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)

Forgotten Legends: Gabriel Ruelas

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By: Steve Gallegos

Over the years in boxing, there have been successful pairs of brothers to have great careers and win world titles. There were the Spinks Brothers: Michael and Leon, The Bredhals: Jimmy and Johnny and more recently the “Brothers” Klitschko. There were also another pair of brothers in the 1990’s who found success in the prize ring while experiencing the highest of highs and lowest of lows. They were the Ruelas brothers: Gabriel and Rafael.

Gabriel Ruelas was a young champion on the rise before tragedy struck one spring night in 1995, which had an everlasting effect on his career going forward. Ruelas was born in Jalisco, Mexico and raised in Southern California. One day in 1982, he and his brother Rafael came across a boxing gym and the both of them took up the sport.

Ruelas had an amatuer career of 53-3 and would turn pro in 1988. An exciting come-forward fighter who loved to give and take inside the ring, Ruelas would win his first 21 fights, 12 by KO. On 04/14/90, Ruelas faced off with Jeff Franklin and would suffer a terrible elbow injury during a clinch in the seventh round, causing the fight to be stopped. The injury would sidline Ruelas for over a year.

He returned to the ring in June of 1991 and would win his next 12 bouts before facing the legendary super featherweight champion Azumah Nelson on 02/20/93 in Mexico City, Mexico. Ruelas fought hard and gave the “Professor” a run for his money in losing a very close majority decison.

Ruelas rebounded well from the loss and would win his next six bouts all by KO before getting another crack at a world title, this time against super featherweight champion Jesse James Leija.

They met on 09/17/94 in Las Vegas. It was an exciting back and forth fight in which Ruelas tasted the canvas once and Leija tasting the canvas twice. The end result would be an unanimous decision win for Ruelas. He was now a world champion.

He would defend his title once before the night of 05/06/95 when he faced Columbian challenger Jimmy Garcia. The fight took place at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and it was the co-feature on a big Pay Per View card which featured his brother Rafael in the main event against Oscar De La Hoya.

Ruelas was dominate throughout the fight, punishing the Columbian challenger before the fight was finally stopped in the 11th. Garcia then collapsed inside the ring after the fight and had to be taken to the hospital. He died nine days later.

Ruelas was devastated by the tragedy, in disbelief that another man died by his hands. He returned to the ring just seven months later, facing Azumah Nelson in a rematch. Ruelas, who was still recovering from the tragedy of the Garcia fight was destroyed in give rounds.

He would fight three more times in 1996 and 1997 before getting another title shot against the exciting and hard hitting Arturo Gatti. They met on 10/04/97 in Atlantic City. The fight was the co-feature on the Lennox Lewis vs Andrew Golota undercard.

It was a war from the opening bell with both fighters exchanging furious punches. Ruelas rocked Gatti in both the fourth and fifth rounds and was very close to taking Gatti out before getting caught with huge left hook that put Ruelas down, ending the fight.

It was a spritied effort by Ruelas and the fight was voted as 1997’s fight of the year. It would be Ruelas’ last shot at a world title. He would go 5-3 from 1998-2003 before hanging them up for good. His record as a professional stands at 49-7 with 24 KO’s.

It’s interesting to imagine how his career would have been had that tragedy on 05/06/95 not have happened. It’s another one of those stories of “what could have been”. In the end it was a great career filled with a lot of great memories and excitement for boxing fans.
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