By Lyle Fitzsimmons

Call it gallows humor, John Ruiz style.

When presented with a “gun to your head” scenario on his chances of being in a ring with Nikolay Valuev again by the end of the year, the 37-year-old former two-time heavyweight belt-holder pronounced his own sentence ominously.

“I guess in that case I’m a dead man,” he said.

“I feel like there’s been a black cloud associated with me for my whole career, and it’s following me around. I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways with the things that I’ve accomplished, but it does feel sometimes like the sport has it in for me.”

Never a stranger to controversy and intrigue both in the ring and out, Ruiz’s latest soap opera once again involves the World Boxing Association and its multi-fragmented heavyweight title – which as of Monday night remained in familiar limbo.

The Panama-based body still recognizes Valuev as its champion and the oft-injured Ruslan Chagaev as its “champion in recess,” a scenario that was supposed to change recently when the two men were scheduled to meet in Helsinki, Finland.

As the WBA’s official challenger, Ruiz was in line to fight the winner later in 2009.

Simple, right?


Chagaev was declared unable to fight due to pre-fight medical issues – specifically Hepatitis B – which, in a perfect world for Ruiz, would result in a stripping of the “recess” moniker and automatically push him one rung up the ladder and into a match with Valuev for the third time.

Instead, Ruiz says, a final ruling on the matter has been pushed beyond its original deadline by Chagaev’s late-stage appeals, leaving the Massachusetts-born veteran to sit and wait – less optimistically by the moment – that the wrangling will end in his favor.

A WBA statement Friday said, “We shall once again apologize with media, boxers and fans for not being able to issue a resolution in a timely manner, but the new information must be analyzed in order to provide a fair decision for all parties involved in this situation.”

Predictably, Ruiz is suspicious.

“The deck seems stacked against me and it’s become second nature to me. It’s just part of my life,” he said. “I mean, by this point, everyone’s got to realize it’s not an even playing field. They just don’t need to make it so obvious.”

Chagaev, however, may make it academic by following through with rumored plans to meet Wladimir Klitschko in Germany, a chance made available when David Haye pulled out of a June 20 shot at the IBF/IBO/WBO champion with a back injury.

Chagaev ‘s last 10 fights have been in Germany, where he’s been medically cleared to compete. If he takes that fight in a substitute role, it seems, he’ll forfeit any claim to the WBA title, meaning Ruiz’s road to Valuev will be obstacle free.

“It’s three strikes,” Ruiz said. “If it were baseball, he’d be out.”

For Ruiz, though, the third time could be a charm.

He won the WBA title in 2001 with a decision over Evander Holyfield in the second of their three fights, then held onto it with a draw in the trilogy maker and a subsequent DQ win over Kirk Johnson in July 2002.

He lost a decision to Roy Jones Jr. in March 2003, regained the vacant title by the end of that year and held onto it until the first go-round with Valuev.

“I’m not content to just fold up and go home and let them continue doing what they’re doing,” he said. “I can’t do that. So I have to keep going and keep trying and keep fighting this.”

Ruiz’s team filed a petition with the WBA last week, demanding it warrant a purse bid for the Valuev three-match to be held by Aug. 30.

“The WBA ruling stated he would lose his status if he was unable to fight – no excuses. The WBA mandatory rules revert back and Valuev has to make a mandatory defense by Aug. 30, 2009,” attorney Anthony Cardinale said.

“The WBA heavyweight title can’t be held hostage. It’s obvious that unsafe medical regulations in Germany regarding Chagaev’s medical condition do not apply anywhere else.”

Ruiz met Valuev for the first time in December 2005 and dropped a majority decision in Berlin. A similar scenario followed in their rematch last August, with Valuev winning a split verdict shrouded in controversy.

Surprise, surprise.

Ruiz and his team protested the second result – alleging one judge wrongly kept a running score during the fight and another scored two rounds even, in spite of a WBA instruction that no rounds be declared even in title fights.

Lastly, the team claimed Valuev’s corner was informed of the official scoring as the fight progressed, another violation of WBA rules.

“I’ve got to go over there and knock this guy out. I mean just lay him out in the middle of the ring, and maybe then I’ll get a split decision,” Ruiz said. “But even then they might claim he hit his head on the ropes and give him a DQ or something.

“I guess when it comes to boxing I’m more of a glass half-empty guy than half-full.”

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This week’s title fight schedule:


WBO welterweight title – New York, N.Y.

Miguel Cotto (champion) vs. Joshua Clottey (No. 1 contender)

Cotto (33-1, 27 KO): First title defense; 15th career title fight (13-1, 11 KO)      

Clottey (35-2, 20 KO): Third career title fight (1-1); Former IBF champion

FitzHitz says: Cotto by decision      


WBO junior flyweight title

Ivan Calderon (champion) vs. Rodel Mayol (No. 1 contender)

Calderon (32-0, 6 KO): Fourth title defense; 17th career title fight (16-0, 2 KO)      

Mayol (25-3, 19 KO): Third career title fight (0-2); Started career 22-0 – 3-3 since

FitzHitz says: Calderon by decision

Last week’s record: 0-0

Overall picks record: 4-1 (80 percent)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 20-year sports journalist and a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at