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Andy Ruiz Jr. Slid into the DMs and Changed His Life

Andy Ruiz Jr. always knew he was going to do big things, even if the rest of the world needed some convincing. So he set out to change some minds by issuing a challenge to heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua via Instagram DM (seriously). With a 32-1 professional record, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities, but he wasn’t one of the sport’s chosen ones; one of those names that brings the big payday.

But here’s the thing: he got his big fight.

And this past June, he walked into the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, as a huge underdog, and then proceeded to walk out with a few shiny belts in tow. Big things, achieved.

You see, Ruiz Jr. was never supposed to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage. At first glance, he doesn’t have that championship “look” β€” imposingly tall, not an ounce of body fat β€” and when he walked into the ring at MSG standing six-feet high and with a less-than-typical boxer’s physique,  the Twitterverse erupted with shouts of, “Who’s that guy?” But Andy’s confidence has never been affected by naysayers.

“[Interviewers] would ask me who I want to fight, and I would always say AJ [Anthony Joshua] because of his style. Yeah, he’s strong, but for some reason, I knew in my heart I was going to win, especially with all the doubters telling me I was going to lose.”

This isn’t to say he never had doubts about his abilities. After failing to medal while representing Mexico in the 2008 Olympics (Ruiz Jr.’s parents are both immigrants), he walked away from the ring for over half a year, questioning his future in the sport. 

“My dad asked me, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to work, or are you going to dedicate your life to boxing?’ So I choose boxing. Our brains play tricks on us, and it’s our job to try to overcome that. I’m scared of losing, I’m scared of failing, but that brought me to the level  I’m at right now.”

It’s this strong familial support that gives Ruiz Jr. a sense of where he fits in the world. As a father of five (yes, five), he knows precisely for whom he’s fighting. When he’s in the ring, his focus is both technical and emotional, but when he thinks about his children potentially struggling as he did as a kid, the emotion takes over. “I have people depending on me, so every time I’m in the ring I look at the guy I’m fighting, and I think, ‘Man, this guy’s trying to take Cheerios away from my kids.'”

(We get it, especially if it’s honey nut.)

If it wasn’t for that DM asking for a Rocky-esque title shot, who knows where Ruiz Jr.’s journey would have led him. He’d likely still be boxing.  And he’d definitely still be a force in the community that’s always supported him, win or lose. But he did send that DM. And he is the first-ever Mexican heavyweight champion of the world. So his place in history, and his role in the world, has never been clearer: he’s an inspiration to anyone that’s ever been overlooked.

“I think my purpose is to explain that following your dreams is really important,” he says. β€œIt’s a lot of hard work, but the main thing is never giving up and believing that you are going to do something. I always thought that I was going to be something great, and look at me now.”

Want a shot at the champ? Who knows, he’s only a DM away.

Matthew Leathers lives and works in New York City, but his heart belongs to the sea.