The champ has come home.
John Ruiz, who grew up in this city and became the heavyweight champion of the world when he knocked down Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas in 2003, has returned to the Boston area and opened up a beautiful full-contact gym in nearby Medford.
Ruiz, 39, who retired from the ring a year ago with a 44-9-1 career record, will host a grand opening at his Quietman Sports Gym inside of Gold’s Gym in Medford, on Saturday, Sept. 17, from noon to 2 p.m.
Ruiz has purchased all new equipment for the gym and it features a boxing ring as well as a cage for mixed martial arts (kick boxing, jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai). There is a large area for wrestling. Ruiz himself will give boxing lessons at the gym.
“We try to give men and women an introduction to boxing and make sure they know what they’re doing before they hit the speed bag or enter the ring,” said Ruiz. “I’ll be here to train boxers and my brother Edward Ruiz and Jose Centina and will also be trainers and instructors.”
Ruiz said he’s looking forward to working with young fighters. “We definitely would like to work with fighters who have Olympic aspirations,” said Ruiz, who fought in the 1992 U.S. Olympic boxing trials in Worcester. “We’re also here to build self esteem and character and teach kids how to defend themselves. We want to make kids feel proud about themselves and that they learned something about boxing and self defense in our gym.”
Ruiz has also formed a consulting agency with his attorney and advisor, Anthony Cardinale, to help develop young fighters and prepare them for a professional boxing career.
Ruiz recalled his own quest to be a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Fighting in the trials at the Worcester Centrum against Jeremy Williams, Ruiz suffered an unlucky break when the machines being used to count punches malfunctioned at ringside. The judges voted for Williams on their cards.
To this day many felt that Ruiz was clearly the busier fighter and that he should have won the bout and taken a step closer to being a member of the U.S. Olympic team that would include future gold medalist and champion Oscar de la Hoya.
“I can’t look back at what happened at the Olympic trials now – I’ve done a lot in boxing since then which I’m very proud of,” said Ruiz. “Sometimes in life things go wrong and you have to keep moving forward.”
Ruiz gave Chelsea fans the sports thrill of their lives when he beat Holyfield and claimed the WBA heavyweight championship. He received a hero’s welcome at Logan Airport and at Chelsea City Hall. He was Chelsea’s favorite son and on top of the boxing world after his incredible knockdown of Holyfield in the eleventh round.
“It’s something that I can’t really put words to,” said Ruiz. “It was a great feeling. It gives me chills every time I think about it. Hearing those words, ‘the first Latino heavyweight champion of the world,’ I look back on it and I feel so proud. It was a long road but at the end of it, it was a dream come true.”
In Chelsea, that moment when Ruiz became champion of the world still resonates.
“It was just amazing when John won the title because we had watched him grow up in Chelsea, play sports at Chelsea High, and begin his boxing career,” said Councilor-at-Large Leo Robinson, one of the champion’s earliest supporters. “When the referee held his hand up and they announced him as the heavyweight champion of the world – that’s a moment that people in Chelsea will never forget.”
The Chelsea High School Class of 1990 graduate invites residents to join him at the grand opening celebration at his gym on Sept. 17.
“It made me feel so proud that my city was behind me when I fought in the ring,” said Ruiz. “I hope all the people come by and say hello and take a look at what a great gym we have here in Medford.”