Paulie Ayala was so bummed last year about his low boxing
profile and even lower boxing paydays that as a publicity stunt
he asked his wife, Leti, to beat him up. With whip-flick
artistry, Ayala had upended the unbeaten Johnny Tapia in 1999
for the WBA bantamweight title and won his next four bouts, but
he was still earning chump change compared with what a lot of
guys were pulling down in other divisions. "I told Leti, 'Whack
me around a little, and I'll report you to the police and send
you to jail for a night,'" Ayala says. Husband-beating, however,
was not among Leti's wedding vows. "She said, 'No way! Try
So he did. Last August, Ayala bypassed the second-rater who was
the WBA's mandatory challenger and took on IBO super
bantamweight champ Clarence (Bones) Adams in Las Vegas. Though
stripped of his WBA bantamweight belt, Ayala was rewarded with
$500,000 and a split-decision victory. The victory was so hotly
disputed that the two returned to Vegas last Saturday to mix it
up again for even more money.
Since outpointing Tapia as a heavy underdog, Ayala has had
enough close shaves to dull a Gillette Mach3Turbo. He came into
the rematch with Adams having gone the 12-round distance in his
last six fights. Those decisions in his favor rankled some
ringside pundits. Showtime announcer Bobby Czyz, who worked two
Ayala fights in 2000, told his audience after the second bout
that Ayala had lost both of them, and last March, ESPN2 boxing
analyst Teddy Atlas was so appalled by Ayala's narrow victory
over Hugo Dianzo that he said there should be a federal
investigation into possible corruption by boxing authorities.
"As I look back, I don't think Paulie's ever won a fight,"
cracks his manager, Scott Sherman. "For two or three years all
I've heard about is people getting cheated."
Ayala flicks off the criticism as effortlessly as he would an
ill-placed uppercut. "I've been dogged by all these
self-proclaimed boxing experts," he says. "Personally, I don't
think my critics are the best commentators out there, but I
don't go around saying there are better ones."
There's not a lot of lip in the 31-year-old Ayala, boxing's most
lovable Paulie since the first Rocky film. "I never used to be
this nice," he protests. In fact, as a kid in Fort Worth, Texas,
he could be downright nasty. To young Ayala the sport was an
expression of cruel-spirited will. "There was a mean side to
Paulie," says Leti. "He didn't care about anything but himself."
That was before he hooked up with Sherman and turned pro. Ayala
wasn't a stylist then; he was strictly a southpaw arm puncher.
Sherman showed him how to block blows with his elbows instead of
his gloves and to use his jab to set up more damaging shots.
Ayala's punches are still sharper than they are staggering, but
he has a quick right jab and the respect of opponents. "Paulie's
a gentleman and a family man," says Adams. "It's a shame I have
to fight such a decent guy to make decent pay."
During his first bout with Adams, Ayala sometimes seemed too
decent for his own good. In the 11th round, a cut the width of
the Rio Grande opened over Adams's left eye. All Ayala had to do
to ice the fight was press the issue in Round 12. But he laid off
his punches and let the broken Bones back in. Adams won the round
on every card and very nearly won the bout.
In Saturday's rematch Ayala picked Bones apart, driving him
mercilessly around the ring, jabs raining incessantly on his body
and head. Adams tried to upset Ayala's rhythm by working him
laterally, but the supple Ayala slipped nearly everything thrown
his way and kept Adams backing up. Ayala won a unanimous decision
to raise his record to 34-1 and took home $650,000.
Ayala's new million-dollar scheme is to move to featherweight
and meet the winner of Marco Antonio Barrera's scheduled WBC
title showdown with Erik Morales. "Either one of them would make
Paulie an easier opponent than Leti," reckons Sherman. "He can't
COLOR PHOTO: ERIC JAMISON/AP In their rematch Ayala (left) picked Adams apart, driving him mercilessly around the ring.