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Famous boxing brother: Ruelas'

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The Ruelas brothers have a unique story: born in poverty in Jalisco state, one of the poorest in Mexico, they moved to California as kids and barely made ends meet until stumbling onto the boxing gym led by one of the Goossen brothers, Joe and eventually both became world champions. However, both had a devastating end to their reign, each in his own way, and their careers were never the same. This is the story of the Ruelas brothers: Gabriel and Rafael.


They were born only 9 months apart, Gabriel 23 July 1970 and Rafael 26 April 1971. They were born in Yerbabuena, a small town in Jalisco state in wester

n Mexico. They were so poor as children, they had to walk without shoes. They moved to California when Gabriel was 12 and Rafael 11, selling candy door to door in North Hollywood. One day, Gabriel came to the Ten Goose gym run by charismatic Joe Goossen, brother of Dan. He was instantly hooked upon seeing the gym and begged Joe to train him, but he refused, as he later told an interviewer "he was just a little kid." But Gabriel was persistent and kept coming until Joe finally gave in. Naturally, Rafael also started training there eventually and Joe soon became like a second father to the boys. Rafael was 5'11 and 4 inches taller than Gabriel who was 5'7, so they didn't have to compete in the same weight class, as Gabriel eventually grew into a super featherweight and the skinny Rafael became a lightweight. They were also different as boxers, Gabriel being more of a skilled technician but also aggressive and ready to brawl, while Rafael was a pure puncher with some basic boxing skills. They turned pro at around the same time, Gabriel in late 1988 and Rafael in early 1989. Both also had one loss early on, Gabriel due to an injury and Rafael because he was one second late rising after taking a knee against Mauro Gutierrez in 1991. Gabriel broke through with an impressive albeit losing performance in a WBC title fight against legendary Azumah Nelson on 20 February 1993, which took place in Mexico City. He made the fight very close and was dominant in the middle rounds before the veteran Nelson closed strong to win by a majority decision. He then had his "homecoming" fight against Jesse James Leija, who had dethroned Nelson recently, on 17 September 1994; Gabriel put on a stellar performance, knocking Leija down twice while also being down once himself, and being dominant for most of the fight and in the end winning by UD12. He made one successful defense by corner retirement in 2 against Freddie Liberatore before that fateful second defense.


He was fighting the Colombian Jimmy Garcia on 6 May 1995, on the same night as Rafael was defending his IBF lightweight title and fighting in a unification fight with Oscar De La Hoya, who was the WBO champion, which I will write about later. What was supposed to be a great night for both, turned into tragedy for Gabriel and a devastating defeat for Rafael. Gabriel was dominant all the way in the fight and battered Garcia until the fight was finally stopped in round 11. However, Garcia slipped into a coma after that and never awoke, dying on 19 May. For the 24-yearold Gabriel, it was a huge blow. He agreed to go on with his third mandatory defense against Azumah Nelson in December, but his mind was not in the fight. The fight started evenly, despite Ruelas suffering a knockdown in the first round and then in the third round Gabriel started taking over and had Nelson against the ropes, but then suddenly backed away, as if he was afraid of hurting him. Nelson took advantage of that and in the next round he put him down again with a left hook to the body. Ruelas now looked disheartened and like he just wanted out and he was then easily pounded into submission in the fifth round, being stopped on his feet. His career would never recover, even though he managed to stop Troy Dorsey by TKO 6 to win the minor IBA Intercontinental lightweight title in 1998. Just before that, in October '97, he was involved in a memorable war against then-IBF super feather champion Arturo Gatti and shook Gatti in the fourth round before getting knocked out while trading with him in the fifth. Lacking the big power his brother had proved decisive in that fight, against the harder punching Gatti. He was later stopped by John Brown in 8 rounds and ended his career the same way against Courtney Burton, in 2003, before retiring with a record of 49 wins, 24 by ko, and 7 losses, 5 by ko. In 2006, he was inducted into California boxing hall of fame.


And then we come to Rafael. The taller and harder-punching, but less fast and clever Rafael scored some notable victories early on, such as knocking out former world champion Steve Cruz in 3 to win the NABF featherweight title before moving up to lightweight and suffering his first loss that I mentioned, against Mauro Gutierrez in 2 rounds. He avenged the loss with a UD10 later. He also decisioned Rocky Lockridge in January 1992. In November that year, he won the NABF lightweight title as well against Jorge "Maromero" Paez. He put Paez down twice in the opening round and eventually Paez retired on his stool after round 10. After defending the title once by TKO 3 against Robert Rivera, he received a crack at the IBF title against Freddie Pendleton, a very solid fighter who was perhaps not in his prime anymore but still capable. It was 19 February 1994 and Rafael found himself on the canvas twice in the first round but came back to assert himself and dominate the fight with his height and reach advantage. Eventually, he won by UD12, thus becoming a world champion 7 months before his older brother. In his first defense he easily dispatched the 25-2 Mike Evgen by TKO 3. His second defense was against Billy Schwer and the fight was rather competitive, but Schwer had to retire due to big cuts over his eyebrows after round 8. And then came that De La Hoya fight; Rafael fought the best fighter in the division on that same night when his brother scored that tragical victory. In the first round, Rafael exchanged with Oscar but it soon became apparent Oscar's speed and power were too much for him. In the second round, after landing a good left hook to the head, he was caught suddenly with a left hook while trading and put down hard. After rising, he was instantly put down again by another left hook and was then stopped on his feet by a follow up barrage. As with his brother, this loss spelled the end of his success in the ring and his last victory of note was when he decisioned the aging Livingstone Bramble in 1996. On 15 August 1998, he faced Kostya Tszyu in an eliminator for the WBC title fight and was easily handled by the superior Russian, being battered allover the ring before the fight was stopped in round 9. After winning one more fight, he retired in 1999, with a record of 53 wins, 41 by ko, and 4 losses, 3 by ko. He planned to return to the ring later but suffered a shoulder injury and gave it up.

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