The faint voice of Andy Ruiz Jnr crackles and eventually fades down the phone.
The former heavyweight champion is driving amid the mountains around San Diego and not until he is home, on less turbulent terrain, does the fog disappear and everything become rather clearer.
It’s a feeling Ruiz knows only too well. Nearly two years have passed since his speculative Instagram message to Eddie Hearn lit the fuse on one of boxing’s greatest underdog tales. Over seven astonishing rounds in New York, this ‘fat kid with the big dream’ toppled Anthony Joshua to reach the sport’s summit.
Andy Ruiz Jnr relives his rise and fall as boxing’s heavyweight king with Sportsmail
Within six months, however, his reign had washed away in the sodden Saudi desert and only now, after depression and despair, is it all starting to make more sense.
‘It could have happened to anybody. And I don’t want it to happen to nobody,’ says Ruiz.
No wonder. ‘The lowest point of my life,’ is how Ruiz describes the aftermath of that night in Diriyah, when — bloated by six months of parades and parties — he surrendered his titles back to Joshua.
‘I just wanted to crawl under my bed and just hide and eat Cheerios,’ he says. Again, though, Instagram proved a source of hope. Only this time it was AJ.
‘There were a few messages,’ reveals Ruiz. ‘We were just saying that I’d bounce back, that I’m a great fighter.
‘I have nothing but love for him. I don’t have no grudges.’
Ruiz stunned the world when he beat Anthony Joshua inside Madison Square Garden in 2019
Over seven astonishing rounds in New York, Ruiz beat Joshua to reach the sport’s summit
The Mexican-American fighter jumps for joy after pulling off one of boxing’s biggest shocks
On May 1, Ruiz can begin to prove his old foe right. After 17 months out, the 31-year-old returns against Chris Arreola. ‘The new beginning,’ he says.
And yet, Ruiz can’t escape reminders of those days past. Not while shadowing him in the gym is his eldest son — Andy Junior… Junior.
‘We call him AJ. They used to call me AJ, too,’ laughs Ruiz.
‘He’s always right here with me. I want him to be a boxer. I want him to learn how to be disciplined. I don’t want him to have to struggle with weight like I did when I was young.’
The truth, of course, is that those issues — and the mockery — never stopped. Not in June 2019, when Ruiz, a 25-1 outsider, morphed from sacrificial lamb to the first Mexican-American heavyweight king.
And certainly not in Saudi when yet another boxing fairy tale ended with a familiar whimper. Now, though, in his first major interview since, Ruiz tells Sportsmail: ‘Everything has changed.’
He is now working under Eddy Reynoso, the trainer who moulded Canelo Alvarez into the world’s finest fighter. ‘It’s all different,’ says Ruiz. ‘My mentality, my spirit, everything.’
Ruiz celebrates as he proudly shows off his WBA Super, IBF, WBO & IBO heavyweight titles
In boxing’s long list of popular promises, this tends to rank among the most empty. As ever, the proof will be in the pudding, or perhaps the lack of it.
‘When I weighed-in in Saudi Arabia, I was 283lb,’ says Ruiz. ‘I easily fought at 300 pounds. Right now I’m at 258. I’m lighter than I was for the first fight.’
For the first time ever, the heavyweight says, he is lifting weights and working with a strength and conditioning coach.
‘But the most important thing is outside of the gym,’ he says. ‘I’ve learned how to discipline myself and not go crazy. I don’t try to overeat like I used to.’
So no Snickers? ‘No Snickers, no sweets, no cakes even though I love them so much,’ he laughs.
‘On the weekend, I have a cheat meal. I used to have a cheat day. So the whole day I would be eating and eating.’
Now, beyond one burger or a portion of enchiladas, it’s chicken and fish that fuel his double or triple training sessions. Away from the gym, bible studies and a slimmed-down entourage help him resist temptation.
The 31-year-old was honoured with a hometown parade after upsetting the odds against AJ
Ruiz made his love for Snickers no secret, with his diet eventually proving to be his downfall
Ruiz was even given a ‘Snickers’ belt after announcing his love for the nutty chocolate bar
‘Say I want to order some pizza, they’re like “No, you have to stay good. Remember the journey”.’
It could prove a long road back. By battering Joshua, Ruiz made himself a risk worth avoiding.
‘I did everything right, I trained really hard, I said exactly what I was going to do and I did it,’ he recalls. ‘At that moment, it was exactly what I dreamed of.’
Team Ruiz left New York early the morning after the night before — to avoid traffic. By the time they landed back in Los Angeles, the circus was under way.
Soon his inbox included marriage proposals, strangers asked him to be godfather to their kids.
There was the hometown parade, the ‘Snickers’ belt, the TV appearances, the reception with Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Oh, and the parties.
‘It was overwhelming man,’ he says. ‘I could have said,“No, I’m going to go to the gym” but, if it was somebody else, I don’t know how they would react. I was just happy in the moment. I was just trying to live it up.’
He fulfilled his lifelong dream of buying a Rolls Royce – but new toys left him feeling empty
How he succeeded. Could one party sum up the chaos?
‘I don’t know. There were just so many,’ he laughs. ‘I just regret the mistakes that I’ve made.’
Only months before beating AJ, Ruiz had been evicted from his apartment and considered packing it in. Those two fights reportedly earned him £15million.
So perhaps you can forgive some of the excess. Certainly no one will begrudge his mother the new car he bought her, having damaged a fair few in his youth.
‘You know what? I always wanted a big house, a lot of cars, Rolls Royces,’ says Ruiz. ‘But once you have all those things, you really don’t look at them the same way.’
The new toys only filled him with emptiness.
‘The thing I’m most proud of that I bought was land,’ he says.
Ruiz is building 26 houses in his hometown of Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border, where he nearly fell into gang life.
‘That’s one of the big accomplishments, besides winning the world titles, in my career.’
They will stand as a lasting legacy of a short reign that began to crumble almost immediately.
Six months on, an out-of-shape Ruiz was outboxed and outclassed by Joshua in their rematch
Ruiz admits he went into the rematch with a negative attitude having hardly trained for it
After beating Joshua, Ruiz was due to have a month out of the gym. He took three. Even when he did begin ‘camp’ for the rematch, training was an optional extra.
‘I was basically making my own schedule,’ says Ruiz. ‘There were no rules. I did whatever I wanted.’
That included a haircut shortly before flying to Saudi. The cape he wore featured a patchwork of pictures from his win in New York.
By the time he stepped on the scales, not even a trim could mask the extra stone elsewhere.
Some people wondered if he was hiding weights underneath his sombrero. The reality? Ruiz had just come from the buffet — full of food, wracked with fear.
‘I have nothing but bad memories, the only thing that I was praying for was me not to get hurt inside the ring, for me not to get knocked out,’ he admits.
‘I already felt the presence of me losing.’ And so it proved. Over 12 rounds, a hollowed-out AJ boxed his way to victory.
‘A lot of people got mad after the fight when I said I didn’t train right,’ remembers Ruiz.
‘But I think that’s what my heart was saying. I had to man up and say the truth. I know I did wrong.’
Ahead of his rematch, there were questions over his weight after he piled on the pounds
There was little sympathy at the time and the mood has barely warmed since. Ruiz claims to be grateful for the life lessons now. For months, however, he sank into the shadows.
‘I shut myself like a turtle, I was just hiding from the world,’ he says. ‘There were times when I would go out and party but that was because my heart was empty.’
Ruiz adds: ‘I was depressed, I was mad at myself. I was mad at the people around me. It’s crazy how when you’re on top, everybody’s there with you, supporting you. But when you lose, a lot of the people scatter away.’
The invites and attention dried up, too. ‘I didn’t really miss that,’ he says. Instead, the bible helped steer him back to the gym.
‘I knew my purpose — me being a champion of the world and making people believe that everything is possible,’ he says.
‘Before all this happened I couldn’t really pay my rent, I couldn’t really help my family or the people that love me.’ Now?
‘I’m in a better place to give back, but I couldn’t help other people unless I could help myself.’
On May 1, Ruiz begins his road to redemption. All being well, AJ and Tyson Fury will collide not long after.
Now, Ruiz is on the road to redemption and insists ‘everything has changed’ ahead of May 1
‘Fury has a really weird style,’ Ruiz says. ‘I feel if Joshua doesn’t box around — like he did to me —and goes forward, throws his combinations, I think Anthony will pull out the victory.’
If he does and Ruiz makes good on his own promise, a third fight could come into view. Mouth-watering clashes with Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte are being touted, too.
Ruiz has already pictured how this next whirlwind will end. ‘I’m going to be a sober man, I’m going to be a champion inside of the ring and most importantly, a champion outside of the ring,’ he says. ‘I just had a little taste of all that stuff and things went south.’
So how would he celebrate this time around?
‘I’ve been drinking Diet Coke,’ he adds. ‘But maybe we’ll have a glass of wine. I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt.’