He went from legend to loser.
A year ago, Julio Cesar Chavez was preparing to tour North America to herald his 100th fight, what he hoped would be a triumphant finale to his career, a victory over rising superstar Oscar De La Hoya.
Instead, Chavez lost stature in losing to De La Hoya in June. Then, Chavez lost money to the Mexican government in a dispute over taxes. He lost prestige in an ugly, public battle with his wife over alleged abuse. He lost a chance for a lucrative rematch with De La Hoya in a battle with promoter Bob Arum over money.
Chavez dropped out of a December fight against Mickey Ward, promoted by Arum, because of a hand injury, an injury some questioned.
And then, Chavez dropped out of sight.
There were reports that he had gone back to his previous promoter, Don King. But there were also questions about whether the world would ever see Chavez in the ring again.
He was 34, he had absorbed the wear and tear of 100 professional fights and he seemed to have lost the zest for training. In the old days, he could simply knock off the drinking and high living and quickly regain his superb form.
But not at 34.
But hold those career obituaries. Chavez is back.
At least, King says he is back.
In announcing a series of spring fights, King said Friday that he is, indeed, promoting Chavez and would like to put him on as many as three cards in four months.
Don’t hold your breath on that, but one or two appearances seem realistic.
“Julio Cesar Chavez has now come home,” King said. “I have my son back and we will put him in his rightful place in the stratosphere. He is a good kid who went wrong. He did what naughty kids sometimes do, left home.”
The first target date for Chavez is March 29 at the Las Vegas Hilton against an opponent to be determined on a card headlined by a heavyweight match between International Boxing Federation champion Michael Moorer and Vaughn Bean.
King would also like to use Chavez on his card May 3 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, one headlined by the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson rematch.
And finally, King envisions Chavez on a card sometime in June at the Hilton. The main event that night will match Terry Norris against Felix Trinidad for Norris’ World Boxing Council and IBF 154-pound titles.
Add Chavez: The return of Chavez to King’s camp creates an interesting scenario in a different arena.
When King was tried for insurance fraud in 1995, charges that are still unresolved since the trial ended with a hung jury, Chavez was a key witness against King.
With Chavez again under King’s wing, would the promoter try to persuade Chavez not to testify?
“I know I’m innocent,” King said. “I want to step up to the bar of justice and prevail. Whatever Julio does, that’s what he’s got to do. I’m certainly not one to tell him what he should do or not do.
“I won’t knock this country. In any other country [while awaiting a retrial], I couldn’t be in Las Vegas, making millions to give to others.”
King didn’t specify the “others” to whom he is giving millions.
Speaking of millions: King said he is trying to settle Chavez’s numerous financial obligations, including the million dollars-plus the fighter owes the Mexican government.
“I am paying off Julio’s debts and he has borrowed the money all back from me,” King said. “It’s like revolving credit.”
Ghostbuster: Back he goes to the scene of his horror. Back he goes to the lingering doubts. Back he goes to the seemingly never-ending questions.
But Gabriel Ruelas couldn’t be happier.
Because he’s going back into the ring.
It’s really been a paradox for the former WBC super-featherweight champion. Since he first stepped into the Ten Goose Boxing gym in North Hollywood as a wide-eyed 12-year-old, Ruelas has found purpose, satisfaction and joy in the ring. He has also found pain, frustration and, ultimately, death.
Despite a solid chin, a devastating punch and a resolute spirit, Ruelas hasn’t been able to get his career back on track since that terrifying spring evening in 1995 when he left a Las Vegas ring filled with the elation of victory over beating Jimmy Garcia, only to soon learn that Garcia had collapsed from the cumulative effect of Ruelas’ blows. Within days, Garcia would be dead.
And Ruelas would be haunted.
Seven months later, Ruelas put his title on the line against Azumah Nelson at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. Ruelas lost on a sixth-round knockout after fighting in a wild, almost panicked style, totally uncharacteristic for Ruelas. After the fight, he claimed he had seen Garcia’s ghost in the ring. Then later he said he had actually been suffering from flu.
Flu or not, there was no question Ruelas hadn’t been able to get past Garcia’s death. He started visiting a therapist. He talked and rationalized and said he had finally resolved the issue in his troubled mind.
Ruelas (43-3, 23 knockouts) has fought twice since then, beating Julio Herrera and Angelo Nunez.
Ruelas weighed 143 pounds when he fought Herrera last March, and the added weight seemed to slow him down and adversely affect his once-smooth style. He went the 10-round distance to get a decision over Herrera in a lackluster performance. Ruelas got down to 136 pounds for Nunez, looked better and stopped him in eight in September.
But he knows he’s going to have to move down in weight and move up in quality of opponents if he has any hope of regaining his title.
His career took another frustrating turn in November when he broke a finger on his right hand while training, delaying his comeback even more.
But now, with the finger healed, he hopes to take a big first step back toward title contention Friday night when he fights former IBF featherweight champion Troy Dorsey at Fantasy Springs. Dorsey’s record is a so-so 14-9-4, but he is coming off an impressive ninth-round technical knockout of Jimmy Bredahl in October.
Ruelas’ biggest problem, however, may not be whom he is fighting as much as where he is fighting. He’ll be back in that same Fantasy Springs ring where he imagined he saw Garcia 14 months ago.
But not this time, Ruelas insists.
“I’ve learned to accept [Garcia’s death],” he said. “Before, I wanted it to go away. Now I have learned to accept it as part of my life.”
IBF flyweight champion Mark Johnson (30-1, 23 knockouts) will make the second defense of his title Monday at the Forum against Alejandro Montiel (33-2, 22 knockouts). These are two hot fighters. Johnson has won 29 in a row, Montiel eight consecutive and 10 of 11.
Scrub the fountains: Officials at Caesars Palace had planned to hold the April 12 match between Oscar De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker on the front portion of their property, where their trademark fountains stand. A major renovation of the hotel would have made that area available for a temporary stadium holding up to 13,000. But demand for the fight has been so great that the event has been moved instead to the nearby 19,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center.
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Monday--Mark Johnson vs. Alejandro Montiel, IBF flyweight title; Jose Lopez vs. Martin Solario, flyweights, Forum, 7:15 p.m.