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Newz Forum: BOXING: Ruiz to Defend WBA Heavyweight Title

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posted on Apr, 16 2004 @ 10:42 AM
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By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Boxing Writer
The heavyweight division has problems, and no one knows it better than John Ruiz.
 

There are too many champions, and too many titles. With Lennox Lewis retired, even the most ardent boxing fan would be hard-pressed to name the top fighters.

"The situation right now is that there is not really a big name out there in the heavyweight division," Ruiz said. "Everybody was focusing (on) Lennox Lewis, Lennox Lewis and (Mike) Tyson was out there. But the thing is right now everyone is saying `Who the heck is in the heavyweight division?'"

That's certainly a legitimate question. Another one for those outside of boxing might be "Who the heck is John Ruiz?"

He's the WBA heavyweight champion, for one, and he defends his title Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against Fres Oquendo. Also on the card is an IBF heavyweight title fight between another champion of sorts, Chris Byrd, and the once disgraced Andrew Golota.

Promoter Don King calls it "Night of the Title Fights," presumably because "Night of the Journeymen Unknowns" wouldn't fit. In typical King fashion, he has loaded the card with other title fights, to get fans to pay $39.95 to see it on pay-per-view (9 p.m. EDT).

That King has to bundle two heavyweight title fights on the same card says something about the state of the division. Lewis was generally recognized as the real champion before he retired earlier this year, and now there are a handful of fighters all with big question marks wanting to take his place.

Among them is Ruiz, who first won the WBA title by going 1-1-1 in three fights with an aging Evander Holyfield, only to lose it with a desultory performance in his biggest fight last year against Roy Jones Jr.

Jones decided to go back to light heavyweight, and Ruiz (39-5-1, 27 knockouts) was promoted again to champion based on his win in a December fight against Hasim Rahman so filled with clinching and holding that it was difficult to watch.

"It was disappointing for me to receive the belt without fighting for it, but it was something that I have to accept," said Ruiz, who had campaigned for a rematch with Jones. "I have to accept the fact that he (Jones) doesn't want to fight me again."

Instead, Ruiz will fight Oquendo, who got the fight following a good performance in a disputed loss to Byrd last year. To give the fight some flavor, it is being billed as the first all-Latino heavyweight title fight (Oquendo is Puerto Rican, while Ruiz's parents are from Puerto Rico).

Ruiz, whose style usually leads to ugly fights filled with holding, knows he must look better against Oquendo (24-2, 15 knockouts) if he is to be given credit as a true champion. Many in boxing believe the winner of the April 24 fight between Vitali Klitschko and Corrie Sanders for the WBC title left vacant by the retirement of Lewis will be given the most legitimacy.

"It's a great chance and a great opportunity," Ruiz said. "The heavyweight division is wide open, basically. It is out there waiting to be grabbed. Someone is going to be the top guy, especially after Lennox Lewis' retirement."

Byrd, the other champion on the card, sees himself as that guy. The 1992 Olympic silver medalist at 168 pounds doesn't hit hard enough to make anyone pay attention, but his slick moves and superior boxing skills make him a fighter most contenders like to avoid.

Byrd, who weighed 210 1/2 on Thursday, will give away size to Golota, who weighed 237 1/2. Ruiz was 240, while Oquendo weighed 222 1/2.

Like Ruiz, Byrd (37-2, 20 knockouts) also won a vacant title by beating Holyfield in December 2002. Since then, he has been pleading with anyone over 200 pounds who knows how to put on boxing gloves to get in the ring with him.

"When you mention title unifications, I'm not normally in the picture because guys don't want to fight me," Byrd said. "I wish I could get the fights I really wanted, but I can't complain. I set a goal for myself to be champion and I went out and did it."

Byrd, who went to Germany and fought both Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko before winning the title (beating one brother, losing to the other) has the cheerful personality and brilliant smile that the public likes in a champion. But his lack of power and the fact many see him as a blown-up super middleweight keeps him from getting much respect in the boxing world.

He faces a dangerous fighter in Golota, who is so unpredictable in the ring that he was disqualified twice for hitting Riddick Bowe with low blows. The first of those in July 1996 touched off a mini-riot at Madison Square Garden.

Golota (38-4, 31 knockouts) wasn't even ranked by the IBF and was only two fights into a comeback from retirement when King was able to get the organization to sanction him as a legitimate contender.

"All the publicity about this fight is about Golota getting frustrated and hitting with low blows," Byrd said. "If I get caught up in that, I'll look up in the eighth or ninth round losing because I'm waiting for him to go crazy."



Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.




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