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19 OCTOBER 2018


Where Are They Now: Gabriel Ruelas

Gabriel Ruelas Photo Courtesy Gabriel Ruelas
Gabriel Ruelas Photo Courtesy Gabriel Ruelas

By Ron Valderrama: Gabriel Ruelas was born on July 23, 1970 in Jalisco (meaning "sandy plain") Mexico, which is bordered on the West by the Pacific Ocean. At age Seven he and his family emigrated to the US in search of a better life.

Coming from a hard working family with solid values, Gabriel and his brother Rafael found their way to Joe Goossen’s Gym when Gabriel was 12 yrs old. After finally winning the heart of Goossen, who later said he was impressed with his work ethics and agility, Ruelas racked up an amateur career that would end with a 55-3 record and the California Golden Gloves Championship. His hard work would pay off in 1988 when Ruelas turned pro and for 21 fights he would be undefeated. He lost his first fight to Jeff Franklin in Las Vegas in 1990, a fight he most likely would have won had he not injured his elbow. The fight ended when he was forced to quit in the seventh round.

Ruelas won the NABF Super Featherweight title in 1991 by defeating Eduardo Montoya with a knockout in the first round and putting him in line for the WBC title. The opportunity came at 22 yrs. old when he faced Azumah Nelson in Mexico City in 1993. Ruelas and Nelson battled the entire 12 rounds but he would lose by a close margin, it could have gone either way. He was now noticed around the world as a super featherweight contender to be dealt with, Ruelas continued with five more fights before earning another shot at the WBC Title.

The stage was set at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when Ruelas met Jesse James Leija for the title in 1994. The two great fighters battled back and forth, Leija knocked down Ruelas early and that sparked a fire in Ruelas that would send Leija to the canvas not once, but twice. Ruelas continued to rack up the points and captured the WBC Super Featherweight Title before a packed house and those watching on Showtime/PPV, a fight that Ruelas said was his greatest ever.

Gabriel Ruelas defended the title twice more. His life changed forever when he fought Jimmy Garcia of Columbia in the spring of 1995. Ruelas, at that time was a true pro with speed and power behind his punches, Garcia, who had been beaten by the late Genaro Hernandez a few months earlier was no match for Ruelas. Garcia took a beating most of the fight then in the 11th round was knocked out and sustained a serious head injury. The fight ended officially as a TKO in the 11th round. Tragically, Jimmy Garcia died nine days later from his injury,

Ruelas was devastated and considered giving up boxing. He was never the same again boxing wise and donated part of his earnings from his fights to the Garcia family. He would lose the title in a rematch against Azumah Nelson in 1995, He clearly was not the same fighter. In 1997 Ruelas fought the late Arturo Gatti in a fight that would end in the fifth round by way of tko in favor of Gatti. It was also Ring Magazine’s round of the year. Ruelas then went on to fight eight more times before hanging up the gloves in 2003.

One can not argue that Ruelas was truly one of the great fighters of our generation and one has to wonder what his career would have been like had he not lost his will to fight after the Jimmy Garcia bout. We as boxing fans were blessed to witness him and his brother Rafael become champions, I mean think about it, his family leaves the poverty of his birthplace in Mexico for the United States and experiences the American dream.

Gabriel Ruelas is 41 yrs. old now and lives in Los Angeles, and has two sons, ages 17 and 13. He went through some rough times after the glory and the lights faded, he said he was "drinking alot" and was "feeling down on himself". He was very honest and admitted he made some mistakes and you have to respect him for that.

Many of the people that surrounded him, who he thought were his friends when he was champion, also faded into the sunset. Sound like another boxing star fallen on hard times story? Wrong! Like all great champions, they bounce back. Ruelas said he has been sober for five months now and has the desire to give back and get back into boxing. He wants to start a gym and give back by working with kids, keeping them off the streets, teaching them boxing skills and structure. Maybe take on a few fighters and teach them the values and dedication he experienced growing up. If you think about it, you train your whole life to have a career like his and a career that few fighters ever get to experience.

I’m pretty sure that an owners manual for "life after boxing" does not exist, you never think about training for the end of your career. This true champion known as Gabriel Ruelas has figured it out though, he picked himself up, dusted himself off and decided to make a change by giving something back. How great is that? He supports The Veterans of Foreign Wars(VFW), he said that some of his real friends that did go to war came back injured or disabled, "they are the true champions". As for his brother Rafael, Gabriel said he is doing well working in the valley with his brother in law. This story is not over, it will be continued, there was much more we talked about. This writer will report on his progress with his life and the plans for his gym at a later date. He is truly a great champion at life now. Thank you Gabriel Ruelas for the great fight memories.

August 10, 2011

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