Although super middleweight Simon Ruvalcaba has an outwardly nominal record of 4-10-2, he has a master plan to put himself on the fistic map. Fighting out of his native Lake Tahoe, which is located on the California/Nevada border, the 31-year-old journeyman would like to put together a few wins before taking on Joey Gilbert, a star of season one of “The Contender, who hails from nearby Reno.
“We would sell out the outdoor arena at the Montbleu, which used to be Caesar’s Tahoe, said Ruvalcaba. “It would be the thrill of a lifetime, and it would be my biggest payday.
In July 1989, when Ruvalcaba was all of 11-years-old, he was in the audience when future heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield stopped Adilson Rodrigues in two rounds there.
He was also present for the 1990 HBO tripleheader featuring Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Hector “Macho Camacho in separate bouts, as well as for Lennox Lewis’s heavyweight title defense against Henry Akinwande in 1997.
Although he does not know for certain if this is true, he believes that Lewis and Akinwande, who cumulatively weighed 479 pounds and were over 13-feet-tall, might just be the tallest and heaviest fighters to ever share a 16 x 16 foot ring.
When the great Julio Cesar Chavez was training in Lake Tahoe for his first challenge of Oscar De La Hoya, he utilized the then 18-year-old Ruvalcaba as a regular sparring partner.
“I was actually looking forward to getting hit with one of his left hooks to the body, said Ruvalcaba. “I looked up to him so much, I thought of dropping out of high school to follow him around.
The two had become very friendly. After one sparring session Ruvalcaba brought Chavez to his home, where his mother served them both her renowned tamales.
“He loved them, said Ruvalcaba. “And he loved my family.
When Ruvalcaba sparred publicly with Pernell Whitaker, their photo was festooned on the front page of the local paper.
“It wasn’t the front page of the sports page, it was the front page of the entire newspaper, said Ruvalcaba. “When he did that squat to the floor that he was known for, I did the same thing. It brought a smile to his face.
Ruvalcaba was born, raised and still lives in Lake Tahoe. As a child he loved all sports, especially football. Although he is a self-described mama’s boy, his father’s past drinking has saddled him with many unpleasant memories.
One time he accompanied his father to Carson City, the Nevada state capitol, to pick up a friend of his dad who had been arrested for drunken driving. While waiting outside the sheriff’s office, Ruvalcaba wandered across the street to the late Ted Walker’s Boxing Gym.
“I saw people jumping rope and I was fascinated, said Ruvalcaba. “But my main reason for learning how to box was so, when I turned 18, I could challenge my father to a fight and beat him.
Ruvalcaba began scraping together the $13 a day he needed for round trip bus fare from Lake Tahoe to Carson City. Over the next few years, the benevolent Walker became a mentor and father figure to him.
While Ruvalcaba’s father would eventually stop drinking, and their relationship would get better, it was still tough for the youngster to shake the anger that consumed him.
“I was disqualified in my first three amateur fights, said Ruvalcaba, who now seems as level-headed, mature and sensible as any fighter you’ll ever meet. “I hit my opponents when they were down, and I even hit the referee. I was angry because of all of the violence at home.
Under Walker’s tutelage, Ruvalcaba became a solid amateur fighter and a mature young man. Rarely a day goes by that he doesn’t think of and appreciate all that Walker did for him.
After high school Ruvalcaba joined the U.S. Army, with the hope of fighting on their boxing team. While stationed in South Korea, he won an Eighth Army championship. Although many of his fellow soldiers would spend furloughs in nearby Australia, Ruvalcaba made a promise to himself that the first time he visited that beautiful country would be as a member of the 2000 Olympic boxing team.
He never made it to Sydney, but he later boxed at Fort Hood in Texas. His last amateur fight was as a civilian against James Kirkland at a tournament in the Lone Star State.
“On the first night of the tournament, Kirkland had a guy come right to him and he beat him easily, recalled Ruvalcaba. “On the next night, he had a guy that ran but he went after him and beat him easily. I saw no weakness in him at all.
When Ruvalcaba and Kirkland finally squared off, Ruvalcaba didn’t know what strategy to utilize against such a formidable opponent.
“I fought him left-handed, I fought him right-handed, I mixed it up, I went forward and backwards, but he still dominated me and stopped me in the fourth round, said Ruvalcaba, who left the amateur ranks with a 54-17 record. “He was a great fighter.
Years later, before the now jailed Kirkland’s pro career was derailed by a parole violation, Ruvalcaba got a phone call asking if he was available for a fight on short notice.
“When he told me who I’d be fighting, and it was Kirkland, I hung up on him, said Ruvalcaba.
Immediately after the sparring session with Whitaker, Ruvalcaba was told that Lou Duva was interested in signing him and bringing him to New Jersey to train. Having not yet turned pro, Ruvalcaba was advised to sit tight and await word from Duva.
Instead he made his pro debut, in Vallejo, California, in June 2001, and lost a four round decision to a 21 fight veteran. He’s been on a downhill slope ever since.
“It was like everyone turned their back on me after that, said Ruvalcaba.
Over the past nine years, Ruvalcaba has most often taken fights for short money on even shorter notice. During that time he has usually worked a full-time job. The sad reality is that he is a lot better fighter than his record would indicate, but he has been unable to give his full attention to such a demanding vocation.
He works full-time as a cable installer for Charter Communications, and part-time as a trainer and conditioner for boxers and martial art practitioners at the Lion’s Den Boxing Club in Reno.
There have been times that the divorced Ruvalcaba thought about chucking all his boxing aspirations, and committing himself to a more conventional lifestyle. Like so many others, however, he can’t get the bug out of his system.
“I really thought about it seriously two to three years ago, said Ruvalcaba. “But I’m afraid to leave the sport. I love it too much, so I have to be around it in one way or another.
Ruvalcaba still has a recurring fantasy that began when he was a youngster and involves him headlining at his favorite outdoor local arena.
“If that ever happens, against Joey Gilbert, or anyone else, win or lose, I’m going to take my hand wraps, sign them, and give them to a young boxer in the stands, he said. “I’m going to tell him that I was once a kid with a dream, just like him, and to never stop dreaming because it just might come true.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV