The Ruiz corner was so convinced that he had been cheated out of his title that then manager/trainer Norman Stone snatched the belt away from Valuev and paraded it around the ring, nearly causing a brawl with the Russian's team.
"Boxing is the only sport where you can get robbed without a gun," said a frustrated and disappointed Ruiz after the fight.
Following that controversial loss, Ruiz decided he needed a change in order to remain a relevant figure in the division. The first step: Release Stone. It was somewhat of a surprise, especially because he had been with Ruiz since the heavyweight turned pro in 1992 and was by his side in moments such as when Ruiz became the first Latino heavyweight champ, when Ruiz became a two-time world title-holder and when Ruiz lost to Roy Jones Jr. in Jones' history-making effort. Ruiz maintains that he asked Stone to remain involved in a lesser role but that his ex-handler refused.
Following a long layoff after the loss to Valuev that many thought would eventually turn into retirement -- Ruiz briefly retired in 2005 out of frustration following a loss to James Toney -- Ruiz enlisted the help of Puerto Rican trainer Manny Siaca Sr. to steer him back in a winning direction. The way Ruiz speaks about Siaca, it seems that was one of the best moves of his career.
"I'm glad I made that decision," Ruiz said. "With Manny in my corner, I'm learning more. I'm more motivated and I feel reborn as a fighter."
According to Siaca, Ruiz "needed to change his style. He needed to throw more combinations and he needed to move more, and that's what he's doing now."
Siaca, who has trained a number of world champions, went back to basics with Ruiz. A return to the aggressive style that carried him to a world title and the abolishment of that boring jab-and-hold technique he had been using throughout the past few years.
The initial collaboration between Ruiz and Siaca -- a split-decision loss to Ruslan Chagaev in November 2006 -- wasn't unfruitful. Though defeated, Ruiz appeared as if he did more punching in one round against Chagaev than in 12 total rounds in any of his previous fights. And he clinched the Uzbekistani pugilist less in that fight than he did against any of his previous opponents in one round. Chagaev went on to strip Valuev of his title.
Despite suffering his second-straight loss, Ruiz showed that his work with Siaca was paying dividends. He went on to win two straight to stay in the heavyweight mix. First, he destroyed Otis Tisdale in two rounds, using crisp combinations in a much-needed confidence booster. Having grown accustomed to Siaca's new style, Ruiz then won a unanimous-decision bout against former sparring partner Jameel McCline in a hug-fest, drawing criticism for appearing to have reverted back to his old, boring style.
"People see holding and they think it's me because I'm the easier target," Ruiz said. "But there are two people in the ring and I didn't do any holding [against McCline]."
Siaca backed-up his pupil and said that McCline was responsible for the majority of the holding, especially when he was rocked by Ruiz's punches.
For his rematch against Valuev (which won't be televised in the U.S.), Ruiz will travel to Germany for the third time in his career and hopes that the old adage holds true. Last April, Chagaev demonstrated that the 7-foot, 320-pound Valuev can be beaten, and Ruiz knows that in order to walk away with his hand raised, he'll have to be mobile, punch in bunches and still do a little more.
"I could put him down every round and he could still win," said Ruiz, half-jokingly because he knows how difficult it is to win a decision against fighters who call Deutschland their home. "I thought that [the first fight] was one of my easiest fights and I thought I had won, but they took the belt away from me. This time around, I'll have to practically kill the guy to get the win. If it goes all 12, the decision is going to Valuev."
For the sake of the heavyweight division (and for no more boring Ruiz fights), let's hope that "The Quiet Man" uses his new style to make some noise and wake up the big men.
If Ruiz manages to beat Valuev for the vacant WBA title, he'll have to fight Chagaev again. Chagaev was declared "champion in recess" by the WBA after citing injuries and pulling out of two mandatory defenses. Ruiz and Valuev -- both annoyed that the title was growing mold -- petitioned the boxing organization to allow them to fight for an interim title and were granted their request. Therefore, the winner of Saturday's bout will have to face Chagaev no later than June 29 of next year.
Also, add IBF and WBO champ Wladimir Klitschko to the list. SI.com's Chris Mannixreported earlier that the younger Klitschko is eyeing the winner of Ruiz-Valuev. Ruiz says he has wanted to fight either of the Klitschko brothers (the elder Vitali has come back from retirement and will fight Samuel Peter in October) since early 2000. So, it goes with out saying that Ruiz would gladly take that fight.
To Siaca, it doesn't matter who is next. He thinks Ruiz can take on anyone no problem.
"John looks very good," he said. "He's going to surprise the world."