Razor reinvents himself
RON BULL/TORONTO STAR
When he was a hard-hitting heavyweight contender earning seven-figure purses, Toronto's Donovan (Razor) Ruddock rolled with a 20-person entourage.
Ruddock has retained at least some of that money – he arrives at a Woodbridge health club in a gleaming white BMW with tinted windows and Florida licence plate. But the crew's much smaller now. Only his wife, his daughter, a niece and a nephew accompany him today.
It's been five years since Ruddock's last pro bout, and fifteen since the wars with Mike Tyson that defined his career.
A decade ago his toughest fights were in court with creditors and ex-girlfriends, but the Razor says he's back and sharper than ever.
Ruddock, 43, is reinventing himself – as an inventor.
These days he's hawking a trash compactor he designed called "The Boxer," and he's banking on his name and ring fame to generate George Foreman-sized buzz.
But Ruddock insists he's not the stereotypical broke ex-boxer. He's just a businessman.
"Everybody needs money," Ruddock says. "Donald Trump doesn't stop working, so why is it so different for me to make a living. It's an honest living. I do need money, but it's also a great product."
Ruddock traces his reinvention to a friendly bet he made four years ago with his current wife, Tritcha.
She was sick of using her hands to cram trash into garbage cans around the house, so the Ruddocks had a contest: they each sketched out a trash compactor, and decided to try to market whichever design looked better. Donovan's design – which included a lever that would squash garbage better than your hands ever could – won the bet.
He called a patenting agent, who learned that no similar product had been invented yet.
Ruddock, retired from the ring and working as an online day trader, decided to follow up, but soon learned the path from blueprint to lucrative product is about as smooth as the road to a heavyweight title.
He had to find engineer to tell him how the contraption he had drawn would look in real life. Then dropped $15,000 on a prototype. And began the long, and still ongoing, process of securing patents in Canada, the U.S. and abroad.
By late 2005, after three years of work, "The Boxer" finally hit the market.
Ruddock, a two-time Canadian champion, welcomes the inevitable comparisons to George Foreman, the former world champion who has made millions lending his name to a line of grills. But Ruddock makes a crucial distinction between himself and Big George.
Ruddock is the creator, not just the namesake.
"I'm honoured to be compared with George but I don't want people to get the wrong idea about the product," Ruddock says. "I'm the one who created this thing from paper. That's the difference."
Foreman may lack Ruddock's ingenuity, but the Razor can't match Big George's profile – or his sales.
By the time he retired for good in 1997, Foreman was a three-time world champ with a name and face familiar to consumers worldwide. Meanwhile, Ruddock lost his biggest fights against Mike Tyson (twice) and Lennox Lewis, and never competed for a major world title. He's as well known as the men he defeated — Michael Dokes, Bonecrusher Smith, Mike Weaver — but not as famous as the men who beat him.
While Foreman hyped his product on infomercials, Ruddock's TV presence is limited to a 75 second commercial featuring boxing highlights, a woman struggling with her garbage, and Ruddock, his disembodied head appearing Max Headroom-style in the woman's trash can, urging her to "fight back" against garbage.
The grill bearing Foreman's name sells between 8 million and 10 million units a year. About two years ago Foreman sold naming rights to the grill to Salton Inc. for $137 million (all figures U.S.) in cash and stock.
Ruddock, meanwhile, has sold 400 trash compactors through his website, www.razorruddock.com, but says sales will take off once "The Boxer" becomes available in stores. Ruddock didn't say when that would happen but says he's negotiating with several retailers.
Ruddock's older brother Delroy shares that confidence.
"I didn't know exactly how it was going to work, but he was motivated enough to make it work, and he did," says Delroy, who managed Ruddock during his early 1990s run through the heavyweight division. "There's a million products out there. You just have to try and market it as best you can. If it catches on ... boom! If the right people talk about it, it makes all the difference in the world."
You can also trace Ruddock's reinvention to a roadwork session in 2001. He was 37, living in Ft. Lauderdale and training for a Canadian heavyweight title fight against Toronto's Egerton Marcus. While jogging Ruddock's left arm went numb, then limp. Tests revealed he might have nerve damage. The feeling eventually returned to his arm, but Ruddock already knew that the Marcus fight, which he won, would be his last.
Ruddock's previous transition to life outside the ring hadn't gone smoothly. After losing to American Tommy Morrison in 1995, Ruddock took a layoff that nearly ruined him.
He lost $1 million when his Ft. Lauderdale night club, Razor's Palace, folded. He later declared bankruptcy.
He fought with his ex girlfriend over custody of their son. In 1997 he was charged after allegedly forcibly taking back a diamond ring he had given her.
A contract dispute with his brother Delroy caused a temporary split between the men.
It took Ruddock three years to solve his personal problems, and three more years of fighting followed. By October, 2001, he hadn't won a world title, but he'd attained something even more rare among faded boxing stars: an honest opinion of his own ability.
He says he stopped boxing because he knew he'd never again perform the way he did in 1991, in two hard-fought losses to Mike Tyson.
Ruddock now weighs 260 pounds, about 20 above his fighting weight. Before dawn most mornings he's in the boxing studio at Xcel Fitness in Woodbridge, pounding a heavy bag for eight rounds.
So while 44-year-old Evander Holyfield keeps chasing a world title, Ruddock sticks to selling trash compactors.
"A lot of fighters come out of the ring very hurt," he says. "I've seen a couple of them. I might have made a couple of them. I didn't want to go back and fight when I'm 50 years old. That don't appeal to me. I'm not taking no chances with my health."
He says he doesn't need the quick payday a comeback might bring. Despite the bankruptcy, Ruddock owns homes in Woodbridge, Fort Lauderdale and Jamaica – each with a "Boxer." His investors include his brother Delroy, and Ruddock says he has put $500,000 of his own into the project.
And when you're that deeply invested, he says, returning to the ring has no appeal.
"I'm very happy. I'm excited," he says. "I'm happy that I have something to do, a journey."