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Rafael Ruelas Is Hot on the Trail of Another Title

BOXING

August 08, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER

There is no air conditioning in the Coachella Boxing Club. On a day like last Tuesday, when the temperature climbed to 120 degrees, there is barely any air.

Outside, the softball diamonds and surrounding park are empty. Who would be crazy enough to venture out in the heat of this day?

Rafael Ruelas, for one.

Yes, the same Ruelas whose boxing career was declared over three years ago, after he was hammered by Oscar De La Hoya in the second round of a highly hyped match that turned into a mismatch.

When Ruelas, who lost his International Boxing Federation lightweight title to De La Hoya, also lost his next fight, to the less heralded George Scott, it was decided that Ruelas should retire.

Ruelas didn't make that decision, just many others in boxing.

The theory was that Ruelas, who was considered to have limited skills to begin with, had made the most of his talent and had earned enough money to take care of his family. So why risk serious injury by staying in the ring?

But now, here he was on this blistering hot day, bouncing around in the gym, throwing punches with a sparring partner while sweat poured down his body.

And Ruelas was loving it. There wasn't anyplace else he'd rather have been.

Except, maybe, the El Paso County Coliseum, where Ruelas (52-3, 42 knockouts) will be next Saturday, taking on former IBF junior-welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (20-1-1, 16 knockouts) in a World Boxing Council super-lightweight title elimination bout.

"Being in the ring brings me peace," Ruelas said. "I'm 27, I feel good. I've never really taken a beating in the ring. A lot of it also depends on your lifestyle out of boxing. And I've lived a clean life."

Ruelas' trainer, Joe Goossen, laughed at the suggestion that his fighter ought to start thinking of a new line of work after suffering two of his three losses in order.

"If you lose a baseball game, where are the ballplayers mentally?" Goossen asked. "They are ready to win their next game.

"It's the same thing with Rafael. You make mistakes, you look at the film and you make sure they don't happen again."

And they haven't happened. Since losing to Scott in October 1995, Ruelas has reeled off nine consecutive victories, the most impressive a second-round knockout of Tomas Barrientes that resulted in the fighter's not only going through the ropes but all the way to the floor, the kind of knockout you don't usually see except in movies.

Admittedly, none of those Ruelas has beaten in his current streak were of world-class quality, and that's why he says he is looking forward to fighting Tszyu.

"He is a formidable opponent," Ruelas said. "After this, people can't say I just beat a bunch of tomato cans. Until recently, he was considered one of the best fighters around."

Then Tszyu was knocked out by Vince Phillips, but then won his next two fights.

Now, Tszyu will face Ruelas with the winner earning a title shot in the fall against the winner of the fight between Miguel Angel Gonzalez (43-1-1, 33 knockouts) and John John Molina (45-5, 30 knockouts), which is also on the El Paso card.

And if he proves to be the sole survivor, Ruelas may finally convince the doubters that he has something left.

"If I really felt it was the end of the line for Rafael, God knows I'd be the first to tell him," Goossen said. "Usually it's the fighter who is the last to know he's finished, not the trainer."

MATCHMAKING WOES

Originally, Joel Luna Zarate was scheduled to fight in Monday's main event at the Pond against Mauricio Martinez. But Zarate, who fought to a technical draw against WBC junior-bantamweight champion Gerry Penalosa in April, expects to get a rematch.

Therefore, Zarate decided, why take a risk by fighting Martinez, who, at 11-3-1 with six knockouts, would hardly be considered a tuneup.

So Zarate dropped out and Forum Boxing officials tried to plug in Jesus Sarabia.

When they couldn't work that out, they got Marcos Badillo (12-3, five knockouts), who will fight Martinez for the North American Boxing Organization's vacant bantamweight title.

Unless things change again.

In the co-main event, junior-featherweight Israel Vazquez (17-1, 15 knockouts) faces Juan Manuel Chavez (21-20, 10 knockouts) in another 10-rounder.

Finally, 19-year-old Dwain Williams (12-2, 10 knockouts) of Los Angeles fights Jesus Mayorga (24-18-2, 18 knockouts) in a 10-round junior-middleweight bout.

QUICK JABS

There are four credible opponents out there for De La Hoya, WBC welterweight champion, and the Duva family controls all four. Two of them, Ike Quartey and Felix Trinidad, have signed to fight Nov. 14 in Connecticut. Promoter Dino Duva wants to match the winner against Pernell Whitaker, whose six-month suspension for drug abuse ends next month, in February. The survivor, under Duva's plan, would fight De La Hoya next May. . . . That still leaves Jose Luis Lopez, the man De La Hoya says would be the toughest opponent of all. Duva says he would gladly match Lopez with De La Hoya in November. "Jose is available," Duva said.

CALENDAR

Monday--Marcos Badillo vs. Mauricio Martinez, NABO bantamweight championship; Israel Vazquez vs. Juan Manuel Chavez, junior featherweights, the Pond, 7:15 p.m.

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