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BOXING / TIM KAWAKAMI : These Four Southland Fighters Remain Only the Talk of Town

October 15, 1994|TIM KAWAKAMI

Among the soap operas making the boxing world churn, the Los Angeles area has one of the best.

Will Oscar De La Hoya, Genaro Hernandez and the Ruelas brothers--four junior-lightweight and lightweight champions in their prime--ever find common ground and start fighting one another?

Or will all the posturing and challenging and tension-filled handshakes fizzle into nothing?

De La Hoya has twice all but committed to fight Hernandez, but the deals collapsed. Now, promoters are talking about putting De La Hoya against Hernandez as early as January.

And, in the big one, De La Hoya and Rafael Ruelas are being guided toward what might be the most-anticipated fight between L.A. fighters in decades.

Meanwhile, Hernandez and Gabriel Ruelas seem like natural opponents, if the timing and money are right.

Lots of talk. Will it all pan out?

"For any of us to make the big money, we're going to have to fight each other," said Hernandez's trainer and brother, Rudy Hernandez. "Look in the top-10 rankings at lightweight and junior-lightweight, and we're all about the best there is."

De La Hoya, of Montebello, the only one without a major world title, is the youngest, most famous, probably the most talented, and definitely the most controversial of the four.

Hernandez, the long-running World Boxing Assn. junior-lightweight champion from Mission Viejo by way of South Central L.A., is, at 28, the oldest, the only one of the four not promoted by Top Rank, Inc., the least recognized and most eager to get himself involved in a round of high-interest grudge matches.

Rafael Ruelas, the International Boxing Federation lightweight champion, and his brother, Gabriel, the World Boxing Council junior-lightweight titlist, are from Sylmar. They are two of the most exciting fighters in the world and don't seem overeager to rush into anything.

"They should all be fighting each other," said Bob Arum, who will have a major say in the process as the promoter of De La Hoya and the Ruelas brothers. "There are too many damn champions."

The key to everything is De La Hoya. He has the big HBO deal, and he has the ability to command big purses. The last time Hernandez and De La Hoya were about to fight, Hernandez had agreed to accept $500,000--almost five times the largest purse he has ever fought for.

But with two more fights against middling opposition lined up for this year--Carl Griffith on Nov.18 and John Avila on Dec. 10--De La Hoya, coming up on his 22nd birthday, has acknowledged that he is feeling the pressure to start living up to his big-dollar promise and begin fighting world-class opponents.

Arum says he wants De La Hoya to fight either former WBC junior-lightweight champion Azumah Nelson or Hernandez in January, then set up for the Ruelas bout, possibly near the Cinco de Mayo (May 5) Mexican holiday.

"I want to start fighting huge fights in early 1995," De La Hoya said. "I want to keep fighting huge fights, on HBO or CBS. I think I have the talent necessary to beat these guys. That's the way I think.

"It's the best division out there. This is like a heavyweight division. All these fighters want to fight me. If they want to do that, let them wait, right now. It's a long line."

It will be a long line especially as long as De La Hoya looks vulnerable. He dominated Jorge Paez last July in his debut at 135 pounds, but some observers say that the tough Paez of the past never showed up against De La Hoya, that Paez was looking for a soft place to fall.

"If I'm involved, I want to fight De La Hoya, obviously," said promoter Dan Duva, who represents John John Molina, IBF junior-lightweight champion and a potential opponent for all four. "He's the easiest fight and you'd get the most money.

"De La Hoya can't fight. He's a figment of people's imagination. Right now, (Rafael) Ruelas would knock him out."

Right now, Rafael Ruelas is content to think about his title defense in Hong Kong next Saturday against Britain's Billy Schwer, then a joint defense with his brother, in either Las Vegas or the Grand Olympic Auditorium, on the weekend of the Super Bowl.

De La Hoya and the Ruelases have exchanged some tense greetings at the Big Bear gym where they train, and lately De La Hoya has been eager to talk about and try to line up a bout against Rafael Ruelas.

"If De La Hoya could put together a number of credible wins, aside from the Paez win--and some dispute that as a credible win--I think the amount of money they both could make would supersede what he and Rafael could make at this very moment or within the next two or three months," said Joe Goossen, who trains the Ruelas brothers.

Although Arum suggested that a Hernandez-Gabriel Ruelas 130-pound unification title bout might be a perfect undercard fight for De La Hoya-Rafael Ruelas, and although he is talking about a possible De La Hoya-Hernandez bout in early 1995, Hernandez, as always, is a sticky topic.

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