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YOU CAN EARN $75 A WEEK AND MORE.
That was the come-on printed on the leaflet 12-year-old Rafael Ruelas found nailed to a North Hollywood tree in 1984. He dashed home and told his older brother Gabriel about it. "What do we have to do?" asked Gabe.
"Sell candy," said Rafael.
And so from door to door the two Mexican kids went, huckstering boxes of peanut brittle and caramel nut clusters in a Spanish-flavored English, until one day Gabriel stumbled into a boxing gym. Stashing his candy in the bushes, he asked a big guy on a stool, "Who's the coach?"
"Me," growled the big guy. "Whaddya want?"
"To be a fighter."
"Sorry, son. I don't train amateurs. I can't help you."
Just as Gabriel was about to shuffle out the door, one of the regulars in the gym said, "Give him a shot. I like what I see in his eyes."
So the big guy, Joe Goossen, gave him a shot. And as soon as the 13-year-old Gabe put gloves on and threw his first punch, Goossen says, he knew he had a fighter. A month later Goossen let Gabe bring his kid brother in as a sparring partner. Rafael turned out to be a good one, himself. So good that last Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas the $75-a-week Candy Kids earned more than $550,000 for about a half hour's work. Gabriel picked up $250,000 for defending his WBC super featherweight crown, earning a second-round TKO over Fred Liberatore. Rafael got $300,000 for his defense of his TBF lightweight belt, annihilating Billy Schwer by an eighth-round TKO. They also get a piece of the pay-per-view take. No wonder they call it the sweet science.
Separated by a mere nine months, the Ruelas boys—Rafael is now 23, Gabe, 24—represent two sides of the same peso. Rafael is smoother than a Hershey's Kiss, says Goossen, and Gabriel's nuttier than a Payday bar. The former is a somewhat reticent lad with a passion for two-door BMWs and three-piece suits; the latter is chummy, casual and louder than his flannel shirts. An excellent student, Rafael finished North Hollywood High a year early. The class clown, Gabriel dropped out in his senior year. After overpowering James Leija last September to win his title, Gabriel returned to visit the school, expecting a hero's welcome. "Unfortunately, none of the teachers remembered him," his wife, Leslie, says. "Why should they? He never went to class."