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Looks Are Deceiving : Ruelas Brothers Aren't That Impressive Until They Get Into Ring

June 23, 1991|RICH TOSCHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I didn't see plumbing until I got to California," Gabriel said. "We didn't even have an outdoor bathroom, an outhouse. We just went. There were a lot of big rocks to hide behind."

The brothers' journey to California in 1979 was, they say, like going to another planet. They claim to have been stunned on their first trip to a drugstore, where endless rows of hair-care products were lined up.

"Blow-dryers," Gabriel said. "I just couldn't understand it."

They also were shocked to learn that not everyone looked exactly like they did.

"The first time we came here was the first time we had ever seen a black person or a person with blond hair," Gabriel said. "I remember walking with my older brothers, who had been here for a few years, and me and Rafael would just stop on the sidewalk and stare at people. My brothers would have to drag us along the sidewalk, telling us not to stare at people."

Shyness took over as they tried to fit into a much different world. And they had to overcome that shyness to start in boxing.

At 11 and 12, the brothers worked after school selling candy. The Ten Goose Boxing Club had been started in their neighborhood, and another Ruelas brother, Juan, had boxed briefly at the gym. He told Gabriel to try it.

"He told me not to try it," Rafael recalled. "He said I was so skinny I'd get hurt for sure. He told me to concentrate on school. And selling candy."

After weeks of building up courage, Gabriel knocked on the door of the gym. But only after hiding his box of candy in the bushes nearby.

"I was so embarrassed," Gabriel said. "I was shaking."

Joe Goossen, the Ten Goose trainer who later went on to train IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn, answered.

"I want to be a fighter," chirped the 12-year-old Ruelas.

"I told him to get out," Joe Goossen said. "He was a little kid."

"I was scared by then," Gabriel said. "I just said 'OK' and turned to leave. And all of a sudden I started thinking, 'Geez, I hope no one stole my candy outside.' Because this wasn't the best neighborhood in the world, either."

At that moment, Goossen stopped the kid, told him to come back after school and he'd let him get some exercise.

"There was something I liked about him," Goossen said. "He had a look in his eyes."

A few weeks later, skinny Rafael joined up, too.

"I had no idea what I was getting into," Goossen said. "We were supposed to be training professional fighters, and now I've got these little kids hanging around, boxing gloves bigger than their heads."

Not, however, bigger than their hearts.

"In 15 years of being around fighters and training fighters, I've never met one yet who could match either Gabriel or Rafael in courage and guts," Goossen said. "These kids are one in a million."

Make that two.

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