Since defeating the presumed next face of boxing Anthony Joshua, Andy Ruiz Jr.’s sudden fame has been startling. It’s since felt like a different era, back when most people knew the name of boxing’s heavyweight champion. One night in June, at Madison Square Garden, Ruiz became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. The win brought with it drastic changes.
Ruiz went from a relative unknown but talented boxer to someone who appeared on late night shows. He met the Mexican president. The most respected news outlets spoke of his win. His hometown of Imperial, Calif., near the United States-Mexico border, planned a downtown parade. Ruiz’s life changed. And with that sudden change of fortune, fans — especially Mexican and Mexican Americans — saw something in Ruiz. They saw someone who had achieved an improbable dream. Someone who, like some of them, started with little. In Ruiz, they saw hope.
Ruiz’s win — among the biggest upsets in sports within the past several decades — became one of those moments that people will remember. They will remember where they were on the night Ruiz stood over Joshua like a conquering hero. They’ll remember that night when, even if they weren’t watching, they heard the news and felt inspired by it all. A few of those inspired wrote corridos for Andy Ruiz Jr.
Corridos are “the product of a subordinate society whose only means of fighting the dominant Anglo powers were symbolic,” explains Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., a University of Houston history professor.
Born from Mexico’s tumultuous times, traditionally, corridos functioned to spread news among the uneducated and, at times, illiterate. It is working class music where the corrido’s protagonist fights against the impossible.
And because of the historic tension between neighboring countries, some corridos depict Mexicans fighting against someone or something that symbolizes the United States. That tension never gets completely resolved. It may lay dormant for years, but almost inevitably, something will irritate that wound. Thus, some corridos are more than a century old. People still sing them because the lyrics feel relevant.
You can’t escape the political context of corridos, just as you can’t get away from those same politics that make certain boxers more important than others. For every great boxer, the kind that even those who don’t follow the sport know of, there is something political magnifying their importance. Those few boxers connect with a certain group of people the way others can’t.
On the night of June 1, Andy Ruiz Jr. became one of those boxers.
Before the fight began, Ángel Eduardo Luna placed his phone on a microphone stand beside him. Though he was born in Veracruz, Mexico, Luna now lives in Phoenix, Ariz. He’s lived on the north side of the United States-Mexico border for the past 13 years, moving there a few years after his father died. Luna is 29 now. Tuesday through Sunday, he works as a cook. On the weekend, Luna chases his dream.
“One day, I’d like to have the opportunity to travel to Mexico,” Luna says in Spanish. “I can’t do that now … but I want to sing in Mexico.”
Luna’s dream is to sing and have his music heard throughout the world. He wants to sing back home in Mexico; where for now, he can’t return. Until that day comes, Luna sings where and when he can: while he showers, while he cooks, while he works and on the weekends at weddings, parties and quinceañeras. Any place he can, Luna sings.
When Ruiz’s fight began, Luna gave passing glances toward his phone as he performed at a quinceañera. “I was practically singing and through side eye, watching Andy fight,” he says. It wasn’t until he and his band took a break after 45 minutes of performing, that Luna paid full attention to the fight.
Luna, surrounded by three or four others, watched as Joshua knocked down Ruiz in the third round. The Mexican stood up, and Joshua soon landed a few more punches that made Ruiz’s head rock back. It felt like Ruiz was a punch away from losing. And then, something remarkable happened. Ruiz knocked down Joshua. He stood back up but when he did, Joshua, all 6’6” and 250 pounds of muscle, had lost that menacing look he once had. Ruiz kept attacking while Joshua, built like a comic book superhero, looked increasingly fragile. “I kept saying, ‘Look! Look! Look! This vato is hitting him with everything,’” Luna remembers saying of Ruiz. “And we started noticing [Joshua’s] legs weren’t stable.”
Everyone who watched the fight saw the same thing. They saw Ruiz get knocked down. They saw him stand back up. They saw Ruiz knock down Joshua. They saw that unlike Ruiz, who fought with a renewed sense of life after being knocked down, Joshua never recovered. The referee finally waved off the fight in the seventh round.
“This fucker never quit even after they knocked him down,” José Jaime García says, also in Spanish, of Ruiz. “He got up and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to fuck him up.’ He gave him a beating because that’s what it was — a beating.”
García is a singer and plays the accordion. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, he’s lived in Sacramento, Calif. since he was a 2-year-old. He is 30 now, and has grand goals and dreams that revolve around music. “I want to have hits,” he explains. “I want to leave a legacy and a musical history.”
García is fortunate and talented enough to make his living solely from music. On the night Ruiz won, García was at a gig. “We went on break,” he remembers, “Don Juan, who plays the electric bass, says, ‘We won! We won!’ All la raza was happy.”
Ruiz’s victory symbolized something more than just boxing’s heavyweight championship. It meant something to people who will likely never even meet Ruiz. It meant something because who Ruiz is and where he comes from is relatable to Mexicans and Mexican Americans of a certain class.
“That kid started from the bottom, no one gave him anything,” García responds when asked why Ruiz has inspired so many. “He said something beautiful after the fight,” García continues. “He told his mom that they were no longer going to struggle. That hit me deep, because we all have those dreams when we come here to this country.”
News of Ruiz’s accomplishment quickly spread through social media, and through word-of-mouth. Even days later, people spoke of Ruiz’s win. A few made songs to immortalize that night.
“Every time I write a corrido I don’t waste a single line,” Tito Escamilla explains, in Spanish, his process when writing. “A lot of others focus on rhyming. But me, in every line, I want to express an emotion.”
Escamilla, like Luna and García, was born in Mexico. He’s from Chihuahua but came to the United States around 2004. The 32-year-old lives in Los Angeles where he too chases his dreams of having a musical career on par with past Mexican greats. Escamilla discovered his talent for writing corridos while still a student in the Mexican equivalent of high school. He’d attend horse races, and minutes after they ended, he’d have one written for the horses’ owners.
“I don’t like writing fantasies,” Escamilla, who also watched Ruiz’s fight while on break from a gig, says. “Whether it’s a corrido for a narco or an athlete, I speak the truth because that’s the news. I don’t like to alter it. Corridos are the news.”
Within days, several corridos written and dedicated to Ruiz appeared across social media. Luna, García, and Escamilla were just three of many who’ve written some. They recorded their songs in a professional studio. Others wrote corridos and then recorded themselves singing their tributes to Ruiz even if they weren’t of the highest quality.
Presumably, especially if he keeps winning, more songwriters will dedicate corridos to Ruiz. Those who write them — mainly Mexicans who come to the United States or Mexican Americans born of parents who came here in search of something greater — can only hope their corridos will outlive them. Decades from now, perhaps people will continue to sing them. They’ll sing and think back to the night Ruiz — the humble Mexican kid who started from nothing — won an unlikely battle.
Remarkably, Ruiz became one of boxing’s heavyweight champions. When he won the coveted title, he made people’s dreams — even the most improbable — feel more realistic. It is why Ángel Eduardo Luna, José Jaime García, Tito Escamilla and others, sing corridos for Andy Ruiz Jr.