Advertisement

Failure to Set Rematch Clouds Ruelas’ Next Bout : Boxing: After knockout rule was waived, Arleta lightweight now might be barred from a replacement fight, state commissioner says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rafael Ruelas had no way of knowing that the simple act of resting on one knee for a few seconds would bring him such fame. The last person to gain this much notoriety for not getting up on time was Rip Van Winkle.

But at least he was tired.

Ruelas, a heavy-punching lightweight from Arleta, tumbled from the ranks of the unbeaten last week when he was counted out by referee Chuck Hassett in the second round of a fight at the Country Club in Reseda.

Nothing unusual there. Thousands of boxers have been counted out by a referee, lying flat on their backs in dreamland, sitting on the canvas engaged in heated debate with legs that refuse to heed their owner’s commands.

Advertisement

But seldom has a fighter of note been counted out because he could not count.

Does the blame belong to Ruelas (27-1), who clearly had recovered from the punch in two or three seconds and was casually waiting on one knee?

Or was it the fault of his trainer, Joe Goossen, who was shielded from the referee and at the count of eight was still signaling for his fighter to stay down?

Or was the error Hassett’s?

Advertisement

The answer to the last question is clearly no . Hassett followed the rules. He sent the other fighter, journeyman Mauro Gutierrez of Los Mochis, Mexico, to a neutral corner and then picked up the count from the timekeeper.

He called out the numbers five through 10 loud and clear and also fervently indicated the count on his fingers just inches from Ruelas’ face.

When he reached 10, he barked, “It’s over,” and waved his hands over the still-kneeling Ruelas, who then popped up like a man who had just sat on a whoopie cushion.

“There’s nothing to say,” Hassett said. “I counted to 10 and he was still down. He’s down, he’s out. I don’t have a lot of options, you know.”

Advertisement

Was it Ruelas’ fault?

Perhaps. He ignored the counting Hassett, opting to look to his corner and his trainer for instructions on when to get up.

Goossen’s fault?

Clearly, he deserves some of the blame. Despite admitting he was shielded from Hassett by Gutierrez and therefore could not have known what the count was, he motioned several times for Ruelas to stay on one knee and rest.

Advertisement

Also, in those crucial seconds, he mapped a strategy with his fighter, telling him with arm motions to tie up Gutierrez and hold on when the fight was resumed.

Good strategy. And it probably would have worked had the fight resumed. Ruelas, a tough-as-nails fighter in prime physical condition, had been knocked down before in fights and has showed remarkable resiliency, shaking off the heavy blows in a few seconds and coming back to knock out his opponents.

And he had clearly overpowered Gutierrez until a left hook caught him on the chin and stunned him and another, a second later, knocked him down.

“I was beating the guy so easily that I forgot to defend myself,” Ruelas said. “And then I lost track of the count. The crowd was screaming and I just lost the count. I looked at my corner and followed their instructions, but when (Goossen) told me to get up, I guess it was too late.

Advertisement

“It was just a mistake. A bad mistake.”

And despite the abnormal circumstances, a loss is still a loss. And that hurts Ruelas, 20, more than any punch he has absorbed.

“I had so much pride in being undefeated,” he said. “And now that’s gone. Even though everyone knows it was a fluke, that I wasn’t knocked out or anything, it still hurts. I really liked having that zero at the end of my record. Now it’s gone. It feels funny.”

Goossen, who has joined Ruelas in a flurry of interviews with newspaper reporters and on local television sports shows and even HBO in the wake of the bizarre bout, said he instructs all of his fighters to look at him after a knockdown.

Advertisement

“Sometimes fighters are dazed and hurt after being knocked down, so we work in the gym on the habit of looking at me for instructions,” he said. “Sometimes, when a fighter recovers from a punch quickly, we can use those next seconds to work out a strategy. Hold the guy, run, go back at the guy, or whatever. That’s what I was doing with Rafael.

“But I couldn’t see Hassett. I thought I had the count right, but I was off by a second. It was just a mistake. Bad communication. Between the three of us, we certainly should have been able to coordinate Rafael getting up in time.”

The change from zero to one in the loss column of Ruelas’ record was just one of the setbacks caused by the fight.

The other, and potentially more damaging, was the California Athletic Commission’s rule mandating that a boxer who has been knocked out--as Ruelas officially was--cannot fight again for 45 days. That rule knocked Ruelas out of a nationally televised bout scheduled for Aug. 17 in San Diego on the undercard of the Terry Norris-Brett Lally World Boxing Council super welterweight title fight.

Advertisement

Unless the commission changes the rule.

Surprise. It did.

On an appeal by Ruelas’ manager, Dan Goossen of Van Nuys-based Ten Goose Boxing, Commissioner Steve English waived the 45-day suspension rule.

“When I was asked to review the case, my gut reaction was ‘no,’ ” said English, who was at ringside for the July 30 bout. “A knockout is a knockout, and that’s that. But because I was there to see it, and because it was so obviously not a knockout by any stretch of the imagination, but rather an error, I said I would review it.”

Advertisement

English demanded that Ruelas be examined be a neurosurgeon appointed by the athletic commission. When the doctor found no sign of injury to Ruelas, English waived the rule.

The decision cleared the way for Ruelas to engage Gutierrez in a rematch Aug. 17.

But Gutierrez refused to sign for a rematch. Despite an offer, Goossen said, of $17,000, Gutierrez walked away.

“To be honest, I was stunned,” Goossen said. “He felt he was worth a lot more money now because of that fight. I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Rafael will get on with his career. Trust me, we don’t need Mauro Gutierrez.”

Advertisement

In his place, Goossen lured Mexico City’s Pedro Mendoza into an Aug. 17 date with Ruelas. Mendoza, a cactus-tough veteran, was beaten on June 1 in Palm Springs by Ruelas’ older brother, Gabriel, on a tough 10-round decision.

English was informed Thursday by a reporter of Gutierrez’s decision not to engage Ruelas in a rematch and the agreement for Ruelas to instead fight Mendoza in San Diego.

“You’re kidding?” English said. “Well, that was not the deal at all. The knockout suspension was waived only with the stipulation that Ruelas and Gutierrez fight in a rematch. Any other opponent for Ruelas would change everything.”

Asked why Ruelas would be cleared only to fight Gutierrez, English replied, “The appeal was based on the fact that if Ruelas had stood up just one second earlier, the fight against Gutierrez would have continued. So the San Diego fight would just be, in essence, a continuation of that first fight. I did not grant permission for him to fight anyone else.”

Advertisement

The matter will be resolved, English said, next week.


Advertisement
Advertisement