California hosted a boxing card with fans for the first time since the pandemic started, and the Saturday night show featured two of Southern California’s home-grown boxing sons looking to revive their careers.
Dignity Health Sports Park hosted the heavyweight showdown between former unified heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr., from Imperial, and three-time world title challenger Chris Arreola, from Riverside. The Mexican American fighters were looking to polish their presence in the heavyweight picture, mere days before Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that is a bit like boxing’s Super Bowl week.
A dedicated and disciplined Ruiz reemerged and proved he’s ready, living up to his nickname of “The Destroyer” by beating Arreola via unanimous decision in front of a feisty, 33% capacity crowd of 3,940.
Ruiz (34-2, 22 knockouts) survived a rusty and bumpy start in the second round highlighted by getting knocked down, and a third round in which he was severely wobbled, to recover and win a rugged affair by scores of 117-110, 118-109 and 118-109.
"When you go down, you just have to climb back up. That's exactly what I did. I got dropped, but I got up and got the victory,” Ruiz said. "I could have done a lot more. I couldn't really find my distance, but some of that was Arreola doing a good job. I could have kept my hands up better, but I just need to get back in the gym and stay busy.”
Ruiz landed 161 punches, while Arreola countered with 109, per CompuBox.
Ruiz started the first round marching forward, connecting with hard rights to the chest of Arreola (38-7-1, 33 KOs). His blazing hand speed was displayed with 35 seconds to go when he landed a clean right hand that caught Arreola on the temple.
A more lithe Ruiz was seemingly gliding into the second round until Arreola stunned him with a right hand that skimmed the side of his temple and folded his right knee. Ruiz fell to the canvas half-heartedly, clearly disappointed. Evidently he was hurt, however, because Arreola found more success soon after.
Round 3 started resoundingly for Arreola, who rocked Ruiz with another vicious counter left hand that folded his knees.
They instantly started trading and swinging wildly, much to the pleasure of the fans. Ruiz recovered and showed his resilience and got Arreola’s attention with a left hook with a minute to go and started backing him down again.
"I respect the judges, but I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He might have won, but don't tell me I only won [one] round,” Arreola said. "A lot of punches he threw were hitting my gloves. He never put me in danger. It's dejecting to not get the respect from the judges that I feel I deserve.”
— Manouk Akopyan (@ManoukAkopyan) May 2, 2021
Ruiz was boxing’s Cinderella story in 2019 when he pulled off the shocker of the century by knocking out Anthony Joshua to become the first fighter of Mexican descent to capture the heavyweight crown.
The accolades and newfound fame and money that came with the life-changing win proved to be too much for Ruiz, and he soon unraveled. The already portly pugilist ballooned from 268 pounds to 283 for the rematch just six months later and lost in a landslide decision.
The humbling defeat was more than enough reason for Ruiz to reconsider his future. After a battle with depression and going up to 310 pounds, Ruiz decided to switch trainers and handed the keys to his career to heralded Eddy Reynoso, the respected coach and confidant of Canelo Álvarez.
Reynoso proved to be the whisperer and taskmaster the 31-year-old Ruiz needed to resurrect his career, at least for Saturday night.
Behind on the scorecards early and welts and redness developing under his eyes, Ruiz regained his bearings and reclaimed momentum in the fourth.
— Manouk Akopyan (@ManoukAkopyan) May 2, 2021
"I felt a little rust and I know other fighters can relate to that. If he wants to run it back, we'll run it back with him,” Ruiz said. "I got a little overconfident in the early rounds. The most important thing was that we came back and got the victory.”
The feverish pace slowed in the fifth, but Ruiz still was damage-minded, rocking Arreola twice in the final minute with a pair of overhand right hands.
Ruiz picked up right where he left off to begin the sixth with a three-punch combination. Arreola was beginning to get weary. The fatigue appeared to carry into the seventh as Ruiz was the busier fighter and showing off his fast hands and landing hard shots.
Ruiz introduced a body attack in the eighth and Arreola simply couldn’t answer. By round nine, Arreola's output had dwindled.
To Arreola’s credit, he never hugged or held or made the fight a sloppy one. He simply couldn’t get off the shots he was landing in the second and third rounds.
A more patient Ruiz started measuring his shots more in the 10th as he piled on points on the scorecards. In the 11th, he picked up the pace a bit more with lead rights and started the 12th looking to score the knockout with a series of vicious flurries. Arreola ate all the punches and barely flinched.
If there was a moral victory for Arreola, he never got dropped or looked severely hurt. But he just couldn’t seize his short window to capitalize early in the fight.
“I didn't take too much punishment. I'm ready to run it back with Andy,” Arreola said. "I was a better fighter than Andy Ruiz expected. This version of Ruiz would knock Joshua out, but I was in great condition and ready for everything he had to offer.”
The 40-year-old Arreola has insisted several times in recent years that his 18-year career is nearing an end. He falls to 3-4-1 with a no contest since 2014, but showed he's not done.
Meanwhile for Ruiz, he’s a key player again in the heavyweight division. Palatable fights against the likes of Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz or a rematch with Joseph Parker to avenge his other loss could be on the table before he gets another crack at the titles, owned by Tyson Fury and Joshua.
The action between Ruiz and Arreola apparently brought the fight of the fans as well. At least three massive brawls broke out in the stands as security haplessly scrambled to stop the melees.
The night ended on a more heartwarming note, as both boxers brought their boys into the ring to share a family moment.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.