In happier days, they fought and cheered together. Then Michael Nunn became a champion. His stablemate Gabe Ruelas seemed to be on his way.
Now, for reasons no one seems to understand fully, Nunn has chosen to break off old friendships and loyalties. The middleweight champion appeared to have partially patched up his feud with the Goossen brothers, Dan and Joe, when he asked his former trainer, Joe Goossen, to work his corner during his victory over Marlon Starling on Saturday at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.
But after the fight, Nunn had little to say about prospects for a reconciliation with the people who helped make him a millionaire. Actually, he seemed to go out of his way to say nothing.
"Right now, I just want to take some time off, kick back and relax, and see what happens," Nunn said.
The Goossens know what's happening. Nunn is in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, never good news for them. There, as the Goossens see it, a group continues to try to separate him from them.
Everywhere they look, they see signs that Nunn wants out. Nunn's contract with Ten Goose expires in November. Apparently, he can't bring himself to look them in the eye and spell it out, so Nunn has decided that mean-spirited gestures will work.
Nothing he has said or done in recent months delivered a louder message than his behavior Saturday after he'd beaten Starling. This one rang even louder than the afternoon in training camp not long ago when Nunn's cousin called Dan Goossen "a thief and a liar," while Nunn sat on his hands, remaining silent.
Ruelas, who in the past has demonstrated loyalty to and admiration for Nunn by carrying his spit bucket for him in his corner, went down on the Nunn-Starling undercard with a career-threatening injury.
In his most important fight to date, Ruelas was handily beating veteran Jeff Franklin in a 10-round bout. Then he broke his right arm just above the elbow in the seventh round and lost for the first time in 22 fights.
Ruelas was taken to the hospital and underwent surgery that night. Two screws were needed to hold the bone together.
The disappointed Ruelas, 19, who might not be able to put on gloves for six months, had lots of visitors and get-well wishes afterward. Guess who Ruelas never saw or heard from?
Right, Michael Nunn, the middleweight champion.
Bob Surkein, 71, Nunn's father figure/adviser since the fighter was 14, and who later steered him toward the Goossens, was reflecting on Nunn's recent behavior.
"Last year, I almost lost my wife," Surkein said. "She was like a mother to Mike and became very sick. We never heard from him--not even a card. There's a certain meanness that's come over Mike in the last year or so and I don't understand it."
Surkein caught himself and said: "Better make that 'forgetfulness,' not 'meanness.' "
Nunn said he wasn't going to talk about the Goossens last week. Then, the day before the fight, he took a long look at Cassius Green, whom he'd hired after he walked out on the Goossens in March, and decided he'd better have Joe Goossen in his corner after all.
At one point last week, Nunn took a knock at the Southern California lifestyle, implying that he preferred Iowa.
"All that matters out there (in Southern California) is how many Mercedes you have in your driveway," he said.
Nunn has three Mercedes. One was a gift from his former promoter, Bob Arum. He bought the others. He was also given a Cadillac.
Prediction: The Goossens have about had it with Nunn. Any more, and it will be the Goossens who walk, not Nunn.
The arm injury sustained by Ruelas on the Nunn-Starling undercard couldn't have happened at a more inopportune time for him.
Ruelas, who looks like a teen-age Roberto Duran, not only saw his unbeaten streak come to a sudden end, but his immediate future went on hold, too.
Ruelas couldn't lift his right arm fully after injuring it in the fifth round, but he was still winning the fight in the seventh. Then, in a clinch, Franklin twisted Ruelas' injured arm, and the arm bent about 90 degrees at the elbow--the wrong way.
Ruelas cried out in pain, crumpled to the canvas and the fight was stopped. Ruelas' trainer, Joe Goossen, wanted referee Richard Steele to disqualify Franklin, but it went into the books as a TKO loss for Ruelas.
Dan Goossen, Ruelas' manager, said the timing of the injury was bad. "We had tentatively lined up two TV dates for him, for June and August, against rated junior-lightweights," Dan Goossen said. "We're told the recovery period, with rehab, is three to six months."
Paid attendance for the Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor bout at the Las Vegas Hilton was 7,894, and the gate was $2,407,103, official records show. . . . When Virgil Hill, the World Boxing Assn. light-heavyweight champion, broke his thumb in training, his scheduled April 29 fight at Caesars Palace against Guy Waters was postponed until July, in Bismarck, N.D., and the co-main event, matching middleweights Doug DeWitt and and Nigel Benn, was switched to Caesars World in Atlantic City, N.J., on the same date.
Welterweight Ernie Chavez (9-0) will step up to "name" opponents if he gets by veteran Juan Villa (33-10) at the Irvine Marriott Monday night, according to Chavez's trainer, Jackie McCoy. . . . Hard-core boxing buffs will have a big treat in Atlantic City later this month: April 26--Harold Brazier-Micky Ward, Resorts International; April 27--Jesus Rojas-Luigi Camputaro, Trump Castle; April 28--Thomas Hearns-Michael Olajide, Taj Mahal; April 29--DeWitt-Benn, Caesars World. Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, assured Anwar Chowdry, president of the International Amateur Boxing Assn., in Havana recently that boxing had a "permanent place" on the Olympic Games schedule. At Seoul in 1988, Samaranch threatened to have boxing dropped from the Olympics if a way wasn't found to prevent poor judging and mismatches at future Olympics.
Paul Gonzales, the one-time East Los Angeles street kid who predicted years in advance that he would win a gold medal in the Olympic Games and then did it, will get his long-awaited world title fight on June 10. Gonzales meets Orlando Canizales, the International Boxing Federation bantamweight champion, at El Paso in a bout to be televised by NBC. Gonzales has one decision over Canizales, in 1985 when both were flyweights.