Forgotten Legends: Rafael Ruelas

By: Steve Gallegos

In today’s world or boxing, it’s common to see pairs of siblings. We have the Peterson brothers: Lamont and Anthony, the Charlos: Jermell and Jermall, the Magdalenos: Diego and Jesse and the greatest pair of brothers in the history of boxing: The Brothers Klitschko. Perhaps the most successful pair of brothers behind the Klitschko’s are the Ruelas brothers: Rafael and Gabriel.

Rafael Ruelas was a tall, lengthy fighter who loved to come forward and put on the pressure while making for some very exciting fights. Ruelas was born in Jalisco, Mexico and raised in Southern California. One day he and his older brother Gabriel were out selling candy door to door when they came across Goossen’s Gym which led to both brothers deciding to take up boxing. Under the tutelage of the great boxing trainer Joe Goosen, Ruelas turned pro in 1989, winning his first 27 fights, 21 by KO before suffering his first setback.

His first taste of defeat came on a technicality from his corner when he faced journeyman Mario Gutierrez in July of 1991. Ruelas suffered a flash knockdown in the second and instead of paying attention to the referee’s count, he paid attention to his corner’s which was one second off, causing Ruelas to be counted out. He shook the loss off well and won his next 12 bouts, setting up a world title shot against IBF lightweight champion Freddie Pendleton.

They met on 02/19/94 in front of a huge, pro-Ruelas crowd at the Great Western Forum in Englewood, CA. Ruelas, who was known as a slow starter, was dropped twice in the first round; however he shook it off well. The fight was an all action war in which Ruelas put constant pressure on the champion, landing hard shots to the body and head. The end result was a unanimous decison victory for Ruelas. The Ruelas family had it’s 1st world champion.

Seven months later, his brother Gabriel would win his own world title by beating Jesse James Leija. Ruelas would make the first defense of his title with an eighth round TKO over Billy Schwer on 01/28/95. This would setup a mega fight unification with WBO lightweight champion, “The Golden Boy”, Oscar De La Hoya.

They met on 05/06/95 at the famous outdoor arena at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. De La Hoya took advantage of Ruelas’ habit of starting slow by jumping on Ruelas early. In the second round, De La Hoya landed a flush left hook that put Ruelas down. He was able to get up; however he was badly dazed and De La Hoya would drop him again before Richard Steele stopped the bout. De La Hoya stated in the post fight interview that he had to knockout Ruelas out early, otherwise Rafael would apply the pressure and beat him over the course of 12 rounds.

1995 would provide another setback for Ruelas as he dropped a unanimous decison to George Scott five months later. He was able to bounce back well though. On 04/30/96 he co-headlined a USA Tuesday Night Fight card in San Antonio, TX alongside Jr Bantamweight champion Johnny Tapia. He would score an impressive first round KO of Tomas Barrientes in which he knocked Barrientes out of the ring. He would follow up this performance with an impressive unanimous decison over former world champion Livingstone Bramble four months later. He would win his next six bouts from 1996-1998 all by KO before facing Kostya Tszyu in a title eliminator on 08/15/98.

The experienced Ruelas was overmatched by the younger, harder hitting Tszyu. He lost via ninth round TKO. He would fight once more in 1999 before calling it a career. His record as a professional stands at 53-4 with 42 KO’s. Today Ruelas is a licensed stockbroker and real estate agent. While the Ruelas brothers’ reign as world champions was a short one, it was definitely one of the more successful brother duo’s in boxing history, leaving behind many great memories for boxing fans to talk about. The Ruelas brothers aren’t in the international Boxing Hall of Fame as of yet and hopefully they will one day be inducted together, amongst the other boxing greats in Canastota.

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Photo Credit: Manny Millan/SI

(Ruelas Brothers. Rafael-Left, Gabriel-Right)

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