Being a boxer requires lots of moving, dodging, and punching; standing still isn’t the sign of a great fighter. But for former world champion John Ruiz, remaining stationary now will mean sticking around the place he loves most.
The Chelsea City Council, on the recommendation of city manager Jay Ash, recently approved a motion to name the city’s newest park after ex-heavyweight champ and Chelsea native Ruiz. The park will have a plaque in Ruiz’s honor.
John Ruiz Park will be at the intersection of Bloomingdale Street and Washington Avenue. The parcel of land, formerly home to an auto repair shop, was acquired by the city through tax title. Construction on the site is to begin in the fall and will wrap up next June.
Ruiz, who became the first Latino heavyweight champion by dispatching Evander Holyfield in their second of three bouts, March 3, 2001, now also will be the first Latino resident in Chelsea’s history to have a park in his name.
The site is steps from where Ruiz was living on Orange Street when he won his first title, and it holds sentimental value.
“To have been raised in Chelsea and to have lived not far from where the park is being built means a lot to me,” he said. “When I go back to Chelsea, I still see friends and neighbors that I used to talk to. Being raised in Chelsea and being part of it for years, to come now is something I never imagined and I’m truly blessed. My youngest child is 6 years old and my oldest is 23; them seeing their father’s name in that park and someday their children seeing it means so much to me.”
“[Dedicating a park] is one of the highest tributes a community can pay someone,” said Ash, a good friend of Ruiz. Ash was on the steps of City Hall in 2001 when thousands of residents welcomed back Ruiz after his victory, and he said he never has seen the city as excited as it was that evening. With Chelsea a melting pot of all ethnic groups, and home to many Latinos, Ash thought now was the time to make it happen.
“In Chelsea, I’d like to think we don’t see or care of ethnicity, but this is one of those things that can truly show that we are an open community,” Ash said.
The bulk of the funding for the project will come from a Parkland Acquisitions and Renovation for Communities grant of $400,000. The total cost for the park, according to Chelsea Department of Planning and Development director John DePriest, will be roughly $571,000.
The plaque will include all of Ruiz’s accomplishments, not only as a boxer but as someone who has donated to and supported local youth organizations.
CBA Landscape Architects of Cambridge will be in charge of constructing the plaque, which could feature Ruiz in the ring holding the WBC belt. The plaque will be accessible so fans can take pictures with Ruiz’s likeness.
Ruiz, who lives in Las Vegas but splits his time between there and Chelsea to help run his Quietman Sports Gym in Medford, was aware of the city’s idea to name the park in his honor, but he didn’t know about the plaque.
“The whole thing was something I didn’t expect and I’m really excited to have been recognized,” said Ruiz, in his soft-spoken manner.
“This is a great honor, and an even greater one, which I’m surprised by, is having it be the first park named after a Latino resident. I feel just as I did when I learned that I had become the first Latino heavyweight champion.”
Ruiz hopes to soon give back to Chelsea for its loyalty by opening a gym in the city, something he said he hoped to do from the start of his career.
“Building a gym in Chelsea is something I’ve always dreamed of doing to help give back to the community,” he said.
“That will be the moment in my life that will definitely help show Chelsea and the people of Chelsea how much I love it.
“Chelsea is my city, and now, Chelsea cannot get rid of me.”