Photos by Sumio Yamada
RUSLAN CHAGAEV vs JOHN RUIZ
The heavyweight theme these days is the domination by boxers from the former Soviet bloc. Well, here comes another one, with the undefeated former world amateur champion Ruslan Chagaev, from Uzbekistan but a member of Germanys powerhouse Universum stable, meeting two-time world champ John Ruiz in a title eliminator in Dusseldorf on Saturday.
Ruiz, 34, matches his great experience against the straight-ahead pressure of the southpaw Chagaev, 28, in a fight that looks to me like a coin-toss although the sportsbooks make the Uzbek favourite.
As always with unbeaten boxers we can never be quite sure how good they are until they lose, and Chagaev has never met anyone like Ruiz. It is by far Chagaevs most daunting challenge.
Ruiz has a new promoter, Germanys Wilfried Sauerland, and a new trainer, the Puerto Rican Manny Siaca, who has trained a number of world champions including his son, Manny Jr. Weve gone global,â€? Ruiz quips.
If you take Ruiz at his word, he has a new enthusiasm for boxing. He says he has learned new things under Siaca and will be doing more boxing and moving, less waiting and holding.
Chagaevs White Tysonâ€? nickname tells you all you need to know about his style. He comes straight ahead and looks to land heavy shots from his southpaw stance. At 6ft 1in and around 230 pounds he is one of those tank-like fighters, very strong and sturdy.
Chagaev has won 21 of his 22 fights but really he should be 22-0. He had Rob Calloway ready to be knocked out in Detroit four years ago but it was called a technical draw because of an earlier clash of heads. In a rematch there was no escape for Calloway, who was knocked out in two rounds. Chagaev is going to be putting pressure on Ruiz or trying to do so.
Ruiz, of course, has seen it all before. The Las Vegas-based Ruiz has been on the big stage many times and in his 49 bouts hes fought a far higher class of opponent than Chagaev has been meeting: the even-steven trilogy with Evander Holyfield, wins over Hasim Rahman, Kirk Johnson, Andrew Golota, Fres Oquendo, Tony Tucker, losses to James Toney (changed to a no decision when Toney tested positive for steroids) and Nikolai Valuev (disputed verdict).
We have seen it time and again where the more experienced fighter beats the unbeaten but relatively untested one, and Ruiz certainly seems upbeat and confident. Ruiz seems more settled in his own mind than he has been for a long time. He knows how to box and he can punch, and hes been in a lot of 12-rounders. The first heavyweight champ of Latino heritage with his Puerto Rican ancestral roots, Ruiz long ago lived down the stigma of getting knocked out in 19 seconds by David Tua people now accept that Ruiz simply got caught cold that night. After 14 years as a professional and having been through a lot, Ruiz is going to be difficult to beat on Saturday especially if, as he says, he is truly enjoying his boxing again.
Chagaev is a rough handful, however. A two-time world amateur champion and twice an Olympic representative, he beat the great Cuban Felix Savon in the amateurs. He has 17 KOs in his 21 pro victories (as said it should by rights be 18 KOs in 22 wins). His best wins were in his last two fights a close decision over the big, heavy-handed Ukrainian Vladimir Virchis and an eighth-round stoppage of former British champion Michael Sprott, a competent boxer.
If he can beat Ruiz we will know he is the real thing, but he has his work cut out for him. Trainer Manny Siaca has said in interviews that he has got Ruiz throwing four jabs and moving instead of throwing one jab and grabbing.
If Ruiz can indeed keep some distance between himself and Chagaev, use the jab and slot in the solid right hands and hooks, he might well be able to get the younger man a bit discouraged and start to build up momentum.
In an inside, pushing, mauling, physical type of fight, I think that the advantage lies with the shorter, thickset Chagaev.
Readiness is all, and Chagaev is probably as ready as he is going to be. He and trainer Michael Timm will have studied Ruiz and come up with a battle plan but planning how to fight someone like Ruiz is one thing and putting the plan into effect is something else again.
Still, difficult though the task is, my guess is that Chagaev can eke out a win by crowding Ruiz and outworking him in a tough, close fight. Whatever happens, at least we should know how good Chagaev really is when this one is all over.