Andy Ruiz Jr: Marked for Victory

The former world title challenger takes a major step toward his goal of becoming the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent when he faces the dangerous Alexander Dimitrenko Saturday night on FOX.

When Andy Ruiz Jr. steps into the ring against Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20, he’ll be sporting a new tattoo across his heavyweight back. Done at a no-frills tattoo parlor where décor is reserved for the skin of their clientele, it’s a message that was etched in his mind.

“Victorious.”

That’s Ruiz’s goal when he faces Dimitrenko Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The card will be headlined by a welterweight match between former two-division world champion Danny Garcia versus Adrian Granados, live on FOX and FOX Deportes (8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT).

While Ruiz, 31-1 (20 KOs), strives to become heavyweight champion of the world, he’s already a winner in life. Born in Imperial, California, to Mexican immigrants, he was given a name that means warrior. Ruiz was raised in a churchgoing home with a nuclear family, a childhood that he described as neither poor nor rich. Nonetheless, he encountered multiple forks in the road. At one of those intersections of life he decided, between swings of a hammer, to become a professional boxer.

Imperial is a flat city with lots of beige walls and thirsty lawns. Located roughly thirty minutes from Mexicali, Mexico, this cordial city, where everyone either knows you or someone in your family, suffers from all the trappings of a border town. It’s located almost dead-center between Los Angeles and Phoenix; used as a bridge by drug smugglers and human traffickers on their way to the big cities.

Imperial is a relatively low-crime area, but idle time and bored youths is a recipe for trouble.

“There’s lots of gangbangers near here,” Ruiz said of his hometown.

Around the time Ruiz was kicked out of high school for fighting, ICE, and its Homeland Security Investigations unit, initiated Operation Community Shield to combat the growth of street gangs. Imperial County was one of the first areas of focus. Ruiz, however, didn’t need any intervention from the guys in the navy-blue windbreakers. His father set him straight.

The elder Ruiz, a construction worker who eventually started his own business flipping homes, didn’t allow his son to mope around the streets when he wasn’t in school. He brought him to work and put a hammer in his hand. Ruiz’s stint on the construction sites didn’t last, but it was long enough for him to have learned the importance of good foundations and strong support.

“My father and I used to argue,” Ruiz recalled. “Because all I was thinking about was boxing.”

My father and I used to argue. Because all I was thinking about was boxing. Heavyweight Contender - Andy Ruiz Jr.

One of those arguments ended with an ultimatum. Work or box. Choose one and do it right. Ruiz put down the hammer and headed south.

On the inside of his right bicep, visible when he flexes, are the words “Hecho En Mexico.” Fans of those gloves, known as “puncher’s gloves,” might be familiar with the phrase. It means made in Mexico and though Ruiz was born on the north side of that long line in the sand - this most recent line, drawn in 1848 – his roots are 100 percent La Raza.

Ruiz’s grandfather owned a boxing gym in Mexicali, the same gym Jorge “Maromero” Paez fought out of. It was in Mexico where Ruiz embarked on an amateur career that, over the years, saw him go 100-5.

When the 2008 Olympics neared, Ruiz, still residing in Mexico at the time, made a push to represent the country in the Beijing games. According to Mexican law, you can qualify for the national team if your parents were born there. But Ruiz just missed out on wearing the green jump suit in Beijing, losing a close decision in Guatemala during the qualifying rounds.

About an hour away from Guatemala City, during certain times of the rain season, there’s a river that flows one way on one side and, the opposite way on the other side. Like that river, Ruiz is equally as comfortable going and coming between nations, playing Banda music in his Porsche while driving along Main Street, or hanging on Avenida La Reforma, listening to the latest rap flows.

“Man, I really liked Nipsey Hussle,” he said of the recently slain Hip Hop star.

Ruiz insists he isn’t looking past the experienced, 6-foot-7 Dimitrenko (41-4, 26 KOs) from Russia. A win Saturday night brings him closer to his goal of being champion—the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent.

“I came closer than any of the others,” Ruiz said of his 2016 points loss to Joseph Parker where one judge scored it a draw and Parker spent the following three days sipping his meals through a straw. “I have to do better next time.”

But Ruiz represents much more than Mexico or California or the United States.

In this era of chiseled athletes, he’s the kid on the block that always played catcher; he’s the son helping his father load lumber onto the back of the family’s truck; he’s the father fighting to keep “cheerios in my babies’ bowls.”

“I have to do better,” Ruiz repeated.

This time, he’s marked for victory.

For a closer look at Garcia vs Granados, check out our fight night page.

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