By Mitch Abramson
Mike Ruiz didn’t seem destined for greatness or even a long-term boxing career, when he first turned pro in 2005. After slugging it out with a tough local boxer named Jason Thompson at the Huntington Townhouse in Long Island, Ruiz was hurt badly by a left hook in the second round. The referee, Steve Willis, stopped the fight, much to Ruiz’s chagrin.
When the two boxers met in the center of the ring for the obligatory post-bout embrace, Ruiz, still seething from the stoppage, slugged Thompson. Minutes later, back in the dressing room, Ruiz could be seen being dragged by his trainer toward Thompson for an apology, which he did, meekly shaking Thompson’s hand. Fast forward seven years and Ruiz is still fighting in notable venues such as Madison Square Garden and the Roseland Ballroom while Thompson, who earned a reputation as one of the toughest amateurs in New York, hasn’t fought since 2010.
While Thompson was the victim of bad matchmaking, Ruiz’s career seems to be in good hands. He is scheduled to face Ronnie Warrior, who has lost five straight, on the undercard of a Sadam Ali headlined show on Oct. 27 at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn on Integrated Sports Pay-Per-View.
Ruiz (17-7, nine knockouts) recently won a minor, junior middleweight title when he stopped the crafty journeyman, Paul Delgado in July in ten rounds. Now, he has his sites on bigger game, calling out the likes of Dmitriy Salita in an attempt to land a significant fight that will raise his profile. He’s come a long way since coming to New York when he was just 15, where he sometimes slept on the street when he didn't have a place to stay.
“That’s the fight I want,” he said of facing the popular Salita. “But I don’t think he wants to fight me. I know it’s a big step up for me but I also know I can beat him.”
What’s clear is that Ruiz has benefitted from an attentive team that has stayed with him despite back-to-back losses in 2011 to the bigger Glen Tapia in two rounds at the Garden and a decision loss to Martin Wright, the second time he lost to Wright in 2011. His team includes manager Wilson Naranjo, trainer Moises Roman Jr., who also handles his publicity, and matchmaker Felipe Gomez. Naranjo and Roman Jr. are co-founders of the Universal Boxing Gym in Ozone Park where Ruiz trains.
“I think he’s figured it out, what works, from those losses,” Roman Jr. said. “You never want to lose a fight, but I think he’s learned from each of his losses and became a better fighter for it.”
What’s also clear is that despite seven losses, including an 0-2 start to his career, Ruiz’s resolve and ambition, along with a willingness to mix it up in the ring and face anyone, has not diminished. He fought eight times in 2011, losing three of those fights.
“I’ve been trying for a long time,” he said last week. “A lot of fighters don’t want to face me. I guess we keep moving it up and on to better things. I just want to keep winning, and now I want to get a chance to get a title fight down the line at some point. The losses don’t get me down. I have a good team around me and we keep going forward. I know if I keep working hard then good things will happen.”
Part of what motivates Ruiz, who had a nice amateur career, winning a New York Golden Gloves novice title at 132 pounds, is a desire to keep a roof over his head and food on his table. He left his native Puerto Rico when he was 15, moving to Long Island and bouncing around, living with different trainers, sometimes sleeping in a car alone and even on the street when he had no one to stay with, he says. Now, he has an apartment in Lynbrook, where he lives with his girlfriend and is solely focused on his boxing career.
“It’s the best feeling ever to have your own place,” he says.
It’s these types of comments that endear him to his manager and trainers, who stick with him through the ups and downs.
“I like Mike and I want to help Mike,” said his manager of two years, Naranjo, who also manages Luis Collazo and Vinny Maddalone. “I think he was mismanaged for a long time and I believe in his talent. I believe in what he can do if he keeps working and training hard.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for BoxingScene.com and the New York Daily News.