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Ruiz has the title within grasp, no contest

In theory, John Ruiz's victory a week ago over Hasim Rahman should assure him a rematch with Roy Jones Jr. because if Jones does not fight Ruiz in 120 days he will be stripped of the World Boxing Association title and it will be awarded to the Chelsea-bred heavyweight for the second time. If you're a Ruiz fan, start the party now.


Jones has no intention of fighting Riuz, who won the interim WBA title from Rahman by taking a majority decision that was not as close as one judge made it. That interim period will end in mid-April, or sooner if Jones simply tells the WBA what he has already told the world: that he has no desire to meet Ruiz a second time.

Since that is what is expected to happen, Ruiz's manager, Norman Stone, and promoter Don King have already begun to discuss springtime opponents for Ruiz. What Stone wants is a shot at fellow Puerto Rican heavyweight Fres Oquendo in San Juan first because he believes it is a fight Ruiz would win and one that would produce a big gate and wide interest among boxing's most loyal supporters, Hispanics.

"King is talking about Oquendo or Joe Mesi," Stone said Friday after returning from Las Vegas. "We'd take either one, but I'd like Johnny to get Oquendo first because that would establish John as the best Puerto Rican heavyweight in history. That would mean a lot to him and his people.

"Then we'd be glad to fight Joe. Joe's a tough fighter and HBO loves him, so bring him on. We'll fight him anywhere he wants. If they want us to go up to Buffalo [where Mesi is from], we'll do it. No problem. After that, it's the Klitschkos."

Oddly, the easiest fight to make for Ruiz is probably one of the biggest he could hope for: a unification bout with International Boxing Federation champion Chris Byrd. Both Byrd and Ruiz are signed to promotional deals with King, and unlike many of their peers, each is more than willing to face the other. Aesthetically, it would very likely not be a pleasing match to watch, with Byrd's defensive style and Ruiz's tendency to fall forward and grab, but the winner would emerge with two-thirds of the recognized world titles and a strong bargaining position with which to try to jockey Lennox Lewis into a big-money fight on HBO.

"Definitely we'd fight Byrd," Stone said. "Or we'd fight Lewis. The thing is, we've got to get money to fight. We took an awful chance fighting Rahman for nothing. Over 80 percent of the boxing writers picked Rahman to win and 65 percent said he'd knock John out inside five rounds. We took the risk and got paid nothing."

"Nothing" is a relative term in boxing, but it's applicable in this case. Ruiz was paid only $200,000 for risking his career against Rahman. That is a huge drop from the nearly $3 million he earned for losing his title to Jones in March in a fight in which Jones was paid a guaranteed $10 million.

That is how it has gone financially for Ruiz through what is now six heavyweight title fights. Ruiz has made roughly $8 million for three fights with Evander Holyfield, one with Jones, and one each with Rahman and Kirk Johnson. Deduct 50 percent for taxes, manager and trainer fees, plus training expenses, and what you find is that Ruiz has probably netted little more than $500,000 a fight for being hit by some of the biggest men in boxing.

That's good money these days, but not when you consider Rahman made double that to give Lewis a rematch, Jones made more than three times that for fighting Ruiz, and the Klitschkos, who have never won any of the three major titles, have both made more than Ruiz without beating anyone of note.

That is the way it goes in boxing. A few fighters through skill and connections make the bulk of the money and the rest are left to bottom feed.

But having won the WBA title for the second time, Ruiz is now hopeful he can parlay that into at least one big payday that can change his life. To get to it, he'll very likely have to fight his way through Oquendo, Mesi, and perhaps even Byrd, which is another year's worth of work.

"That's the tough side of boxing," said Stone, who also pointed out that Ruiz had fought Rahman while also battling the flu and was fearful all night that he might run out of gas. Stone claimed this was at least part of the reason for a performance so displeasing that Ruiz seemed to take little pleasure in his victory.

"Johnny knows he didn't make anything this fight, but winning back the title gives us a position to negotiate from," Stone said. "That's what we needed. We had to take a risk to get back into play. Now Johnny has one of the belts again. He's one of three heavyweight champions. What we got to do for him now is turn that into real money."

To do it, Ruiz will have to do what he's always done. He'll have to take some more risks to earn it.

Paying a price

No fighter could have fought more courageously for $50,000 than William Joppy did last weekend. Joppy bet $25,000 against $50,000 from undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins that he would finish the 12-round fight on his feet. He did, but at a terrible cost. Joppy's face was battered into a nearly unrecognizable mask by both Hopkins's fists and the judicious use of the sides and top of his head. Hopkins is among the slickest fighters in boxing and knows how to walk the borderline of the rules. He did it every time the two came together in close quarters, and the result was an hour after the fight Joppy's face was so swollen it was difficult to recognize him. Later, Hopkins said his wife had told him to never make such a bet again because the feeling was Joppy only hung on to the end to avoid a $75,000 swing in his pay. "Joppy won the bet and he'll get paid," Hopkins said. "He's got a family just like me. But they should have stopped that fight. Around the ninth round I asked the referee, `Do you want me to kill this guy?' He told me to keep fighting." Hopkins did, and Joppy kept taking punishment, which is why such side bets should be outlawed . . . WBA junior welterweight champion Vivian Harris pulled out of his scheduled Jan. 10 title defense in Germany against Oktay Urkal because of a hand injury. He will resume training in five weeks and says he plans to meet Urkal in February or March, but Zab Judah's 72-second victory last weekend in Atlantic City may have had something to do with Harris's decision because a Judah-Harris match would have HBO appeal (and HBO money) and set up the winner for a big-money fight with Kostya Tszyu later next year . . . Speaking of injuries, it was a bad week for Main Events. Not only did it have to cancel its promotion of Harris in Germany but it also had to pull Fernando Vargas out of an agreed-to Feb. 21 pay-per-view show against former junior welterweight champion Javier Castillejo because of persistent back pain. Vargas claimed he had been unable to do regular roadwork because of constant lower-back pain and that inability to train consistently convinced him to cancel the Castillejo fight . . . Main Events had some good news last week, though. Former world champion James Leija has agreed to serve as a potential steppingstone for prospect Francisco "Panchito" Bojado Jan. 24 in Atlantic City. Bojado will be the semi-main event underneath Arturo Gatti vs. Gianluca Branco for the vacant World Boxing Council junior welterweight title vacated by Tszyu. The HBO card will be big exposure for Bojado, who for a time was one of the hottest young prospects in boxing before lax training habits led to his first defeat and slowed his progress. Leija (46-6-2, 19 KOs) will have a vast experience advantage over Bojado (14-1, 11 KOs), but Bojado has youth and power on his side, and they can be tough to overcome. That is what Main Events is banking on. Bojado has won five straight since losing to Juan Carlos Rubio. He avenged that loss by winning a 12-round decision from him in his last fight in Houston . . . Floyd Mayweather's representatives have begun negotiating with Cory Spinks for a possible showdown in March or April. Mayweather is finished at 135 pounds and believes he can easily make the move to 147. If he does and could defeat Spinks, he would become an instant power broker in one of the most competitive weight ranges in boxing (142-154) . . . Here's the kind of planning that's difficult to understand. HBO will televise a "Boxing After Dark" show Jan. 31 from Phoenix headlining World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Antonio Margarito (29-3, 20 KOs) vs. Hercules Kyvelos (22-0, 11 KOs) and IBF bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez (30-3, 27 KOs) vs. Pete Frissina (27-3-1, 15 KOs). So why not put the show in Houston at the Reliant Center, next door to Reliant Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be contested the next afternoon?

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