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March 18, 2005
World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John "Quietman" Ruiz can always be counted on for putting on a show. Hes been known to flip his opponents (versus Kirk Johnson), get his manager into the act (versus Andrew Golota) and grab and hold (name of any rival goes here), making for just the kind of boxing theater that sells pay-per-view tickets.
Of course, boxing fans would still rather see the old-fashioned bloody pummeling, little of which is on view in the heavyweight division these days. For that, we have to rely on Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto. April 30, however, was a date HBO had reserved for World Boxing Council heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko versus Hasim Rahman. Earlier this week, however, Klitschko begged off the bout after he pulled a quadriceps muscle, leaving an open fight date with HBO at New Yorks Madison Square Garden. Ruiz (41-5-1, 28 KOs) had, by sheer coincidence, recently agreed to fight Toney (68-4-2, 43 KO) to stem a pending WBA purse bid, although neither a date nor a location had been set.
When the Klitschko fight fell through, Ruizs promoter, Don King, offered HBO Ruiz on a silver platter.
Although he would not disclose Ruizs payday, Ruizs manager Norman "Stoney" Stone confirmed that both sides had agreed upon a purse and that the fight was good to go. Initial reports said Madison Square Garden officials had expressed interest in making Ruiz share billing in a heavyweight doubleheader with a Chris Byrd-Wladimir Klitschko IBF title bout. Stone said he doesnt want anyone elses name on the marquee.
"Everythings been settled, there arent going to be any changes now," said Stone. "Johnnys not going to share billing with anyone else, because were not going to go for it. Plus, I heard they only got 90 minutes [of HBO time]."
HBO and Don King were at odds late last year after King bashed the network for what he said was a lack of promotion for the Trinidad-Mayorga fight and threatened to take his show elsewhere.
Knowing Don King, though, he might just be sticking it back to HBO by giving them Ruiz-Toney. Sure, its a heavyweight bout and the broadcast networks stubbornly stand by their statistics that show that heavyweights are the fights that sell the best.
But ask yourself, what fight will Puerto Rico likely be watching on April 30? The answer is Showtimes card live from the Puerto Rico Coliseum featuring Ruizs fellow Puerto Ricans at the lightest of weights. WBO light flyweight champ Nelson Dieppa defends his title versus Mexicos Hugo Cazares along with WBO mini flyweight champ Ivan Calderon versus Noel Tunacao.
"Ideally we dont like to have two Puerto Ricans on two different fight cards on the same night, but we know our viewing audience and we know that Puerto Rico will be watching the fight from the Coliseum," said Best Boxings Peter Rivera, the promoter for the Coliseum bout.
Could it be that Puerto Rican boxing fans are more discerning and know good boxing when they see it?
Meanwhile, Toney and Ruiz seem to know innately they too have to sell tickets to their Madison Square Garden fight. Toney drew first blood this week by telling Ruiz on the all-boxing website www.boxingtalk.net that "Ruiz should get his dumb Puerto Rican ass in the gym."
Ruiz countered with a little trash talk of his own.
If hes saying I should get into the gym I guess hes worried already," said Puerto Ricos first heavyweight champ. "Its a shame he has to stoop that low to make racial comments for a fight Im going to win easily. But let him talk all he wants. Well see if he has anything to say after the fight."
Ruiz said he was as surprised by Toneys comments as he was by the former cruiserweight world champions appearance on the heavyweight scene.
"How did he get to be the No. 1 contender anyway if he was away for awhile and has only one fight at heavyweight?" said Ruiz.
Toney was voted 2003 Boxer of the Year and fought just once in 2004, winning a unanimous decision over Rydell Booker on Sept. 23 for the vacant IBA heavyweight title. Toney held the IBF cruiserweight title until October of 2003, when he vacated it to move up to heavyweight and fight Evander Holyfield. Toney scored a TKO victory in the ninth over Holyfield. He has held world titles in three weight classes in his career: cruiserweight, super middleweight and middleweight.
Ruiz has won his last three fights, the last two of them at the Garden.
"For me, I think its great to fight in New York because Johnny has lots of fans there and hes got a winning streak going," said Ruizs manager, Stone.
Ruiz scored an 11th-round TKO victory over fellow Puerto Rican Fres Oquendo last year on April 17, followed by a unanimous decision brawl-style victory over Andrew Golota Nov. 13, in which Stone was ejected from Ruizs corner during the match.
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.