March 7, 2003

John Ruiz’ World Title Hopes Crumble

By Fiona Manning

John Ruiz, the world’s first Latino heavyweight champion saw his much-coveted WBA crown slip through his fingers in a lopsided loss to light-heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

The loss capped a disastrous week for Ruiz whose divorce became quietly final in the weeks leading up to the heavily-promoted bout. The former champion, who went nose to nose with Jones on Wednesday stood by unable to do much when his manager Norman “Stony” Stone exchanged blows with Jones’ trainer Alton Merkerson at the fight’s weigh-in on Thursday at the host hotel, Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino.

Going into the fight, Ruiz knew what he needed to do to win, but was unable to execute his plan. Photo by German Villesenor

In the melee which ensued during the unscripted fight, Nevada State Athletic Com-mission’s Executive Director Marc Ratner was also knocked down but he assured La Prensa San Diego that he was unharmed.

Conflicting reports circulated about how the Stone vs Merkerson battle began, but it was clear there were hurt feelings from Jones’ camp following Ruiz’ comments the day before.

At the final press conference for the fight, Ruiz had said that during the fight, he would go after Jones in the same manner a “pimp goes after a ho who owes him money.”

Stone was knocked out by Merkerson on the dais Thursday in front of the assembled media and fans who had gathered to see Jones and Ruiz take the scales.

Promoter Don King just stood there, waving his ever-present US flags as paramedics arrived and removed the prone Stone.

Stone was quickly rushed to Valley Hospital where he remained under observation overnight.

It certainly proved a worrisome chain of events for Ruiz who is very close to his manager. On Friday, Stone and Merkerson seemed unable to leave well enough alone at the weigh-in of the undercard fights.

They started shoving each other as fresh gloves had to be selected (following the problems of the day before) and the pair was swiftly separated.

All of this was actually a lot more exciting than the actual Ruiz vs Jones battle, during which Jones, who made history by leaping up two weight divisions to capture the title, did so without much apparent effort and without coming even close to anything resembling a knockout.

Jones cleverly boxed from the outset, keeping Ruiz frustrated for 12 entire rounds. Ruiz himself knew from the start that he needed to keep pressure on Jones from the beginning, knew he needed to use his jab and land the heavy blows but whenever he did, he was immediately hurt himself.

Ruiz’ nose which was apparently broken in the third round, sent him to the hospital immediately after the bout, keeping him away from the post-fight presser, which again was more entertaining than the fight itself.

Held at the Cox Pavilion next door to Thomas & Mack, the presser was packed with well-wishers of Jones who hugged promoter King.

King chortled that Ruiz “Would be lucky to make $500,000 on the fight” but with Pay per View Sales totaling 525,000 buys he stands to make substantially more. Ruiz, who signed with Jones agreeing to be paid from the PPV receipts only, was hailed by Jones as being “Very brave and a man of his word in giving me this fight.”

Jones, who bounced one of his toddler sons on his knee, praised God, the universe and mankind in his quest for glory.

“I am the first man in 100 years to do what I did. That’s why I did it,” he said. “It was about time somebody made the jump from light heavy to heavyweight again.”

As IBF heavyweight champ Chris Byrd joined him on the dais, Jones dithered about his future options. “I am not sure I want to fight as a heavyweight again,” said the man who packed on 23 pounds to meet Ruiz in the ring.

“I feel good but I may move back down in weight again.” he slid a sidelong look at Byrd whose face remained impassive. “But at this stage, I think Byrd needs to know too much.”

One person remained unmoved by Jones’ victory and immediately said so. Light heavyweight contender Antonio Tarver, incensed that Jones chose to vacate the IBF light heavyweight championship (of which Tarver is the mandatory challenger) and shoot for heavyweight gold instead, grabbed the microphone circulating the crowd.

“I ain’t impressed,” Tarver announced loudly in the middle of Jones’ long, rambling self-congratulatory speech.

“You wanna impress me, fight me. Then I’ll call you champion of the world.”

Jones looked shocked but tried to ignore Tarver who kept up his litany of “I ain’t impressed” and “I am gonna knock you out” cries.

For the first moment all night, Jones was really in a fight. His temper flared and Jones shot back: “Did you beat the guy you were supposed to beat to fight me?”

Tarver admitted he didn’t. “But you still have to fight me,” said the undaunted challenger.

The two men argued bitterly, but Tarver, who tarnished Jones’ moment of glory, may have just talked himself into a fight.

As he strolled off into the chilly desert night, a broad smile on his face, Tarver called somebody on his cell phone, thrilled with his results.

His companions, fem fighter Laila Ali and her husband/manager Johnny “Yaya” McClain shook their heads in amusement.

“Sometimes in boxing,” said Ali, “You gotta get in people’s faces, otherwise you don’t get heard. Trust me, I ought to know.”

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