Ruelas and Nelson in the Ring Again but Not Toe to Toe

Joe Goossen’s gym in Van Nuys may be small, but it is big enough for Gabriel Ruelas and Azumah Nelson.

After two intense title fights, the gloves are off and hands extended between the onetime lightweight rivals, who suddenly are stablemates under Goossen in the twilight of their careers.

Nelson, a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday and a veteran of 24 title fights, joined Goossen last month and will fight Jesse James Leija in San Antonio on July 11 as part of the first pay-per-view card by America Presents.

Ruelas, 28, who defeated Leija to win the World Boxing Council junior-lightweight title in 1994, will fight Troy Dorsey on the same card.


Ruelas, who grew up in Sylmar, and Nelson, a native of Ghana, are not strangers.

They fought twice, the first time in 1993 before 130,000 in Mexico City on the undercard of a main event that featured Julio Cesar Chavez.

Nelson won both fights with Ruelas, the first by majority decision to retain his WBC title.

In 1995, Nelson took Ruelas’ title with a fifth-round knockout at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. A troubled Ruelas was in the ring for the first time since the bout in which his blows resulted in the death of Jimmy Garcia.


Boxers sometimes broil in the presence of a former foe. Imagine a training alliance between Ali and Frazier, or Hagler and Hearns.

Relations between Ruelas and Nelson, however, are quite the opposite.

They do not spar against each other, nor do they intend to.

“There’s no point,” Goossen said. “The real guys who have been to the top, there is rarely any pettiness. There is no air of animosity between them. I wouldn’t have them in the gym together if that was the case.”


Nelson and Ruelas do, however, train in close proximity and are not reluctant to exchange ideas.

“We’ve been through wars, we’ve been through thick and thin,” Ruelas said. “We’ve been through everything. Because of the amount of fights we’ve had, we’re veterans and he’s just another fighter, nothing else.”

Said Nelson: “Sometimes, when the other boxer disrespects you, there can be a problem. Gabe is a gentleman.”

A partnership between Nelson and the Goossens--Joe and brother Dan, promoter of America Presents--had come close to fruition over the years.


“I like the way they work,” Nelson said. “I know Joe. And I know that he cares a lot about everyone in the gym. There is a lot of love in there.”

Goossen guided Ruelas and his brother, Rafael, and Michael Nunn from obscurity to world titles.

With Nelson, Goossen isn’t working from the ground up.

“It’s not often a guy like that lands on your doorstep,” Goossen said. “It’s almost like having a player-coach. It’s a different feeling because of his legendary status. You hate to bring up his age when you realize how capable he is. The guy moves around the ring like a teenager.”


Nelson, shadowboxing his way through an interview, keeps an eye on sparring in the ring. Meanwhile, Ruelas completes having his fists taped and prepares to enter the ring.

“Azumah makes an effort after his workout to hang on the ropes and keep his head in and pull people aside,” Goossen said. “He’s a great role model to have around.”


America Presents has two programs scheduled for next week in San Antonio.


On Tuesday, James Coker and Robert West will fight for the WBC Continental Americas super-welterweight championship at Freeman Coliseum.

Brothers Carlos and Rudy Martinez of Oxnard will fight on the undercard.

Martinez, a member of the 1996 Mexican Olympic team, is 8-0 with one knockout under Goossen. Rudy, also trained by Goossen, is making his professional debut.

Carlos will fight Rudy Hernandez of San Antonio in a six-round welterweight fight. Rudy will face Roman Trejo in a four-round bantamweight bout.


The pay-per-view card at the Alamodome will include six former world champions, including Nelson, Ruelas, Leija, Dorsey, Tracy Harris Patterson and Goyo Vargas.


Fernando Vargas of Oxnard, ranked No. 9 by the WBC as a junior-middleweight, will fight Jose Rivera on Aug. 22 at a New York City location to be determined.

Vargas has knocked out all 13 of his opponents. The card also will feature former lightweight champion Arturo Gatti. . . . Robert Garcia of Oxnard, IBF junior-lightweight champion, likely will defend his title against one of four opponents: Joel Casamayor, Justin Jukko, Jorge Paez or Tom Johnson. . . . Heavyweight Lance Whitaker of Granada Hills, who suffered a deep cut during his last fight in May, will be ready to return to the ring in August, Goossen said.