NEW YORK -- From the second he sent an Instagram message to Anthony Joshua's promoter pushing to be the replacement opponent, Andy Ruiz Jr. has been making this up as he goes.
So, when his shocking seventh-round technical knockout of England's three-belt champion Saturday at Madison Square Garden suddenly made him an inspiration as the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, Ruiz embraced the role.
"I had a lot of fans over there rooting for me," Ruiz said of his border farming hometown of Imperial, Calif., east of San Diego. "I'm sure they're all proud. That's where I grew up. I'm sure they're all smiling, saying, 'He did it, a kid from a small, little town did it.'
"Everything is possible, man. You believe in God, focus, believe in your dreams, never give up. And if someone puts you down, don't listen. Keep working. Look what I did. I just made history."
Ruiz (33-1, 22 knockouts) turned in a captivating performance that switched the coronation of Joshua's U.S. debut into a celebration of the human spirit. The pudgy fighter who'd been beaten in his previous title fight knocked down the far fitter Joshua (22-1) four times en route to winning the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Federation belts.
"It's an upset. One shot on top of the dome rattled me quite a bit," Joshua surmised after undergoing a post-fight concussion screen. "The better man won."
Joshua's loss shakes up the heavyweight division and adds another interesting date to the calendar, as Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn said he expects his fighter to invoke the rematch clause in his contract to meet Ruiz again around November, likely in Cardiff, Wales.
That date will be sandwiched between World Boxing Council champion Deontay Wilder's fall rematch with Luis Ortiz, and Wilder's planned early 2020 rematch with unbeaten former three-division champion Tyson Fury.
The interesting wrinkle for Joshua, who has one fight left on his contract with the streaming service DAZN, is that he has been reduced from a heavyweight who called all the shots after drawing 90,000 to Wembley Stadium two years ago to a fighter who must take the rematch.
Otherwise, Ruiz, who like Wilder fights for Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions, has contractual leeway to take his belts and move toward Wilder down the road.