He looked sluggish and frustrated, and the lasting question raised by Rafael Ruelas' 12-round unanimous-decision loss to George Scott in the Bahamas last Saturday is this:
Is it an overreaction to say that his lackluster performance was a clear sign of a magnificent, brawling, battling fighter turning old suddenly before our eyes?
Even some of those closest to him, apparently including his brother, Gabriel, suggest that the 24-year-old former lightweight champion should seriously consider walking away from boxing after two consecutive losses before anything worse occurs.
Ruelas is famous for absorbing punches in order to work his way inside for his own devastating combinations. And if a fighter whose strongest attribute is pure determination loses just a tiny bit of his tenacity, is it time to go?
"Rafael's grossed over $2 million over his career," said his longtime manager, Dan Goossen. "And he's always been successful in whatever he tried to do. Rafael is a kid that's got the drive inside of him, no matter what he does. Boxing isn't the only thing in Rafael's life.
"If he continues to fight, then that's a decision he's going to make. But I feel he can be very successful outside of the boxing ring, also, whether it's now or sometime in the future."
Six months ago, Ruelas was 43-1, the one bizarre defeat having occurred in 1991 against Mauro Gutierrez when Ruelas failed to beat the 10-count after what looked to be a flash knockdown. He was believed in his prime and preparing for his May 6 showdown against Oscar De La Hoya. But De La Hoya blasted Ruelas in a second-round knockout, and now, after taking several months of rest, comes the loss to Scott.
Ruelas acknowledges he felt tired throughout training for this fight and felt exhausted in the later rounds.
"When I get back to L.A., I'm going to sit and talk to different friends about doing different things," Ruelas said late this week from his hotel room in the Bahamas, where he remained for a vacation. "I had planned to start doing something outside of boxing, something where I didn't have to devote too much time to it, and if boxing's not there, I'd devote more time to it.
"[Retirement] has always been something I kept in the back of my mind. If I get to a point where I'm not winning my fights, then I wouldn't want to stay around.
"I'm not going to be just a journeyman fighter. If I have a good opportunity to fight a good opponent, a good 'name quality' opponent that would put me right back in the picture, then I'll do it. I wouldn't want tuneup fights."
But Ruelas made it clear that, given Scott's awkward southpaw style and what he and his trainer, Joe Goossen, believe was biased judging, this fight is not an indication of a beaten boxer.
"I think people are jumping to conclusions, but I can't change what people say or what people think," Ruelas said. "I have control of what I see and feel, and I feel fine. . . .
"I feel that I'm still one of the best fighters out there."
If Ruelas continues to fight, promoter Bob Arum is looking at a possible match against John John Molina, who lost a 12-round decision to De La Hoya in February. Ruelas also mentioned the possibility of moving up to 140 pounds.
Joe Goossen reacted fiercely when it was suggested that Ruelas is near the end of his career. First, Goossen said, there's no way, given Ruelas' aggression and dictation of the pace, that Scott should have been given the victory, even though the two Florida and one Bahamian judge did exactly that. Second, if anybody would know Ruelas well enough to know it was time to quit, it would be his trainer.
"He needs to hear it from me," Goossen said. "The point is, he can still fight, he can still win, he can still be someone to be considered a top contender for quite a while longer. He doesn't realize the amount of punches he threw, he was in a constant struggle to get into position. That's why he got tired.
"I don't buy that this 24-year-old kid is at the end of his rope when he's legitimately got one loss on his record. No, I don't buy it.
"Danny said he's been getting tired. I said, 'Danny, he's just had a 12-round fight. He's only had one other 12-round fight [his February, 1994, comeback victory over Freddie Pendleton to win the International Boxing Federation title]. And did he look fresh as a daisy against Pendleton?' "
Joe Goossen concedes that both Dan Goossen and Gabriel Ruelas are leaning toward advising Rafael to retire.
"If he came to me, 'Joe, I'm quitting,' I'd say great, let's get your next career going," Joe Goossen said. "If he said, 'Joe, tell me what you think,' I'd tell him what I just said. . . .
"Rafael always makes it look like a struggle. I'll tell you, if I had a California or Nevada judge out there in the Bahamas, nobody would be talking about Rafael retiring right now."
Genaro Hernandez, another fighter who suffered his first major loss at the hands of De La Hoya, recently underwent plastic surgery to repair his nose, which was broken in 20 places during his Sept. 9 loss to De La Hoya.
Hernandez stopped the fight himself after the sixth round when he knew his nose was badly damaged--incurring the wrath of the Latino fight community, which prizes ring machismo and mayhem.
"I don't regret doing what I did, stopping myself, but if I would have known Oscar was hurt [after the fight De La Hoya complained of a sore left shoulder], maybe, maybe I would have taken a chance and went after it anyway," Hernandez said.
"But it was too dangerous for me because I knew my nose was hurt, and he was just aiming for it."
Doctors have told Hernandez to stay out of the gym for at least six weeks, and the former junior-lightweight champion is looking for a return fight in February.
"I want to get in there because I know I'm a better fighter than a lot of people think I am," said Hernandez, who has been the target of people yelling insults since the fight. "I'm not any coward. I just have to take care of myself in the right way."
There's a simple explanation for Forum Boxing's negotiations with The Pond of Anaheim to move several regular Monday night Prime Sports-televised shows to Orange County next year: Forum attendance has been soft, and Orange County has proved a fertile boxing market. But are the Forum's subscribers going to travel to The Pond on a Monday night for a 7:15 start?
The owners of the Grand Olympic Auditorium remain relatively upbeat about the state of its boxing program despite a disappointing paid turnout of 2,566 at the Sept. 28 card headlined by Hector Camacho. "I take it fight by fight, and so does Peter [Broudy, the Olympic's promoter]," said Steve Needleman, the building's president. Plans to stage a Roberto Duran bout this month have been scrapped, but Broudy is planning a Nov. 16 fight, possibly with Jorge Paez, and a Dec. 7 show featuring Yory Boy Campas.
After an examination by an eye specialist, IBF flyweight champion Danny Romero has been ruled out of his scheduled title defense in December and probably won't return until at least January.
Melio Bettina, Johnny Gonzalvez, Gaspar Ortega, Jerry Quarry, Johnny Saxton and Michael Spinks are being inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame tonight at the L.A. Airport Marriott Hotel. Quarry, who suffers from various physical problems believed to stem from his boxing career, is scheduled to make a rare appearance.