Forgotten Legends: John ‘The Eastern Beast’ Brown

John Brown

By: Steve Gallegos

There are some fighters who train hard, fight tough and for some reason or another cannot get to that next level and become world champion. That was the case for former Jr. Lightweight and Lightweight contender John The Eastern Beast” Brown.

Brown was a unique person in and out of the ring. Standing at only 5’4, Brown was a relentless, all action fighter who was in his opponent’s face for every second of every minute of every round. John Brown was born and raised in Atlantic City, NJ. Life growing up for John Brown was very rough as his brother was murdered and he was raised in 12 foster homes. Brown was a very angry person growing up, however he knew there was a beautiful world outside the dark, harsh world he had experienced and he was determined to find it. He would find it in boxing.

Brown would turn pro in 1989 and would go 18-4 over the next nine years, while mixing it up with top notch fighters such as Calvin Grove, Lamar Murphy and Jesus Chavez. Outside the ring, Brown would toughen himself up by living homeless on the streets while eating land crabs and cockroaches.

1998 would be a good year for Brown as he began to get national exposure and began his quest to a world title. He would face WBU Jr. Lightweight champion Angel Manfredy on 09/22/98 at Madison Square Garden. The bout was nationally televised on TNT’s short lived boxing series called “Title Night”. Although Brown would come up short and lose a unanimous decision, he was in Manfredy’s face all night and would frustrate him throughout the bout with his rough, inside fighting style. After the Manfredy fight, Brown was back in the gym and one month and two days later, he was back in the ring as he faced former world champion Gabriel Ruelas.

They met on 10/24/98 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ and it was part of an HBO Boxing After Dark doubleheader. Brown was a late substitution for Jesse James Leija, who was originally scheduled to face Ruelas that night. Brown battered Ruelas all night long en route to an 8th round TKO. This performance would set up a world title shot against “Sugar” Shane Mosley.

They met on 04/17/99 at the Fantasy Spring’s Casino in Indio, CA for the IBF Lightweight championship. Brown was able to frustrate Mosley at times and Mosley had difficulty with Brown’s height and wasn’t able to land many clean shots. In the eighth round, Mosley was able to catch and rock Brown with hard combinations which forced the ringside doctor to stop the fight in between rounds.

Brown would bounce back from this loss with a convincing 10 round unanimous decison victory over Francisco Cruz just four months later. This would set up another world title shot against Diego Corrales. They met on 12/04/99 in Lincoln City, OR for the IBF Jr Lightweight championship.
Brown showed his toughness once again in a game effort. During the fight, Corrales landed a hard right hand that didn’t move Brown. Corrales then said to Brown, “man you are a beast”, and Brown then looked at him and growled. The end result would be a 12 round unanimous decision win for Corrales.

Brown would begin the new millenium by going 2-0 with a No Contest in his next three fights, which included a convincing 12 round decision over unbeaten Robbie Peden. This win would set up another crack at a world title as he faced Steve Forbes. They met on 12/03/00 in Miami, FL for the vacant IBF Jr Lightweight championship. Brown boxed well against the very skilled Steve Forbes and was getting the better of him in most of the exchanges. As the bout was heading into the later stages of the fight, it appeared that John Brown was on his was to finally winning a world title, however in the eighth round, Brown began bleeding badly from his left ear. Referee Jorge Alonso called time and called the ringside doctor over to inspect the ear. The doctor determined that the eardrum was punctured, forcing the fight to be stopped.

It was an eighth round TKO win for Steve Forbes, however John Brown was ahead on all three judge’s scorecards and was on his way to winning the fight. Nine months later, Brown and Forbes met again, however this time Forbes would win a 12 round unanimous decision. It was pretty much the end of the road for John Brown at the top.

He would not challenge for a world title again and would go 1-10-2 over the next 10 years. His record as a professional stands at 24-19 with five KO’s. He was a special breed of fighter who always showed up in top shape and ready to fight any time he stepped into the ring. He mixed it up with some of the best fighters of his era in their prime and he always gave them their money’s worth. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to get to that next level and get that title called “Champion”.
John Brown

Forgotten Legends: Mitch Halpern

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By: Steve Gallegos

In this segment of Forgotten Legends, we’re gonna switch gears and focus not on a fighter, but on a referee. The life of a boxing referee can be a difficult one. The “3rd Man” inside the ring is criticized regularly for his actions in a very brutal sport. The sole purpose of the referee is to protect the fighters and most times, the lives of the combatants rests solely in the hands of the referee.

The state of Nevada has been known to produce the best boxing referees in the world, most notably Mills Lane, Richard Steele and Joe Cortez. In the mid-late 90’s there was another referee that was on his way to joining that elite class. His name was Mitch Halpern.

Halpern was a hard nosed, no nonsense referee who refereed some of the biggest bouts in Nevada during the end of the 20th Century. He was known to maintain order while letting the boxers fight their fights. Mitch Halpern began refereeing bouts in 1991. He was mentored by the legendary Nevada referee Richard Steele, who taught Halpern everything there was to know about being a boxing referee.

On 05/06/95, Halpern would referee a bout between Gabriel Ruelas and Jimmy Garcia. It was the co-feature on a big Pay Per View card held at the outdoor arena at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas. It was a fight in which Garcia absorbed alot of punishment over the course of 11 rounds, before Halpern stopped the fight. Moments later, Garcia collapsed in his corner and was taken to the hospital, where he would later die due to injuries sustained in the bout.

It was a tragic event on a big stage and many in the boxing media criticized Mitch Halpern for Garcia’s death. This didn’t stop Mitch from refereeing and he continued on with his career.

On 11/09/97, Halpern would referee the biggest fight of his career, which was the first bout between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. It was a tough, physical fight which included a lot of clinching, holding and hitting on the breaks. Halpern had to call time several times to warn the fighters and he did so in a very authoritive way.

Near the end of the 10th, Holyfield caught Tyson flush and put a pounding on him. Halpern almost stepped in to stop the fight, however he let the round come to a close. He would then stop the fight in the 11th after Holyfield again battered Tyson.
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Halpern was chosen to work the Holyfield Tyson rematch seven months later, however the Tyson camp hotly contested Mitch Halpern being the referee; therefore Halpern stepped down and was replaced by Mills Lane.

Tyson would be disqualified in the third round after he bit Holyfield twice on his ears. Had Mitch Halpern been the referee, Tyson wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to bite Holyfield a second time. Halpern would have disqualified Tyson immediately.

Halpern would close out 1997 by refereeing the next two mega bouts in Las Vegas when he worked the highly anticipated showdown between Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero as well as the Heavyweight Championship unificiation bout between Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer. Halpern would close out the millenium by working the last two mega bouts of the 1990’s when he refereed Oscar De La Hoya vs Felix Trinidad as well as the second bout between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, which crowned the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world. Halpern would start the new millenium by working another highly anticipated bout when he refereed the first bout between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera which was an all out war.

Mitch Halpern was at the top of his game and was considered the best referee in Nevada; however it was all about to come to a tragic end. On 08/20/00, Mitch Halpern was found dead from to a gunshot wound to the head, that was ruled a suicide. It was a huge loss and many within the boxing community that were close to Halpern were shocked as he appeared to be very cool and collect.

On 08/26/00, an HBO Boxing After Dark card was held at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. All the referee’s working, wore a patch on there sleeve in honor of Mitch Halpern. The main event was a heated battle between Fernando Vargas and Ross Thompson, which was refereed by Joe Cortez. During the pre fight instructions, Cortez said “This one’s for Mitch. Mitch, we love you, we miss you”.

Mitch Halpern was a special referee, who didn’t put up with any nonsense from any fighter, regardless of who they were. As I stated earlier, the life of a boxing referee can be a diffictult one. Did the pressures of being a boxing referee get to Mitch Halpern? In the end he was a very good referee who was on his way to greatness, only to have his life ended too soon.

Forgotten Legends: Rafael Ruelas

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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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