Andy Ruiz Jr earned the reputation as the destroyer of sporting goliath Anthony Joshua six months ago with four knock-downs and a stoppage victory at Madison Square Garden, New York, but when he arrives to train in Los Angeles, little about him has actually changed.
Commonly, world heavyweight champions – and Ruiz holds the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organisation and International Boxing Federation belts – have a bulging entourage of agents and backroom staff, all enjoying a ride on the gravy train.
Here at Legendz Gym, before he heads to Saudi Arabia for a rematch with Joshua next Saturday, it is just Ruiz with his father, his lawyer (who has facilitated this interview) and his wise old trainer, Manny Robles, a man who will never change.
In short, Ruiz, who has it in his dancing fists and feet to destroy the legacy of Joshua, is a very different world champion. There have been so many changes in his life since he beat Joshua, but not so many changes in the man himself. Yes, a mansion in San Diego, a yellow sports car, chat shows and the historic title of being the first Mexican to become heavyweight champion of the world. But they are just material gloss, he explains.
“I’m still the same Andy Ruiz. I’m still the same chubby little fat kid with the big dream. I’m still that person.
“Inside the ring, I’m the champion of the world. I’m Mr Hulk in there and I’ve still got a lot to accomplish. This journey now is what I’ve been dreaming about all my life. I accomplished my dreams on June 1 and I’ve still got a lot to prove on Dec 7.”
It has changed his family’s life for ever. Earning $20 million (£15.5 million) for the two fights with Joshua has altered the prospects of his flesh and blood. “It feels good. It’s a big blessing, not only for me, but my mom, my dad, my brothers and my kids. This is what we fight for – to make our dreams come true and provide for the ones we love.
“I have the same people I did on June 1. Those are the people who want me to do good and those are the only people I want around me. Good vibes and good people. The same people I won the championship with, I will continue with fighting. My kids are my main entourage, I have five kids.
“This is what I dreamt about and prayed for my whole life. Everything came so fast and I got a little overwhelmed by everything, if I’m honest, but I am grounded again, we have been working hard.”
He looks the same “chubby little fat kid” with the cherubic face I met in the same location 17 days before he derailed the financial and sporting juggernaut of Joshua’s career.
“I’ve got to remain humble and the same. Even though I’m the heavyweight champion of the world, I don’t walk like a bum. I remain me. I’ve had blessings and God has given me blessings. My coach still knocks on my door and demands I get to the gym. It is no different to what I have always done.”
“Fight fans are going to see the same thing [in Saudi Arabia] they saw on June 1. The guy with big dreams going in there to dominate and to be heavyweight champion. Of course, they’re going to see a lot of fireworks. If he knocks me down, I’m going to get up and knock him down. I know he’ll try to do the same if I knock him down. The main thing is to stay focused and disciplined.”
It is Joshua, insists Ruiz, who will have been planning on making all the changes. Ruiz met fire with fire in New York, and floored a bamboozled Briton four times. “He is going to try to make adjustments. I don’t know if he wants to exchange punches, but I’d love for him to do that because I’m the more skilled boxer. He’ll try to box me round and use his jab. But for how long? How long can he keep me away from hunting him down? That’s what we’ve been working on most of all right now, heading into the fight.”
Ruiz remains as gently spoken as before, yet more assured. “I want to impose myself in this fight, but I don’t want to overlook him. He’s still a dangerous fighter. I respect him and all the fighters who risk their lives inside the ring. He’s going to have some tricks up his sleeve and it’s my job to not let that affect me. The main thing is pressure, throw combinations and use my speed. I can’t let him grow balls in there.”
One of the highlights since his triumph, explains the 30-year-old, who has been boxing 12 more years than Joshua, was the invitation to Los Pinos, home of the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. “That’s one of the biggest things I did after the fight. He’s really humble and he’s one of the presidents that drive to work and back to his house in his own car. He’s a lot different to a lot of Mexican presidents before. It will always be a special moment in my life.”
There have been other benefits to becoming world champion, some which make him laugh … “Girls asking me if I will marry them. People sliding into my DMs. As long as I don’t reply, it’s OK with my wife [he laughs]. There have been other things, too. Weird things, like being asked by people I don’t know to be godfather to their kids.”
The only time he stops for a moment to think is when asked if he would let Joshua hold the belts before they fight in Diriyah. Joshua, strangely, allowed Ruiz to do so in New York. “I think it was more motivation for me because I held them and I knew I had to make them mine. I was just praying because I wanted them so bad. I ended up getting them and it wasn’t easy, but we got the job done. To me, it doesn’t really matter as long as I’m focused. But I’m not letting anyone steal my belts.”
In his mind, Ruiz dreams. This is what he sees. “Winning, getting my hand raised. I don’t like to say when he might go down, but when the knockout comes, it comes.”
There is something likeable about Ruiz, and indeed his rise to world prominence. He has a message for the other “chubby little fat kids”, underdogs, the bullied …
“Have a dream. I had a dream and it wasn’t going my way for a long time. There were times when I wanted to give up and I didn’t want to fight any more.
“I didn’t want to do anything when it wasn’t going my way. But praying and staying positive and focused … Believing in yourself is the main thing. Anything is possible. I came from the bottom and now I’m on top.”