Sunday, April 03, 2005

Ruiz-Toney -- Hopefully the first step toward unification

By JE Grant

On April 30th, WBA heavyweight titlest John Ruiz (41-5-1, 28 KOs) will defend his belt against the colorful multi-division champion James Toney (68-4-2, 43 KOs) in New York on HBO.

Will this be Ali-Frazier redux? Hardly, but what it can be is the first step toward unification of the heavyweight belt.

Ruiz, to his credit, is defending against a difficult foe in Toney. Although it is clear that Toney has vaulted ahead of deserving contenders based on only two heavyweight fights, it is equally clear that Toney brings more to the match than fighting skills, as considerable as they may be.

His prowess as a ringmaster borders on legendary. In winning titles in several weight classes --- the exact number depends on what sanctioning bodies one chooses to view as legitimate --- Toney has never suffered from feelings of insecurity no matter what weight class. He has established greatness in wins over Michael Nunn, Vasiliy Jirov, and Mike McCallum. He has also proven mysterious in his twin losses to Montell Griffin, a highly controversial win over Dave Tiberi, and of course his lackluster loss to Roy Jones. As a heavyweight, he has beaten a shop-worn Evander Holyfield and an unknown in Rydell Booker. All-in-all he really remains less of a proven product at heavyweight and more of the enigma we've come to love and hate at the same time.

Ruiz, on the other hand, has proven to be a bundle of insecurities, which probably explains his current fighting style. Although he has found a way to win over the likes of Tony Tucker, Evander Holyfield (plus a draw and loss to the same), and former undisputed champion Hasim Rahman. Perhaps his most import fight was a one-round knockout loss to David Tua. He tightened his defense and developed his clutch-and-grab style that has been the subject of much derision. That new style has also produced a lot of wins. In fact an embassassing loss to Roy Jones seems a distant memory as he climbed right back into the win column.

Both fighters have benefitted from questionable decisions, for Toney, as noted in the Tiberi bout, and some even suggest in his Jirov win, and recently for Ruiz in his bout with Andrew Golota.

On paper, this clash looks like dullesville. Ruiz, sure to come forward in an effort to stab and grab and Toney satisfied within laying back and countering the much taller Ruiz. Don't count on it going this way. Both fighters are out to prove their worth. Ruiz may come out of his protective shell against the weaker punching Toney. Toney will likely attempt to put on a high-punch volume clinic.

I'm actually looking forward to this bout -- something I thought I would never say about any fight with John Ruiz. We should all be hopeful that it produces the first contestant in a series that leads to a unified championship.


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