Andy Ruiz Jr.’s epic upset over Anthony Joshua was a win for Mexicans everywhere, as Jose Corpas discovers during his travels in Brooklyn.
Following Andy Ruiz Jr.’s incredible win over Anthony Joshua last night, many more store owners than usual displayed their Mexican flags along Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue in Sunset Park.
Over the years, the neighborhood has gone from Puerto Rican to Dominican and, most recently, Mexican. Most of the Mexican immigrants, who started migrating to the area during the late ‘80s, are from the Puebla area. But some, like Daniel, came from the same Mexican state as Ruiz’s family.
Daniel, came as an undocumented worker. He rented part of a room – a bed in the corner, his belongings underneath – and earned meager wages doing the jobs nobody else wanted to do.
Last night Andy Ruiz Jr., like Daniel from Sunset, accepted a job nobody wanted. When Joshua’s original opponent tested positive for cheating, the call went out for a replacement. One heavyweight after the other turned down the opportunity. Some wanted more time, others said they were out of shape, and some said they had other commitments.
Like the day laborers who stand on that street corner a few blocks from the stores on 5th Avenue, Ruiz, took the job nobody else wanted.
Daniel, a lifelong boxing fan who once took a picture with Jorge Paez, has done everything from scraping pigeon poop off the steel girders that keep the Gowanus Expressway 100 feet above the filthy canal below, to cleaning human wastes from abandoned buildings in Coney Island before they were renovated. It was a hard life made easier whenever Julio Cesar Chavez used to fight.
“Those nights were like holidays,” Daniel said.
Daniel hasn’t watched much boxing since the Julio Cesar Chavez glory days. When I told him Ruiz, whose parents were from Mexicali, was fighting for heavyweight glory, his eyes lit up. But the twinkle faded when he saw a picture of Ruiz, his ample gut exposed.
“Man, I hope he don’t get hurt.”
But he promised he would watch. As did the delivery guys from the taco place, and the lady selling empanadas by the school yard. As did many of the shop owners along that strip where the hipster moms from Park Slope and Windsor Terrace come to purchase birthday pinatas for their kids.
What they saw was one of the most inspiring sports moments of recent history. Ruiz Jr. got knocked down, got up, and got busy. He threw some of the best heavyweight combinations since the days of a young Evander Holyfield. Daniel told me he felt like crying.
“Thank you, thank you,” Daniel kept saying, as if I had something to do with the win.
“I never heard of Ruiz until you told me,” he explained. “Chavez was supposed to win, not this guy.”
When I spoke with Ruiz before his last fight, he was certain he was going to win the title. Fighting under the PBC banner, trained by Manny Robles and Estrellita, he said he finally had in place the right team. All he needed, he said, “was the opportunity.”
When that came, he made no excuses. It didn’t matter that he wouldn’t have a full camp. It didn’t matter that he was a huge underdog. After a spell away from social media, he got back on and responded to tweets criticizing his big belly and questioning his dedication to the game.
“You will see how serious I am June 1st,” Ruiz responded to one tweet and, in a later one, wrote, “This fight is for all my underdogs who are always counted out, all my fat boys who are never given a chance or overlooked simply for their weight.”
Ruiz proved them all wrong. His Twitter following tripled overnight and many “fat boys” were tweeting pictures of their girth, saying they felt better today because of Ruiz. And along 5th Avenue in Brooklyn, the guy selling raspados on 5th and 53rd was talking boxeo. So were the men in the food truck on 54th and, according to one the customers waiting for their order, the priest at the local church began his sermon by mentioning to the mostly Latino congregation that the “heavyweight champion of the world is a Mexican.”
Daniel became a citizen a few years ago. His eldest is in college, studying to become a dentist. Like Ruiz and his father, Daniel worked mostly in construction.
“We ain’t all bad,” Daniel said with sadness. “But some of these kids, they’re being made to feel ashamed to be immigrants,” he said before adding, “We need more heroes.”
In this era where talk is focused on dividing people with barriers, Daniel thinks Ruiz could be that hero. Daniel hasn’t been all that impressed by the recent Mexican boxers.
“They’re all good you know. But this guy Ruiz, he’s special. He didn’t pick the opponent. He didn’t pick the date. He just showed up to work and did the impossible.”
For a closer look at Andy Ruiz Jr., check out his fighter page.
- Andy Ruiz Jr