Born in Mexico, Gabriel Ruelas emigrated to the United States at the age of nine. Learning to box at Joe Goossens gym, Ruelas won the California Golden Gloves Bantamweight Championship. Success would follow as a pro. Ruelas was impressive in a 1993 loss to The Professor Azumah Nelson. The following year he stunned Jesse James Leija on Sept. 17, 1994 to win the WBC super featherweight title. In his second defense of that title, on May 6, 1995, he would stop Colombias Jimmy Garcia. Garcia would die later of injuries sustained in that bout. Admittedly Ruelas was never the same fighter. He retired in 2003 with a final record of 49-7.
SM: Gabriel tell us how it all started for you in the ring?
GR: I came to the U.S. when I was about nine years old. I was part of a big family, I had seven sisters and nine brothers. My older brothers and sisters were already in the U.S. They had jobs and wanted the best for myself and the younger kids
in the family. They wanted us to go to good schools and have better opportunities. One of my older brothers wanted to become a fighter but he just couldn’t quite get there because he had a job and was busy. When I got to the U.S. we found
the Goossens gym and thats how it started.
SM: How about your amateur career highlights?
GR: I won the California Golden Gloves. What I did in my amateur career told me that in time I would make it in the pros.
SM: So you were confident you would someday be a world champ?
GR: I thought I could and I knew I would work hard for it. I believed from my first fight I would do it. My brother and I were the only non-Olympians to be signed by Bob Arum. That was a great accomplishment already. It was just a great beginning because Bob Arum put us on a lot of great cards from the start.
SM: Tell me about your first loss against Jeff Franklin, on April 14, 1990.
GR: I was at the Mirage. They told me that if I beat Franklin I would be one of the youngest to ever fight for a world title. Had I beaten him I would have been a fight or two away from a shot at a title. I was winning on all scorecards and
just suffered a bad injury. I thought I would never fight again.
SM: How did you prepare for Azumah Nelson in 1993?
GR: We watched a lot of tapes and I sparred with a lot of great fighters. I was feeling right physically and mentally. I knew that night I could beat anybody. I knew it would be a tough fight. I thought I won that fight. I guess I was one point away.
Even though I lost the fight I really thought I won because of all the experience I gained.
SM: Tell me about your title win against Jesse James Leija?
GR: That was the fight I knew that I wasnt gonna be denied and I knew I had to do what I had to do to win. At that time he was undefeated and the one everyone was talking about. No matter what he did that night I wasnt gonna be denied
SM: The second defense of that title, Jimmy Garcia. Is that painful to talk about today?
GR: Well, you know its just a part of my life. I won but I thought I was gonna end my career right there. Winning that fight, I really lost my career I guess you could say. Every fighter feels different about things like that. It was very traumatic.
Psychologically it just destroyed me. My career was really just over at that point, I was just never the same. If you see my face after he went down, you will see that I knew something bad had just happened. Most fighters would be jumping up in
the air celebrating. I didn’t know what exactly happened, but I knew it was bad.
SM: Does it bother you that people talk about that fight more than say your title win against Leija?
GR: It doesn’t bother me; I just learned to deal with it. It was a part of my life and people talk about it even today. Unfortunately thats what people know me more for. Even the non-boxing fans know me because of what happened. Theres just nothing I can do about it.
SM: Did you want to return to boxing after that fight?
GR: I tried to make myself like boxing, but either you do or you dont. It was like an acting career for myself. I was trying to make my wife, my promoters and managers, believe that I still had it. I had just lost it.
SM: What happened in the 2nd Nelson fight, an illness I heard?
GR: Maybe my illness was psychological. By the day of the fight I felt bad, I had diarrhea and was sweating profusely. I was just so tired of doing interviews about the Garcia fight. I just felt like I was fighting Garcia and not Azumah Nelson. I just wanted to get it over with. I thought that maybe when the fight started it might go away. I could barely walk into the ring, I just never felt right in there.
SM: And the Arturo Gatti fight?
GR: I felt like I had him out. I hit the guy with great shots and I could not believe he was still standing. I was in his hometown and I knew I had to knock him out, and believe me I was trying. He knocked me down with a great shot. They didn’t give me an eight count or anything. I was fine and ready to go but they just stopped it. I really felt we should have had a rematch but they wouldnt give me one.
SM: You retired in 2003. Was it a relief after the circumstances with the Garcia fight?
GR: Well, I just felt I didn’t have it anymore. I had felt that since the Garcia fight. I didnt want to hurt anyone and in boxing you have to have that. I started feeling bad for fighters and when you do that, its time to get out.
SM: What are you currently doing now?
GR: For the last 5 years I have been working in the liquor business.I am an ambassador for Southern Wine & Spirits.
SM: Do you follow boxing today?
GR: Very rarely. I lost a lot of love for it after what happened. Its been very hard for myself. Even now I am only forty and Im in good shape and really feel that I could be fighting. But I dont know how I would feel if I got in the ring in a real fight. Theres so many champions today. Its good for the up and comers because they don’t have to wait so long to get a title shot. They have more options and more opportunities but they don’t have to work as hard as back when I fought. Theres good and bad about it.
SM: Toughest opponent?
GR: In the ring? I was gonna say my wife (laughing) but if you mean in the ring I would say Azumah Nelson.
SM: Have you been involved in boxing in anyway after you retired?
GR: I had a friend out here in LA that wanted me to help train kids. I did it for about a year. It was a way to give back. It was a lot of time to try and get the kids in the neighborhood involved in it. It did well and its still running. I would like to do more but I can’t; I don’t know if you can understand that?
SM: Future plans?
GR: Im doing a movie right now. Its called Ghost in the Ring. Its my life story. Jay Hernandez plays me. It will be out September 15th. Ive put a lot into it. To the fans I just want to thank them for all the beautiful memories, for all the times they
made me feel good. I still feel like Im a champion today in some ways, I thank them all.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV