Imperial Welcomes Home World-Champion Boxer Andy Ruiz Jr. With Parade, Ceremony
Monday, June 24, 2019
Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler
It’s still early in the morning in Imperial as people began lining up along the parade route to get a chance to pay homage to the heavy-set heavyweight champ. Earlier this month, Imperial native Andy Ruiz Jr. shocked the world when he became the first ever Mexican American heavyweight champion, defeating the heavily-favored Anthony Joshua.
More than a few of the people who lined up on the street were related to Ruiz Jr., who goes by the nickname "The Destroyer.”
One of them was Victor Ponce, Ruiz Jr.’s cousin.
“I always thought he had a chance. Ever since he was small, he’s always been a destroyer,” Victor told KPBS.
Further down the parade path was another cousin, Hector Ponce. Surrounded by family members, he talked about growing up with the future champion in a tight-knit border community.
“He’s just a funny dude, he’s our cousin, he’s our family,” Hector said. “He’s just an all-around good guy, giving guy. It’s just hard work, you know? Hard work.”
For the Imperial Valley, home to a large Mexican-American population, Ruiz Jr.’s friends and neighbors said the title reflects the community’s hard work ethic. Ruiz Jr. spent hours each day in the gym, winning fights on either side of the border.
Max Necochea is the owner of Me Vale Madre clothing company, based in San Diego. He grew up in the Imperial Valley, and when he was 22 he sparred with Ruiz Junior. Ruiz Jr. was just 14, but Necochea knew he was already something special.
“Punches coming from every direction, you don’t even know where they’re coming from and they’re hard,” Neochea said.
Would he ever fight spar with Ruiz Jr. again?
“No, I’d like to keep my head intact,” he said, laughing.
By 9 a.m., it was already in the 90s in the June Imperial Valley heat. But that didn’t faze a community that was ready to celebrate its hometown hero. A young girl boxed with her trainer along Imperial Avenue, in an area where boxing is still a massively popular sport, even as its prominence has faded nationwide.
In a purple Rolls-Royce, with his wife, Julie, sitting next to him, Ruiz Jr. followed the parade, as Imperial residents poured into the street to congratulate their champion.
Victor Robles is Ruiz Jr.’s trainer. He said he understands why Ruiz Jr.'s victory, which the Imperial-native came into as a huge underdog against the undefeated Joshua, has been such an inspiration to people from the Imperial Valley and beyond.
“It doesn’t matter what part of the world you come from, what part of the United States you come from. If you come from a small town where there’s not a lot of people, but when you have hopes and dreams, anything in life is possible, you just have to go out there and get it,” Robles said.
Ruiz Jr. is a superstar now on both sides of the border. Last week, he flew to Mexico City to meet with Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The boxer’s father, Andy Ruiz Sr., was born in Mexicali, where his own father ran a small boxing gym. He came to the United States when he was a young boy.
“It’s history. It’s history for Imperial, Mexicali, Mexico. For everywhere,” he said.
With friends and family sitting in a VIP section, Ruiz Jr. received the key to the city and awards from local politicians.
Finally, with the bright sun baking the thousand-strong attendees, champion addressed his adoring fans.
“I love all the Imperial Valley, I love you guys,” Ruiz Jr. said. “I was born and raised here, and having this celebration right here means so much to me. I’m still pinching myself to see if this is true, you know?”
Ruiz Jr. will now have to begin training to defend his title later this year in a rematch with Joshua.
Win lose or draw, to the residents of the small border cities of the Imperial Valley, Ruiz Jr. will forever be their world champion.
By Reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler
The heavyweight champ is an inspiration to many in the close-knit community along the border.
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