I don’t follow boxing, which was once our nation’s most popular sport but has descended over the decades into an ever-shrinking niche. The last time I watched a match from start to finish was in 1995 when Mike Tyson fought Peter McNeeley in Tyson’s first match since getting out of prison. Even then, I didn’t care about the fight. One of my high school football teammates had bought the pay-per-view, and we thought it was a good excuse to throw a party before the season started.
But on Saturday night, boxing got the attention of every one of us whose bods trend more toward Dad than Thor. On Saturday night, those of us whose six-packs have been buried under a layer of blubber created by the consumption of many 12-packs found our hero. For too long, we have been shamed into covering our bellies and hiding our back fat. We have been guided toward pleated pants that only make us look more corpulent. We have been handed salads when we wanted ribs. We have cowered before a culture that celebrates the sinewy and mocks the doughy. Hell, even offensive linemen aren’t fat anymore.
But now those of us who always eat the last biscuit or taco or candy bar have our champion. His name is Andy Ruiz Jr., and his love handles look like our love handles. And those handles look especially lovely over a world championship belt.
When fans started tweeting video from the third round of Ruiz’s fight with Anthony Joshua, I couldn’t look away. At first glance, it felt like a tomato can getting crushed by an Anointed One, which is exactly what the entire fight was supposed to be. There was Ruiz, wearing trunks that had the word DESTROYER stitched into the waistband. The word was tough to make out at first because Ruiz has a slight case of Dunlop Disease, which, as my grandfather liked to point out, is what happens when one’s belly done lopped over one’s belt. Ruiz was only in the ring at Madison Square Garden because Joshua’s original opponent Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller failed a string of doping tests and Ruiz sent an Instagram message to promoter Eddie Hearn promising to give Joshua—an undefeated champ being positioned for a megafight against WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder—a better fight than Miller would have.
Joshua, a 6'6", 248-pounder who looks like someone Michelangelo would have chiseled, planted Ruiz on his posterior with an uppercut-hook combination with 2:16 remaining in the third. After that flurry, it seemed Joshua would make quick work of the 6'2", 268-pound Ruiz. Then something amazing happened. The guy with the beer belly got off the mat and turned into a keg of nails. Ruiz started flinging haymakers, his gloves turning into gold blurs as they whizzed past Joshua’s skull. Meanwhile, Ruiz dodged Joshua’s punches with a quickness not seen from a body type like his since the last time Vince Wilfork fired off the line of scrimmage. With 1:52 remaining in the round, Ruiz snapped a vicious left hook that connected on Joshua’s right cheek and left the champ stunned. Ruiz fired another left that landed on the side of Joshua’s head. After a Ruiz right rocked the other side of Joshua’s head, Joshua found himself on the canvas. Joshua got up, but in his wobbly state, he could only tap the front of Ruiz’s belly like the finger that pokes the Pillsbury Doughboy. Ruiz measured up Joshua for a few seconds. Then he battered Joshua in a corner before knocking him down just before the round ended.
The fight lasted until the seventh round, when referee Michael Griffin stopped it after Joshua was knocked down for a second time in the round. At that moment, Ruiz began jumping around the ring like the rest of us do when we find out thick-cut bacon is on sale buy-one-get-one-free. Later, Ruiz took questions at a press conference while wearing a Knicks jersey. (Which was the first time in decades that a champion of any kind has worn a Knicks jersey.) “Now that I’m the heavyweight champion of the world,” he said, “I’ve just got to take care of myself and work even harder.”
Those of us who grew up shopping in the husky section have but one request: Keep getting better at hitting people, but don’t take care of yourself too well. Don’t come back to the ring looking like The Rock (the movie star). Come back to the ring looking like The Rock (the University of Miami defensive tackle).
We, the Dad Bods of the world, need Ruiz. We can’t throw punches that land like cannonballs like he can, but thanks to him, we can let our bellies swing with pride at the pool this summer. We can call ourselves by nicknames like Big Sexy and not do it ironically. When you aren’t going to eat that, we can eat that. And when our spouses scoff and say, “What are you doing to yourself,” we’ll have an answer.
We’re in training to look just like the heavyweight champion of the world.