Feature: Wednesday, November 07, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Punch Like Paulie

Ayala floats like a butterfly and thinks like a family man.

By Dan McGraw

It’s exactly two weeks before the big night, the night Fort Worth boxer Paulie Ayala makes a million bucks for one night’s work, but as everyone in boxing knows, one night does not a fighter make. It’s days like this in the gym, sparring with young guys who want to take your head off, punching until your arms ache, getting hit so hard in the stomach you feel it in your clenched teeth — well, it’s days like this that get a boxer thinking. Thinking of all those mornings running and afternoons lifting weights, thinking of living on nuts and berries while you get your weight down, thinking of those early fights where you made $1,500 for two months of training and 18 minutes of boxing.

Thousands of hours on the speed bags, thousands more jumping rope. Held all those alphabet boxing organizations’ title belts, held them proudly and been a great champion. And now it comes down to this. Let them keep their belts, Paulie thinks. It’s ultimately about the money, he isn’t ashamed to admit. That’s how the game is played now, that’s how everyone keeps score. Move up in weight class, move down, just move where the biggest purse is.

So Fort Worth’s own is on the verge of making one mill. Check that. One point two. Plus some back-end money on the HBO pay-per-view. Pretty good money for little Paulie Ayala, 5’5" tall, 126 pounds, maybe not the toughest guy to ever come out of Fort Worth boxing, but undoubtedly the smartest. He’s not the North Side’s most beloved homeboy champion, but he can’t worry about that. His big fight may also mark a big change in pro boxing, where audiences increasingly are Hispanic, but that’s someone else’s concern. Paulie is 32 years old now, probably has two or three of these big paydays left, so he works hard in the ring. Now is the time to earn the money. Now is the time to show your work.

He’s here six days a week, at Phil’s Fitness Factory, a little gym down off McCart Avenue that, like Paulie, is hardly flashy, but gets the job done. The ceiling is corrugated plastic held up with chicken wire, the canvas ring floor is spliced with duct tape. Battleship gray is the primary color scheme. Phil’s is pretty small, no room for an entourage, no room for screwing around. This is the place where Paulie became a seven-figure boxer. This is where he comes to work.

He’s sparring against a guy named Frankie Archuleta from Albuquerque, the North American Boxing Association champ at 122 pounds, a brute of a guy eight years younger, whose punches snap Paulie’s head back with a quickness and force that belie his relatively light weight. As Archuleta scores again to the head, a mist of sweat flies from Paulie’s head and shoulders. Before the sweat hits the canvas, Archuleta has hit Paulie with two more body shots.

But Paulie never takes his eyes off Archuleta. And this is what Ayala does best. He studies. He measures. He figures it out. And within the space of a few counter-punches, Paulie has driven Frankie into the ropes with a flurry of head and body shots, loud thwacks from his gloves spanking headgear, shoes squeaking on canvas, bobbing and weaving, odd combinations flying. Stick and move, brother, stick and move. Paulie’s face is serious and sober as he tries to drive his fist through the back of Archuleta’s head. Another day at work. One task closer to the One Point Two Mill.

A little boy sits on the bottom row of the bleachers closest to the ring. Even though it is Saturday, he is doing his math homework, Lesson 34 in your books, boys and girls, decimal quotients, some sort of thorny long-division problem with decimal points thrown in. His page is filled with numbers, numbers that get the boy closer to the solution to the problem. Some are hard to figure out, but he works on them all. Remember to show your work, his teacher and his father always tell him. Show your work.

The boy has the same name as the famous Fort Worth man in the ring, but he barely looks up from his homework as his dad hammers at some guy three feet from his math book. “He’s having some heavy sparring today,” 10-year-old Paul Ayala tells his mother, Leti, who is sitting one row up. Leti nods. She has seen it for about 14 years now and like her son, has long ago gotten used to seeing her husband grinding and scraping in the ring.

Leti motions for Paul to get back to his homework. She rocks 3-year-old Aleah in her stroller, trying to prolong her afternoon nap. Her husband finishes up his sparring and getting the yards of tape taken from his hands. Paulie’s face has small welts from Archuleta’s punches, but he feels good. He’s near the end of a career that has taken him around the world and has earned him a good living. He has never felt better, never felt stronger. He will be a pay-per-view fighter, a seven-figure boxer. Not many of them around, maybe eight or ten in the whole world.

Funny thing though, not many people outside of hard-core boxing fans know who Paulie is. Not even in his hometown. But Paulie hopes all that will change on Nov. 16, when he gets into the ring with Mexican national Erik Morales for the World Boxing Council featherweight title. As usual, Paulie is considered the underdog in the fight, his 34-1 record notwithstanding. Most of the experts think he’s going to lose this one, but they’ve thought that before.

Paulie knows why he keeps winning. “I outwork them,” he says. “Boxing is 90 percent mental. Mentally, I really feel I’m stronger and tougher than the next guy. A lot of guys have more natural talent. They rely on their talent, and, quite honestly, I come up on the shorter end of that when you compare me to some of these guys. But no one is ever going to beat me by out-thinking me, and no one is going to out-work me.”

Talk to anyone in the fight game, and they all say the same thing about Paulie Ayala. “He’s one of the classiest and nicest people I have ever met, inside boxing or out,” said boxing historian, author, and raconteur Bert Sugar. “He is as pleasant out of the ring as he is unpleasant to his opponents inside of it.” Listen to Bob Sturm, talk show host on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket: “He’s one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet. You never have to worry about him getting into trouble. He’s the complete opposite of most of the fighters you’ll meet.” Promoter Bob Arum, whose Top Rank Inc. is promoting the Morales/Ayala fight, calls Ayala “one of the great fighters of our time.”

“Have you ever seen Paulie in a fight where he lost a round and didn’t come back stronger than ever in the next round?” Arum asked the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “That’s a fighter who has a philosophy of ‘never surrender.’ No matter how bad things get in the ring, he has enough fortitude to come back and give a tremendous performance.”

Think about Arum’s comment for a minute. Boxing promoters usually speak to the depravity of their fighters, their capacity for mayhem, the beastliness of it all. Doesn’t everyone watch Mike Tyson fight with the hope that he might lose it again and bite off someone’s ear? Boxing fans want the altercations between posses at weigh-ins, the threats and trash talk at pre-fight press events, the-rip-off-your-head-and-piss-down-your-throat talk. Hey, even Chubbsy-Ubbsy messed up that other dude’s hair during the boxing match in the Little Rascals.

Promoters know the fans want that bad-boy stuff, the Tyson-eating-little-children stuff, and they spoonfeed it to them. Even in this fight, they are selling the sizzle. Erik Morales, Ayala’s 26-year-old opponent from Tijuana, bears the nickname “El Terrible.” He has been involved in pre-fight skirmishes. Morales likes to talk of physically damaging his opponent.

So what does Paulie Ayala do at his pre-fight press conference? He quotes the New Testament, Paul’s letter to the Galatians to be specific: “Do not become weary,” he told the press, “because at the proper time you will reap the harvest, if you do not give up.” Never surrender. Nunca se rinde, Erik. And reap the One Point Two.

Paulie is a different animal, no doubt about it. But he is not the meek and mild Christian athlete, either. He is first and foremost a family man, devoted to Leti and the kids. He is a very active member of the Foundation of Everlasting Faith Church, a non-denominational West Side church pastored by his father-in-law, the Rev. Raymond Barerra. Boxing isn’t at the top of his list of priorities, but it is his job, and he likes it. His eyes light up when he talks boxing. He enjoys the sacrifice in a strange way.

“I train as hard as I do because I know that’s how you win,” Ayala said in a recent interview. “I want to succeed for my kids. The money I make gives them a good home life, and I want them to go to college. But I don’t need to trash anyone to win. I just have to beat them in the ring.

“Do I hate my opponents? No. Do I dislike them? Sometimes. But it’s never all that personal. When you get to the point where we’re at, you are always fighting champions, guys with good records, guys who have never been knocked out. No one gets to the marquee boxing level without being pretty good. So I respect my opponents. But I don’t let them beat me.”

The problem for Paulie is that his nice-guy image, his string of 12-round squeaker decisions and matter-of-fact personality have hurt his earning power both in the ring and in endorsements outside it. Being a good guy doesn’t sell tickets. Chewing off a guy’s ear does. That’s why Paulie wants this one so badly. He wants to stick it to all those guys who have said he’s too nice for a boxer. Because Paulie’s never understood the premise. What does being a jerk have to do with boxing? What does it have to do with making money?

His father, Frank, put him in the ring when he was 4 years old, to keep him from fighting with his older brother. He grew up on the North Side, went to Circle Park (now Manuel Jara) Elementary. When Paulie was in the third grade, the family moved further north and west, and he attended schools in Lake Worth and graduated from Lake Worth High School. His father worked for Lockheed Martin, his mother for the U.S. Postal Service, and Paulie’s childhood was very middle class.

He got in some trouble, not too much by today’s standard, but still liked to party with his buds and drink beer all weekend. “When I was 16, I had a fake ID from my brother, so I could go anywhere,” he said. But regardless of his lifestyle, he kept boxing. His father would take him down to the old Golden Gloves gym over on Calhoun Street (near where La Grave Field now stands), and the kid was dynamite. He would fight on cards at the Guadalupe Catholic Youth Organization fights, others down at Gorman’s Gym. He worked his way up, from Pee Wee fights to Golden Gloves to Junior Olympics.

He remembers fighting former Fort Worth Junior Welterweight Champion Stevie Cruz while still in high school. “I trained [at Gorman’s Gym] during the same hours as Steve Cruz, so I’d always watch how hard he trained,” he told the Star-Telegram two years ago. “My dad set it up one day for me to spar with Steve, on a Saturday. Man, I had stayed out late with my friends on Friday, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not going to spar this guy.’ But in the back of my mind, I really wanted to be a pro fighter and become champion of the world.

“They wanted to use me for my hand speed. Steve was the world champion, and I was the Junior Olympic champion. So I went in and he hit me ... and I was running for my life. ... He was working on his defense, but when he hit me, it hurt.”

“I came out of there that day, and that’s when I decided I didn’t want to fight for a living. That right there changed my career decision on even thinking about being a pro boxer. That’s the irony of me being champion. I went back home and remember thinking, ‘Man, these guys hit too hard. That’s too tough.’ ”

He met Leti at a party when he was 18 and she was 16. They were introduced by a mutual friend, Sergio Reyes, whom Paulie had been fighting since he was 9 years old. After seeing the movie Rocky when she was 6, Leti informed her parents that she would one day marry a boxer. “I loved that movie,” she said, laughing.

After graduating from high school, Paulie indeed quit boxing. He got a job with the post office through his mother and was planning on going to college, maybe studying something in law enforcement. But the itch of boxing pulled him back. He remembers sitting on the couch one night, watching Texan Eddie Cook fighting for the WBA bantamweight championship. Paulie had beaten Cook twice, fairly easily too, and that night he watched Cook take the belt. Paulie went back to the gym.

He knew he wanted to turn pro, but he kept his amateur status until 1992 so he could try out for the U.S. Olympic team. He lost to old friend Sergio Reyes in the Olympic trials finals. It was a disappointing setback, but Paulie plowed ahead. During the next two years, he got married, had a son, and fought his first professional bout. On Nov. 27, 1992, he fought Jamie Olivera in a sports bar in Dallas, winning in six rounds and picking up $1,500, plus a small percentage of the booze sales.

That night Henry Mendez, his head trainer, was in his corner. Henry was there for the next 34 fights. He’ll be in the corner in Las Vegas against Morales. “He was a brawling fighter when he first started out,” Mendez said. “You couldn’t push him around, but Paulie wouldn’t move much either. He’d come at you face first and try to push you around the ring.

“But even back then I could tell he was a special fighter,” Mendez said. “The reason was the way he worked out. He worked so hard that sometimes I would have to run him out of the gym. But I used to tell some of my friends, ‘If this kid stays like he is and stays as serious as he is, we might get a world championship out of this guy.’ I really thought from the beginning his name would be on the top of the card.”

If you like sports clichés, you would say Henry Mendez bears a resemblance to Mickey, the old trainer played by Burgess Meredith in the Rocky movies. Nothing could be further from the truth. OK, they have the same unruly and bushy eyebrows. And they are both old guys who know everything about tape and speed bags and counter-punching. They both tell their fighters to use their heads. But that’s where the similarities end. You’ll never hear Henry Mendez telling Paulie Ayala, “You’re going to eat lightning, and you’re going to crap thunder.” Won’t happen. You’re more likely to see them studying videotape of other fighters.

Mendez, 65, is a boxing lifer, and he’s known Paulie since the boxer was a little kid. At that time, Henry ran the Golden Gloves Gym on Calhoun Street, and Paulie was one of the little gym rats that would run through the place. Henry was born on Fort Worth’s South Side in 1937, on May Street, and did a lot of amateur boxing as a young man. He went to high school, joined the service, came home in 1958, and got a job managing the gym. He loved working with kids, loved the noise of the jump ropes smacking plywood, loved the smell of the place. He and his wife Angie married in 1960 and had six kids.

While he ran the gym, Henry trained a few pro fighters, but they always found girlfriends who made them quit, or they tired of the hard work. “I stayed at that gym because I had boxing in my blood,” Henry said. “There was an old Fort Worth fighter there named Frankie Karr. He fought in the thirties and forties, and he knew everything from how to tape the hands right to losing weight the right way. He passed down a lot of knowledge to me.”

In 1989, tragedy struck the Mendez family. His oldest and youngest sons, ages 21 and 33, died in a traffic accident on Thanksgiving Day. “My youngest son loved boxing, fought in Pee Wee tournaments,” Mendez recalled. “But he got married real young, and his wife didn’t like boxing. Happens like that. My oldest boy was a football player, a linebacker for O.D. Wyatt. It was the worst day of my life.

“Paulie and my youngest son, Cecil, knew each other,” Mendez continued. “They didn’t know each other real well, but they were around the same age. It was right after the accident that Paulie asked me to train him. It’s not like I got my son back, but working for Paulie in those early years helped lessen the pain a little.

“I needed something to do to relieve all the pain and the sorrow,” Mendez said, as Paulie jumped rope nearby. “But I needed to be home a lot, too. My wife was by herself, and sometimes we couldn’t even look at each other. We all hurt, but someone has to be the stronger one in the family. She understood that I needed to get to the gym. Some nights I’d come home from the gym and we’d talk and eat and everything would be fine. Other nights we would be heartbroken and just stare off into space.

“We weren’t the only parents to ever go through this,” he continued. “Sometimes you read in the paper about some family losing their kids in a car accident or a fire. I don’t have to wonder what that feels like. You never realize the pain until it happens to you. I got hit a lot of times in boxing, but that was the hardest blow that ever landed.”

Mendez voice trailed off, and for a minute he was back in that terrible time. But then the horn in the gym sounded, signaling a new stage in the afternoon workout. Henry Mendez put on his sparring mitts and got in the ring with the kid he has helped turn into a man. No more time for reflection. Time to get back to work.

Paulie has spent most of his career fighting in the bantamweight class, 118 pounds. By 1995 he had won the North American Boxing Federation bantamweight belt, netting probably $30,000 a year. He defended that belt seven times during the next three years and earned a shot at the World Boxing Council bantamweight championship in 1998. Paulie lost to Japanese fighter Joichiro Tatsuyoshi in Yokohama after being disqualified for an accidental head-butt in the sixth round. It is still his only loss.

The loss in Japan was difficult to take. Paulie to this day feels he was not beaten and blames the hometown judges for the ruling. But the loss held the real possibility of putting Paulie Ayala three rungs back in the fight game. It was his first shot at a big-time title — the WBC is one of the main sanctioning bodies in international boxing — and no matter what the circumstances, the record still counted it as a loss.

Paulie and Henry Mendez and agent Scott Sherman weighed their options. They fought two easy fights within six months to pick up some cash. But they were getting no nibbles from the big boys. Then Johnny Tapia’s people called. Tapia was a bantamweight from Albuquerque, with a history of drug abuse and violence. But he was a terrific fighter who held the World Boxing Association bantamweight belt — a title equal in importance to the WBC. Tapia’s people were looking at Paulie as a tune-up for a possible fight with Erik Morales or Mexican fighter Marco Antonio Barerra. For Ayala, it was the chance of a lifetime.

Tapia was 46-0-2 at the time. “They only offered us $65,000 for the Tapia fight, but we jumped on it and said, ‘Where do we sign?’” Mendez recalled. “It was a risk for us, but at that time, we felt we had really gotten a raw deal in Japan, and we just felt we could beat anybody if we just got a chance. When would we have gotten another chance? Could have been two or three years. At that time, we didn’t care what the pay was. We would have fought for ten dollars. We knew we could win that world title.”

The first Tapia fight was brutal, and the turning point in Paulie’s career. Paulie scored at close range and did a lot of counter-punching. It was nonstop action from bell to bell, and Paulie won a unanimous decision. Eddie Schuyler of the Associated Press wrote, “It was fast and it was furious and it was everything a fight fan could want. Every round was full of slam bang action that had a crowd of 6,000 in Mandalay Bay [Casino] roaring from start to finish.” Ring Magazine voted the Tapia-Ayala bout “1999 Fight of the Year,” and Paulie earned the magazine’s “1999 Fighter of the Year” honor.

That first Tapia fight put Paulie in the driver’s seat, and he hasn’t let up since. He out-pointed European champion Johnny Bredahl and then Tapia again. He beat Hugo Dianzo, where they set a bantamweight record of 2,043 punches thrown in 12 rounds. In 2001 and 2002, he moved up to junior featherweight division (at 122 pounds) against champion Clarence “Bones” Adams. Once again, the fights were brutal, but Paulie won them both. More importantly, he earned a combined $1,150,000 for the two-fight, 24-round slugfest against Adams.

So with all this success, and the HBO Pay Per View, and the prospect of bigger bouts, why isn’t Paulie better known in Fort Worth? There have been great boxers from this area, from Donald Curry to Troy Dorsey to Gene Hatcher and Stevie Cruz. But boxers seem to play second fiddle to the big-time pro team sports in town. Fighters can’t compete with Dallas Cowboys football. If Paulie lived in El Paso, he probably couldn’t walk down the street without drawing a crowd. Here, hardly anyone recognizes him.

The other issue is one of Hispanic fighters. During the past 20 years, the popularity of boxing among mainstream (read: white) sports fans has greatly diminished. This is largely a result of the reputations of promoters like Don King, but also of the antics of Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe and scandal after scandal. Into this breach has walked the Latino fighter and, more importantly, his very loyal fans. The loyalty is translating into big money for the right fighters. The Oscar de la Hoya-Fernando Vargas fight last month drew 900,000 pay-per-view buys, a gross of $45.6 million. It was the second-biggest gross of a non-heavyweight bout in history. Most of the buys were in the Southwest, in a wide swath from Texas to California. Even a smaller fight like last year’s featherweight match between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barerra drew 325,000 purchases at $39.95 a pop.

The Latino market is younger, and they pay attention to more than just the heavyweights (in fact, they like the lighter weight classes better because there is more action). But the problem for some in the boxing world is that the promoters may be going after short-term gains by catering to the Hispanic fans and risking even further marginalization of boxing. Increasingly, fights are turning up on Spanish-language stations, including fights involving American fighters of Mexican heritage.

“Focusing on [just the Hispanic market] does the sport injustice,” Showtime senior vice president Jay Larkin recently told the Chicago Tribune. “In the short term it may be good business to cultivate that strong segment. In the long term, it could be a very bad strategy that further distances boxing from the mainstream audiences.”

The question is, with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, what really is “mainstream”? The pay-per-view numbers, as an example, are hard to ignore. If Ayala and Morales draw the 300,000 that Morales drew in his last fight, the purses will be covered (Morales is getting $1.5 million, Paulie $1.2 million), the cable companies will make their nut, Arum will get about a million, Mandalay Bay will get more action on its craps tables, and everyone will be happy.

As Latino boxing fans grow in importance, Ayala is reaping the benefits. Nationally, promoters like to match up a Mexican-American with a Mexican national. The theory works on the natural rivalry between those born here and those born across the river and the increased geographic spread this gives to the pay-per-view buys. In the case of the Morales-Ayala fight, Morales is selling the fight in Mexico as well as in Southern California, close to his Tijuana home. Top Rank promoters say they have 100 billboards in Los Angeles alone advertising the fight. Ayala brings with him the lucrative Hispanic-American market. Pay-per-view boxing buys in San Antonio, El Paso, and Houston are well above average. Dallas/Fort Worth comes in slightly above average. Phoenix is big. Paulie does well in all those markets among hard-core boxing fans.

And how many billboards does Top Rank have in Fort Worth? None.

Paulie’s main problem is his relationship with the local Latino population. The Mexican-American population claims him, and Paulie is proud of his Mexican descent. But there are many who believe Paulie has turned his back on the North Side “homeboys” who used to be his friends.

“A lot of people think that Paulie just doesn’t care anymore. You know, he’s made his money, he’s big time and doesn’t want to be a part of the community anymore,” said an old friend, Jesse, who asked that his last name not be used. “But they don’t realize Paulie’s married, he has his life, and he likes living out in Crowley or wherever he lives. I don’t begrudge him that. I just think it would be good business for him if he did stop by every once in a while. It’s just good PR.”

“There’s some jealousy around,” countered Leti Ayala. “But people don’t understand that we are a young married couple with two small children. We have a big business —the fight business — that we run. We spend a lot of time in our church. There just isn’t a lot of time to do everything people want us to do.”

Paulie finds the talk kind of amusing. Like many Latinos, he’s somewhere in the middle: not Mexican enough for the Mexicans, not American enough for some people’s tastes. When he’s in Mexico, he’s the American because he can’t speak Spanish. When he’s in Fort Worth, he’s the Mexican homeboy boxer who moved away to Lake Worth and lives in the suburbs. Everyone wants him to prove how Mexican he is.

“I don’t have any problems with anyone’s lifestyle, but the reason I don’t see a lot of my old friends is that we don’t have a lot in common any more,” he said. “It’s not that I left them, it’s that they didn’t follow me to what I am doing. I don’t go to clubs. I don’t hang on the porch drinking beer. My faith and beliefs are different. I don’t want to expose my children to drinking or cussing. It’s a lifestyle I don’t live anymore.

“I do a lot of appearances at schools, things that I don’t seek a lot of publicity for,” he continued. “One time I ran into an old friend, and he was upset and saying I don’t give back to the community. He said it was because I don’t live there. He said it was because they don’t see me around. But I’m there encouraging kids to succeed. I try to give them some inspiration in a positive way. But even though I’m in the schools, I’m not hanging out in the bars, and some people have a problem with that.

“People are more than welcome to visit me and hang out at my church,” he said. “It’s a personal invitation. They are more than welcome. But when I make that offer, no one shows up. So what do you do?”

So where does Paulie go from here? Win or lose, he could probably fight two or three more times if he wants. The hottest action in boxing is in the 122- and 126-pound classes, and Paulie is poised to catch the action at just the right time. Being a Mexican-American from Texas during these times in the boxing realm can’t hurt, either. If he loses, he still might be able to command $2 million to $3 million more in purses before he stops fighting. If he wins and keeps winning, he might get up to $5 million from future fights. A fight against Marco Antonio Barerra (who beat Johnny Tapia this past Saturday night) could be an especially big payday. It’s not A-Rod money, but it’s big enough to give your kids a good life. If he beats Morales, Paulie has a good chance of getting Barerra, another Mexican national and a good PPV matchup.

But when you talk to Paulie about his future, he rarely references boxing. He’d like to get into boxing broadcasting. He thinks that learning Spanish might help him with endorsement opportunities, especially in Mexico. He wants to open some gyms to get kids interested in boxing. But nothing about fighting.

“I don’t really think about any fight beyond the next one, because I have no control over those future fights,” he says. “Every fight could be my last fight, and I’m not in the stage of my career where I could start all over again. One bad loss could end it.

“But I have already beaten the toughest guys out there. Bones was in his prime when I beat him. So was Tapia. Bredahl is now the world champion. I have beaten all these guys. I just try to beat whoever they throw at me. I’ll do the same this time.”

While we’re talking, his 3-year-old daughter Aleah offers him some of her Happy Meal burger. No thanks, sweetie, he tells her, and continues to munch on his plums and cantaloupe slices. He started his training about four months ago, at 155 pounds of solid muscle, and will be at 126 by weigh-in time, the day before the fight. (It’s amazing how fighters manipulate their weight; by the time the fight starts 24 hours after the weigh-in, Paulie will weigh 135 pounds.)

He gathers his kids and his equipment bags and walks out of the little South Side Fort Worth gym into the afternoon rain. There is no entourage, no waiting limos. He still drives a 1994 Mustang convertible, still the same old Paulie he was when he started this thing 10 years ago. Like a lot of us, he’s just a little smarter now, a little wiser, and a little heavier.

But whatever happens to him in two weeks, Paulie Ayala has some things most athletes have trouble finding. He has integrity. He has a wonderful family. And he has his faith. He doesn’t need anything more than that. And, hey, he’s a nice guy. You can take that to the bank.


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