Simon Ruvalcaba had every reason to retire as a professional boxer.
• The 28-year-old only won three of 12 career bouts.
• Matchmakers didn't waste any time feeding him to savvy pugilists with many more fights under their belts.
• Small purses forced him to hold down regular jobs.
But after a 19-month layoff, the former South Tahoe High student is making a comeback. And this time Ruvalcaba believes he will reach the heights he dreamed about before turning pro in 2001.
Ruvalcaba will fight Justin Hughes of Reno on Feb. 10 on a Philadelphia card headlined by former heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon. The bout will also mark his debut for Sweetchuck Productions, which is co-promoting the card.
"With all that has happened in 19 months within my family and people that have passed away, that sort of stuff, if that doesn't motivate me to really go in there and hurt somebody, then I have no business in continuing my career," Ruvalcaba said.
In no need of motivation, Ruvalcaba (3-7-2) has a bigger reason to beat Hughes, who is making his pro debut in their four-round junior middleweight matchup.
"I have an opponent that is running his mouth the way he is, I really do have to show something," Ruvalcaba said.
Their increasing dislike for one another turned out to be quite appealing to Charles Presnell of Sweetchuck Productions.
"Having them go across the country to settle this local feud is mainly due to the right circumstance," Presnell said. "Justin can fight and he can punch. I will admit Simon has a huge skill advantage, but Justin has a lot of heart. When I told Justin (that) Simon's previous opponent fell through, Justin was quick to volunteer just because it was Simon."
According to Ruvalcaba, Hughes has gone the distance in "underground" tough man fights against heavyweights and has four amateur bouts of record.
"He is a tough guy, and that's about all I can say about him," Ruvalcaba said. "I'm sure he's improved in the last year, but that tough man and fight club experience will not match my technical boxing skills that I have developed for more than half my life."
The two reportedly sparred about a year ago with Ruvalcaba remembering that he got the better of Hughes.
"I remember I was hitting him every time I saw an opening, but I even gave him advice afterward and pointed out certain things as to why he was wide open for shots," Ruvalcaba recalled. "I didn't know he took it like I was showing off against his inexperience. He has said some things that have pissed me off a bit, so that's why I've agreed for us to settle this thing in the ring."
Presnell is well aware of the bad blood between the two fighters.
"Justin is normally a pretty level-headed person. There were only two times I've seen him blow up to that extent: once at a church basketball game, yelling at Congressman Dean Heller and then the incident with Simon. Knowing both sides, I think they both have a point."
Throughout his five-year pro boxing career Ruvalcaba has been a streaky fighter. He's endured a pair of three-bout losing streaks and produced a run of three straight victories.
After a successful amateur career, Ruvalcaba wasn't eased into the pro ranks. His first three opponents had 96 bouts between them. Rulvacaba's confidence may have suffered from those early mismatches, but Presnell has stepped in to redirect his fighter's dreams.
"After talking to him, I realized that he had trouble finding fights where he wasn't expected to be the opponent," Presnell said. "Guys like Simon are rare because he wants to fight. Simon has the opportunity due to his connections to be in some of the best seats in the house at major fights, and while he's sitting ringside he is daydreaming about being in the dressing room getting ready to enter the ring. That's how I know there is still fire in his heart to be a fighter and a champion. I hope to make Simon's dream come true and make him a champion if he can beat Hughes."
An intense daily training regimen that begins with bitterly cold road work at 3 a.m., strength training from 5 to 6 a.m. and gym training from 6 to 8 p.m. has helped Ruvalcaba begin to overcome his long layoff. He'll also embark on 40 rounds of sparring this week.
"I'm extremely confident and know that I can go in there and show why people like Lou Duva thought I had something special when I was going to turn pro," Ruvalcaba said.