As Julio Ceja struggled to catch his breath, 13,109 pairs of lungs did the same. There Ceja was, down on the canvas, the crowd surrounding him in the opposite stance.
Up on their feet, the Staples Center faithful made enough noise to ensure that their vocal chords would be as sore as the morning-after faces and fists of the two fighters before them.
As Ceja picked himself off the canvas, the man who put him there charged in to finish his work.
Soon, Julio Ceja was backed into a corner where he was force-fed a smorgasbord of fists, the action as heated as this abnormally hot late-August night in Los Angeles, where it all went down.
With the clock ticking, it seemed as if both time and Ceja’s ability to remain upright were being counted down at once.
Hugo Ruiz had him.
And then he didn’t.
Two rounds later, Ceja got off the hook with a left hook of his own.
After coming at Ruiz nonstop throughout the fight and sponging up plenty of punishment in the process, Ceja finally found home with a game-changing shot, flooring his foe. Ruiz beat the count, only to get beaten some more until the bout was stopped in Ceja’s favor shortly thereafter.
It was a violent swing of momentum in a fight that was more violent still, a fantastic brawl that ignited the crowd before Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares set it on fire in the main event fight that followed.
When it was over, a new rivalry had been born, one that continues Saturday when Ceja and Ruiz meet again, this time a few miles down the road in Anaheim, California (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
Not only is Ceja’s 122-pound title on the line, but so is the sizable pride of two little dudes with big hearts who clearly revel in living up to their well-established Mexican-warrior heritage.
If all guns blazed last time around, the 29-year-old Ruiz says those guns will become cannons in the rematch, promising to bring more firepower still.
“I’m going to be more aggressive,” he says through an interpreter. “I’m going to look for the fight. I’m the challenger, and I’m coming for the title.”
Six months after the fact, Ruiz sounds nonplussed about his loss to Ceja, feeling like he was in control before Ceja's table-turning left hook in Round 5. And for the most part, he was, using his size—Ruiz possesses a four-inch height and six-inch reach advantage—and more accurate punching to diffuse the sizzling stick of dynamite that was his hard-charging opponent.
“I really felt that the fight was on my side,” Ruiz says. “I got caught with a shot, and that’s it.”
This time around, he expects the 23-year-old Ceja to alter the relentlessly come-forward approach he employed in their first meeting.
“He’s not going to fight the same, because whatever strategy he had before, it wasn’t working,” says Ruiz, who weighed in Friday at the 122-pound limit while Ceja was at 121.4. “I’m prepared if he comes the same or with something different.”
Should the contest live up to expectations—and really, how could it not be another war?—we could be seeing the next great 122-pound rivalry, one in the mold of Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez’s epic three-bout run in 2007-2008 (their 2010 clash was a dud), one of the best fight series ever.
For now, though, Ruiz is less concerned with making history than making Ceja pay for what happened in August.
“This time, I prepared even better,” he says. “People will see that I’m the real champion."
For full coverage of Ceja vs Ruiz, visit our fight page.