The Ruelas brothers, Rafael and Gabriel, arrived in America from Mexico at ages six and seven, having never worn a pair of shoes, according to trainer Joe Goossen.
The siblings had worked the entirety of their young lives rather than attending school, with their primary source of income being the door-to-door selling of candy in Southern California.
That is, until Gabriel stopped to make a sale at a neighborhood gym, spotted the boxing equipment, and asked Goossen if he could teach him the sport.
“I was reluctant at first, because here you have a 13-year-old kid asking for help,” said Goossen. “But I was training professionals, so I tried to send him away.”
But a top fighter on the premises convinced Goossen to give the kid a chance, which he did. Later, Gabriel brought his younger brother, Rafael, and after an intense sparring session, the pair never left.
On Saturday night, at the Sportsmans Lodge in Studio City, Calif., the title-winning brothers will be honored for their contributions to boxing by Gossen Tutor on the same night that ex-junior featherweight titleholder Rico Ramos (20-1, 11 knockouts) meets former amateur rival Efrain Esquivias (16-0, 9 KOs) in a main event bout.
RingTV.com caught up with Gabriel Ruelas, a 42-year-old father of two teenage boys who lives in Los Angeles.
“It’s very special to be receiving any kind of award in boxing, especially with so many world champions who could be on the receiving end,” said Gabriel Ruelas. “I think what we had was a special scenario that was so unique because the Goossens really took us in.”
The career of Gabriel Ruelas (49-7, 24 knockouts) was highlighted by a title-winning effort over previously unbeaten Jesse James Leija for the WBC’s junior lightweight belt in September of 1994.
The win was especially sweet for Gabriel Ruelas given that Leija had beaten the great Azumah Nelson, to whom Ruelas already had lost.
Part of Gabriel Ruelas’ story, however, includes the passing of Jimmy Garcia, who died of injuries suffered during Ruelas’ third defense of his belt — an 11th-round knockout of Garcia on May 6, 1995.
Gabriel Ruelas spent time with Garcia in the hospital prior to his death on May 19.
RingTV.com: What did you learn from the first fight with Nelson, which was the majority decision loss?
Gabriel Ruelas: The experience that I gained from that first fight with Nelson, that not only made me a better fighter, but, for sure, a world champion.
RingTV.com: Was the win over Leija the highlight of your career?
GR: When I fought Leija, that was definitely the highlight of my career. Reaching that goal of success and that dream of being the world champion, that was really just about beating Jesse James Leija.
How much better does it get than to beat the guy who beat the guy, which was Nelson? So I felt sort of complete for what I wanted to do in my life. I thought that I was finished in a way, especially after what happened with Garcia.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on Garcia, which was your third title defense?
GR: Well, I defended that title three times. I’m struggling. I’m still going through it. It’s unexplainable to anyone — to you or anyone else — how it feels. I don’t think that anything positive has come out of it.
I’m trying to move on with my life. At the same time, I have to learn to deal with it….but my life was boxing, so it’s very hard.
RingTV.com: Would you ever allow your sons to box?
GR: Never. I have two sons. An 18-year-old Diego, and a 14-year-old, Rodrigo. That’s one of the reasons that I never introduced them to the sport. From the time they were first born, I sort of kept them and my boxing life aside.
I didn’t want them to know anything about boxing, so I kept them pretty much outside. My younger one, Rodrigo, has sort of been into basketball his whole life.
So, you know, I have tried to support him that way in his basketball skills. Rodrigo was able to get into one of Michael Jordan’s training camps and got to meet him.
RingTV.com: Am I to understand that you have a relationship with Garcia’s family?
GR: I do, yes. I have spoken with them a few times. I have spoken to relatives of his. Like sisters of his, but I don’t think I’ve spoken to his mom. I’m looking forward to meeting her.
They gave me a date, I just don’t have the date committed to memory at this time, but I am going soon to Colombia in about a month or so, where Jimmy is from.
Photos courtesy of Goossen Tutor Promotions
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]