Andy Ruiz Jr. will walk into Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia on Saturday proudly displaying the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles.

How he leaves the custom-made, 15,000-seat arena may define “The Destroyer’s” place in boxing history.

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A second win over Anthony Joshua — and one as emphatic as the seventh-round TKO that made him champ last June 1 — would put him on a similar trajectory as a young Manny Pacquiao, who became a superstar and then bolstered his fighting legend with each subsequent scrap. A loss could relegate Ruiz to James “Buster” Douglas territory. Douglas became the world heavyweight champion as a 42-1 underdog against Mike Tyson, only to fade into obscurity.

The 30-year-old Ruiz has arrived at that fork in the road before his highly anticipated rematch with Joshua, live on DAZN. Ruiz has already permanently etched his name in boxing history by becoming world unified champion as a 15-1 underdog.

Now, he holds the narrative in his hands — literally. He can move his story forward and claim a heavyweight share of mainstream attention, or he can fizzle out and fade into the night. Those quick hands that dropped Joshua four times in their first clash can push him toward a path similar to Pacquiao’s, if he uses them to secure another highlight-filled victory.

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In November 2003, Pacquiao was climbing up the boxing ranks; he was already a two-division champion. He moved up in weight and was booked to challenge Marco Antonio Barrera for the Mexican warrior’s The Ring and lineal featherweight titles.

At the time, many boxing pundits thought Barrera, who had amassed a 57-3 record, was going to derail the speeding Pacquiao train. Barrera entered the fight surging, too, having secured victories over “Prince” Naseem Hamed and Enrique Sanchez, revenge against Erik Morales and wins over Johnny Tapia and Kevin Kelley for good measure.

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Pacquiao entered the fight as a 4-1 underdog, but, as Ruiz did vs. Joshua, he demonstrated he wasn’t coming in to be part of another boxer’s greatness. He was coming in to win, and win big.

“Pac Man” pummeled Barrera to the point that the veteran’s corner threw in the towel during the 11th round. Pacquiao became the first three-time division world champion from Asia — another parallel, of sorts, with Ruiz, who became the first Mexican-American world heavyweight champ by beating Joshua.

Pacquiao proceeded to show that the victory wasn’t remotely close to being a fluke. He had his own trilogy with Morales — just as Barrera did — going 2-1. He scored another victory over Barrera in October 2007. Pacquiao edged Juan Manuel Marquez in their second of four fights and blasted David Diaz five months apart in 2008.

Then came a fight vs. Oscar De La Hoya in December of that year. It was labeled “The Dream Match,” but it quickly became a nightmare for “The Golden Boy.” Pacquiao thoroughly outclassed De La Hoya, forcing his corner to toss in the towel after eight rounds.

GOAT status achieved.

That fight lifted Pacquiao into orbit, and his next few bouts cemented that GOAT status:

  • A second-round KO of Ricky Hatton in May 2009.
  • A 12th-round TKO of Miguel Cotton in November 2009.
  • Unanimous decisions over Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley.
  • A majority decision over Marquez in their third fight.

Pacquiao used his first fight against Barrera to prove himself. The fights that followed proved he was destined for the greatness he went on to achieve as boxing’s only eight-division world champ.

Now, let’s stop there for a second.

* * * * *

Ruiz is in a similar spot as the young Pacquiao. If he beats Joshua again, then he’ll have proved that his June victory wasn’t a fluke. Subsequent fights would give him a chance to cement his own GOAT status and prove that he, too, was destined for greatness.

Another win over Joshua would also get him a crack at the undisputed championship of the world vs. the winner of the Feb. 22 Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury rematch. If he wins that fight, then it’s permanent liftoff, never to come down.

The other fork in the road, however, does not lead to greatness. A loss to Joshua — especially one by KO — and Ruiz would summon the comparisons to Douglas.

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Like Ruiz against Joshua, Douglas was thought of as nothing more than a blip on the radar entering his February 1990 bout with Tyson. Iron Mike beating him was seen as almost a formality.

Douglas, fighting in honor of his late mother, who died less than a month before the bout, hit Tyson with thumping shots early, but Tyson dropped him with a thud in the eighth round — similar to how Joshua dropped Ruiz in their third round.

Douglas not only got up, but he proceeded to thump his way to a rousing 10th-round KO — just as Ruiz rose from the canvas to drop Joshua four times and score his TKO.

* * * * *

Everyone loves a great underdog story — until it crumbles before their eyes.

Douglas beating the brakes off Tyson that magical night inside Japan’s Tokyo Dome proved to be nothing short of the greatest upset in sports history, not only because of the 42-1 odds but also because of what Douglas did after that fight.

He struggled mightily with his weight and the sudden limelight. The descent culminated in a third-round KO loss to Evander Holyfield eight months later.

Things only got worse thereafter as Douglas spiraled toward the abyss. His weight ballooned to almost 400 pounds and he eventually slipped into a diabetic coma that almost killed him.

He returned to boxing in June 1996, but he never came close to regaining the form of his history-making bout. His star had risen and then burned out seemingly overnight.

That’s not to say that a bad loss to Joshua would make Ruiz fizzle as Douglas did, but it would start the conversation about his June upset of Joshua toward “just another Buster Douglas fluke” — something Ruiz wants to avoid.

That’s what’s in front of Ruiz as he enters this fight.

Now, it’s on “The Destroyer” to handle the rest. His legacy depends on it.

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