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Ruiz, fans robbed

Champ disappointed in way victory ended

NEW YORK -- John Ruiz repeated a pattern he has grown used to. He retained the heavyweight title Saturday night, but nobody was happy with his performance. Not even Ruiz.

"It seems like I have the worst luck in the world," the World Boxing Association titleholder said after stopping challenger Fres Oquendo in the 11th round at Madison Square Garden with a six-punch clubbing that left Oquendo wobbling and unable to defend himself. As Oquendo's face went blank, Ruiz smashed one wild right after another into it as Oquendo sagged into the turnbuckle.

Yet when referee Wayne Kelly stopped the bout at 2:33 of the round, the crowd booed lustily, Oquendo protested, and Ruiz turned away in disgust. The fighters and the fans seemed unfulfilled by Kelly's decision, even though no one could dispute that Oquendo was defenseless at the time. The problem was he was not out cold, and hence there was the feeling that Oquendo's desultory performance had not ended properly.

"A couple of more punches and he would have been on the canvas," Ruiz said early yesterday morning, after promoter Don King's seemingly endless card finally ended well past 1 a.m. "He was out on his feet, but the people got robbed of the excitement."

The excitement the fighters provided was minimal because Ruiz's awkward style mesmerized another opponent in the displeasing way that twice has made him WBA champion but has yet to convince the public he deserves the title. No one would dispute that Ruiz won the bout, which he was leading by scores of 96-94 on two of the judges' cards when he stunned Oquendo, just as no one would dispute his wins over Evander Holyfield, Kirk Johnson, and Hasim Rahman. But something always seems to be missing.

To have sent Holyfield and Johnson to the floor, wobbled Rahman so severely he refused to throw a punch, and left Oquendo lost in the spaces of his mind should have elevated Ruiz to star status by now. But, as he knows so well, the end of his fights usually are far more pleasing than what leads up to them.

Often, as was the case Saturday night, they degenerate into a clutching and holding festival, with Ruiz throwing a jab and a right and then grabbing. His opponents fall into the same frustrating trap. What results is not pleasing to the eye, but it has left Ruiz with a 40-5-1 record with 28 knockouts, the WBA title, and the odd sense that he has to apologize for victory.

"It was a disappointing win," Ruiz said. "The referee jumped in too soon. It felt terrible to me. I know the ref has a job to protect the fighters, but the fans pay for the tickets. They didn't come to see Oquendo hold. Then the opportunity comes [for a knockout] and they don't get it. I've got to admit, it was a horrible fight against a guy holding so much."

Oquendo (24-3) has lost two straight title fights, including a disputed decision to International Boxing Federation champion Chris Byrd, who Saturday night defended his title by the slimmest of margins for the second straight time, fighting a surprisingly resilient and focused Andrew Golota to a draw.

Oquendo had promised many things on the eve of meeting Ruiz, including a sharp right he never landed -- because he never threw it -- and a rapier jab. That did appear in the middle rounds, but for the most part Ruiz smothered everything Oquendo tried. When Oquendo kept his distance, his speed and jab gave him a clear advantage. But he was not willing to work hard enough to continue fighting at long range because Ruiz's persistence wore him down more than any punches did.

"I'm dangerous in later rounds because I am persistent," Ruiz said. "One more combination and he's on the canvas. The crowd wants to see someone on the floor, so they felt they got ripped off."

To a degree, so did Oquendo, who protested almost immediately about the stoppage, although he did nothing to try to convince Kelly not to stop the fight until he was wrapped in his arms. Then Oquendo shook his head, later saying, "I wasn't even hurt. I don't know why he stopped the fight. I was fine."

Regardless, it was a merciful stoppage because it saved Oquendo from further abuse and the fans from watching more of an ugly tango.

The Byrd-Golota main event was the opposite of Ruiz-Oquendo. It was a pleasing affair in which Golota refused to descend to the level he so often has fallen to in the past, when he twice fouled his way into defeat against Riddick Bowe, bit Samson P'ua, and quit against Michael Grant and Mike Tyson.

Golota seemed to understand this was his final chance in the big time if he repeated those fouls -- and it showed. He was in control all night, never hitting Byrd low and only once engaging in roughhousing after the bell. Other than that, he was the image of fistic decorum, constantly crowding Byrd to negate his speed and trapping him along the ropes with rights.

Byrd often was content to stay on the ropes and trade with Golota even though he seemed more productive when he was in the center of the ring jabbing and countering a man who towered over him and outweighed him by nearly 30 pounds.

By the end of the night, Byrd's left eyebrow was swollen, while the challenger seemed OK with the draw, seemingly relieved he had gotten through a major fight without controversy.

"It was a good fight," Golota (38-4-1) said. "I thought I won. He thought he won. We can maybe do it again?" 

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