His coach of the last four years, the legendary Gil Yanez, agrees with his pupil. Yanez believes that the region in which Ruiz prevailed was quite possibly the toughest such area in the country.
The 22-year-old Ruiz, a Springfield High School graduate and long-time East Sider, who has an ancestry strewn with pugilists—an uncle here, a grandfather there—was, in a manner of speaking, to the manner born. In practice, however, he came a bit late to his sport.
Ruiz only started boxing when he was about 17 or 18 years old during a brief two-year stint in Knoxville, Tennessee. His father relocated after taking a job there and Ruiz recalls passing a gym with a sign on it that read—“Knoxville Golden Gloves.”
That sign enticed him to step inside and begin a journey that will take him to Colorado on March 6. He boxed in Knoxville for about a year before returning to Toledo. But the lessons of Knoxville have never been forgotten, particularly the lessons of his first bout there, a losing effort.
“In my first bout, I lost to a guy named Angelo Delgado,” he says. “My second fight was a rematch with the same guy. I beat him pretty bad. The loss made me train a lot harder.”
When he came back to Toledo, he ran into Devin Vargas, who went to the Olympics as a heavyweight during the summer of 2004. At that time, Vargas was dating a cousin of Ruiz. “He brought me to the gym and Gil took me under his wing.”
Having a trainer with the stature and experience of a Gil Yanez take the young boxer under his wing was a fortuitous turn in the life of Ruiz. Yanez, a 2004 inductee into the National Golden Gloves’ Coaches Hall of Fame who would help to coach Vargas into the Olympics, has trained almost 3,000 boxers by his estimate.
Yanez taught Ruiz how to box and, even more importantly, how to conduct himself in and out of the ring. “I’ve learned to respect people,” says Ruiz, “and I’ve learned how to be disciplined.”
“He stopped his partying, also,” adds Yanez. “Boxing has changed everything around for him.”
And success has followed. When he first started, Ruiz fought in an open division which meant that he faced a lot of boxers with a great deal more experience than he had. But he learned quickly and improved in a hurry. Over the last two years, he says he has only lost two fights.
What does he see as his future in the sport?
There has been talk of turning professional, talk that Yanez has discouraged. “I wanted to turn pro but Gil convinced me to hang in there [as an amateur] for another year.”
“I’ve never really been into the pros,” says Yanez. “It’s dangerous and they don’t really make money in the lower weight divisions.”
It’s another two-plus years until the Olympics roll around again. Ruiz is not sure if he will continue to maintain his training regimen for that long. That decision can wait for a while. For right now, the national Golden Gloves competition is the focus of his attention.
And whatever happens in or after Colorado, Ruiz is grateful for what the journey has brought him so far. He’s grateful to those here who have assisted him and, above all, he’s grateful to God. “I thank God for everything,” he makes it a point to say as he heads out the door.