12 hard and action-packed rounds, it was the images of Ortiz on the canvas that ultimately told the true story of the fight and, moreover, explained why Ruiz, a man in desperate need of a win, prevailed by scores of 114-111 (twice) and 113-112.

Not a perfect performance by any means, it was nevertheless an encouraging one for Ruiz, 35-2 (22), and a sign he is now heading in the right direction as 2022 enters its second half. Besides, at this stage, perfection is unlikely to be the aim for the former heavyweight champion currently downsizing. It is instead progress he is after, and progress he is showing, his skin, setbacks and habits of old all in the process of being shed, fight by fight, like clothes that no longer fit.