Gabriel Ruelas fought his way out of poverty in Mexico to live the American dream and become the WBC junior lightweight titleholder in the mid-1990s.
Ruelas was born in Yerbabuena, Jalisco, a small village in central Mexico on July 23, 1970. He was one of 13 children.
As an infant he was always sick and on one occasion his family thought he had passed away. They were going to bury him but wanted to baptize him first. The water resuscitated him, made him cry and saved his life.
“[Life] was so different, very simple,” Ruelas told The Ring of his early years. “We would go to the mountains to milk the cattle and walk it back to our house. We were very isolated from everyone else. The nearest town was an hour away on a donkey, we didn’t have any cars. We didn’t know what boxing was.”
As Gabriel grew older his family wanted a better way of life for him and younger brother, Rafael. When he was eight years old his family decided it was time for them to join some of their elder siblings in America, so they headed to the nearest big city to begin their journey.
“When I got to Guadalajara, I thought it was the U.S.,” he said. “I had never seen kids with shoes, all we wore were huaraches.”
Met by his aunt and uncle in Guadalajara, they took both brothers to Los Angeles. For the first couple of years he went to school and tried to adapt to the new way of life. However, Ruelas never liked school, and when his older brother, Juan, told him about boxing, he decided to give it a try.
When Ruelas was 12 he began training with Joe Goossen. He developed into a good amateur and had aspirations of fighting at the 1988 Olympics, but with him not being a U.S. citizen, Goossen suggested that he try out for the Mexican team. That proved to be problematic.
“I stopped the guy in the first round and my trainer was like, ‘Can he represent [Mexico] now?'” Ruelas explained. “They said, ‘He can’t represent us yet. He has to fight in a tournament because we already have a fighter in his weight, so he can’t just come in and take his place.’
“I fought him, it was [future WBC lightweight titleholder] Miguel Angel Gonzalez. He was good, but I was good too. Joe told me it was going to be very hard. [Gonzalez] won and he went to the Olympics.”
Ruelas thought that was the end of his boxing dream and he’d have to get a job, but Goossen saw something in the brothers and turned Gabriel professional in September 1988.