Interview With Paulie Ayala
12.11.03 - By Elliot Worsell: ĎRing Magazineí 122 lb world champion, Fort Worthís Paulie Ayala 34-2 (12 KOís), returns to the ring a year after his gallant losing effort to WBC Featherweight champion Erik Morales 12 months ago, as he tackles tough Mexican Edel Ruiz 24-10-3 in his home town on Friday November 14. The 33-year-old Ayala is back down at his natural super bantamweight weight class, and is looking to secure some mouth-watering battles with the likes of the divisions belt holders Manny Pacquaio, Oscar Larios, Mahyar Monshipour and Joan Guzman.
Article posted on 13.11.2003
But first the likeable and down to earth Ayala must lock horns with the durable and gutsy Mexican Ruiz, who has gone the 12 round distance with the aforementioned Guzman and a close 8 rounds with Texan Danny Flores, and is renowned for his sturdy chin and unquenchable spirit. The bout is scheduled for 10 hard rounds, and subsequently Paulieís 122 lb title will not be on the line.
Southpaw Ayala, a world champion at 118 lbs and at 122 lbs, is looking forward to his first fight in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas since his controversial win over Hugo Dianzo in March 2001. Combining fast hands and feet, stinging body shots and right hooks, and a chin that would attract any passing magnetic force, Ayala, as shown against the great Morales, is a match for anyone in and around the super bantamweight/featherweight divisions. His epic fights with Johnny Tapia and Clarence ĎBonesí Adams prove testament to this. Paulie Ayala comes to fight, and leaves nothing in the ring.
I had the pleasure of talking to the former ĎRing Magazine Fighter of the Yearí (1999) from his home in Fort Worth as he prepared for a potentially tricky assignment on Friday night.
Paulie candidly discusses his long, success littered career, his future plans, and his views on events occurring around his weight class.
Q. Firstly Paulie, What do you consider to be your career best performance?
PA. I guess that would have to be the first fight with Johnny Tapia. I think that was my Ďcoming outí, the first time I got the recognition that I deserved. And it was also great for the awards that I received, such as fight of the year and fighter of the year (Ring Magazine).
Q. Who do you consider to be your toughest opponent so far in your career?
PA. Theyíre all tough, but Iíd have to say Morales, as I do consider him a great fighter, and I did lose that fight.
It wasnít the size necessarily; it was a combination of things. Of course the swollen eye that happened early didnít help, as you need both your eyes, and all your tools against a guy like that. Not making any excuses, but I wasnít able to see him too well and that led to him catching me with more right hands that I would have liked.
Q. What do you see as your greatest strength?
PA. I wanna say my heart would probably be my greatest strength. I consider myself pretty smart in the ring too, and always in great condition.
Q. Do you think that your quiet and reserved lifestyle and personality has restricted your box office earnings?
PA. Well I canít really complain about my life, and my last three fights have been good (money) considering. I think it has prevented bigger paydays but then again you canít please everybody, and the main thing is to win in the ring, and that aspect generates the paydays, not what happens out of the ring. You just have to look at Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, and neither one of them were really flashy or showy but they got their deserved pay days, and actually their fights werenít even for a title so that tells you something.
Q. Why the need to move up to featherweight when there were big unification fights at super bantamweight?
PA. Well the opportunity arose, and prior to them stripping me of my title I was able to retain it, and I still maintain ĎThe Ringí title. But it was a no lose situation to be honest, a million dollars and a big fight for the featherweight championship of the world. I took the fight not only for the purse but because I seriously felt I could win the fight.
Q. Why have you now decided to move back down to 122 lbs?
PA. Like I said, I still have that title (The Ring title) and there are a few fights down there that are pretty lucrative. So right now Barreraís been preoccupied, and thatís the man to fight at featherweight if thereís anybody to fight, so my next move, instead of waiting, is to come back down and try and stir something up down here. I know I can make good money without Barrera, so Iíll look for other good, competitive title fights.
Q. Are you looking fights with guys like Manny Pacquaio, Oscar Larios, Joan Guzman and maybe even Wayne McCullough?
PA. Yeah, Wayne McCullough would be really good, I think that one should be made, and Iíve been hearing talks that maybe Oscar Larios could be a possible fight down the road. Pacquaioís people have never offered me anything to fight him. I wouldnít have a problem fighting any of them, whichever one is most lucrative for me, I think theyíd all make good fights.
Q. You were linked to a fight with former WBO featherweight champion Scott Harrison before he lost his title to Manuel Medina. What happened to that fight?
PA. Well one time they asked me if I wanted to go to England and fight him before he fights Medina, but for what they were offering it wasnít worth the risk, given what I already had planned down at junior featherweight. He had all the advantages in his favour, and for what they were offering me it wasnít worth it. I could make the same dollars fighting a guy in my own weight class for my titles, rather than going abroad and fighting a bigger guy for his belt.
Q. Is the door now shut at featherweight? Or could you return in the future?
PA. If an opportunity arises, then yeah I could move up to that weight again.
Q. How hard for you was it to get rid of your father as trainer after your first world title defeat in Japan?
PA. It was very difficult. Personally it was very difficult, but on a professional level it was a decision that I felt I needed to make in order to continue to go forward and be successful in the ring, because there were some times when he was more of a distraction for me than a help. It was a difficult decision but it was something that I had to do, and of course with the results of what has happened since it was the right move at the right time. With money involved and everything, and boxing being a business too, thereís times when youíve got to just make the best decisions for yourself and you cant be thinking of everyone else. I have a family and I have to support them and this is my chosen career and how I support them.
Q. You have had many close fights throughout your career, have ever watched them back on tape and felt you were lucky to get one or two?
PA. Yeah Iíve watched emí, but no I come out with the same result each time. I block a lot of shots, a lot more than Iím given credit for, and just because a guy throws a punch doesnít mean it lands. You only have to look at the De La Hoya thing (De La Hoya Ė Mosley) the other week. Thereís always gonna be different opinions on fights. The main thing in the game is to be on the winning end of a decision, and I do that.
Q. How did you score the De La Hoya - Mosley fight?
PA. I thought Oscar was winning the fight, and I concur with what the announcers and what the punch stats were saying. But yíknow, I could also see that the more effective punches were from Mosley. It was close, but I still gave the nod to Oscar, but I ainít upset or anything that he didnít get the decision.
Q. Were you annoyed at how Johnny Tapia was treated in your rematch, despite you winning the first fight? Tapia was still treated as the star, the moneymaker and the better fighter.
PA. Oh yeah, but you know with Johnnyís life and stuff, itís all a big story and heís overcome a lot of obstacles in and out of the ring. So I wasnít really disappointed, as Iím happy for Johnny, for what he gives and what heís been through. I just wish the guy the best now.
I know for a fact that I beat him twice regardless of how close the fights were; I know what I did to beat him twice.
Q. And how do you feel about Tapiaís decision to carry on fighting after going through so many traumas recently?
PA. Well thatís up to them really, him and his wife. Heís a tough guy, and heís overcome a lot in his life, and if they feel that heís still healthy and capable of continuing to fight then more power to them. I just wish them the best, and hope that he doesnít get hurt.
Q. How important has a stable family and partner been during your career?
PA. Itís been very important to me, as itís provided stability in my career and kept me grounded. Yíknow, every time that I see my children or my wife I know why Iím fighting and why Iím doing what I do, because they are my reason.
Q. How refreshing was it to receive your first million-dollar pay day against Morales?
PA. I felt very accomplished to have achieved something like that. For one, being a challenger and never even campaigning in that weight class before, it was a great opportunity for me.
Q. Did the money issue play a big part in your move up to featherweight?
PA. Yeah of course, and also fighting for another world title at another division was very appealing to me, and I also got to retain my Ring title at junior featherweight so it was really a no lose situation. It was pretty much a no-brainer to accept a fight like that.
Q. You are still recognised as the champion at Jr Featherweight according to ĎRing Magazineí. How important is that title to you?
PA. I rate it very highly, and accept it with honour. Yíknow my next fight will be for, and give me the opportunity to defend that title and itís been a while. But like I said Larios was out of pocket prior to this and Pacquaio has been pre occupied with this Barrera fight and thatís all I want to fight, the best guys in the division. I know they (Ring Magazine) wanted me to defend it against any of the top ten guys but I have to select more appropriately for my own benefit, against either the number one or number two, and they were already taken. Iím just looking at big, big fights now at Jr Featherweight. Rather than just waiting any longer, Iím taking this fight on November 14 to just stay busy and then hopefully Iíll get the opportunity to fight one of the main contenders.
Q. On November 14 you fight Edel Ruiz in your hometown, what do you expect from the Mexican?
PA. I definitely expect to go the distance; heís a very durable guy. He took Joan Guzman the distance and heís a pretty good puncher. I hope to hurt Ruiz though, Iím planting down more on my shots now in the gym, and although Iím gonna still remain busy in rounds, Iím also gonna try and stand in there a bit more and put added power in my shots. Iíve concentrated in the past on being more of an active fighter rather than effective, so Iím looking to change it up a little bit and see what I can do.
Q. How pleasing is it to be back fighting in your hometown of Fortworth, Texas?
PA. Itís good. I was afraid I wouldnít have another chance after that Dianzo fight, and Iím actually looking to make up for that fight because yíknow I had a lot of problems going into that fight, with the weight making being the biggest problem. Iíve been trying to maintain that weight since I was 16 years old, and I was 31 and still trying to make bantamweight, it became a problem.
Q. Do you perceive the year layoff youíve had since the Morales defeat having any effect on you on November 14?
PA. Iím hoping it doesnít. I stay in the gym all year round, and when Iím in the gym Iím always trying to improve on things. And thatís what Iím hoping weíll see right here on November 14, I hope I can duplicate the work and changes Iíve been doing in the gym on the night of the fight
Q. If all goes according to plan against Ruiz, ideally when would you like to fight next?
PA. Iíd like to be fighting, hopefully in March of next year, the first quarter of the year. And I hope my next fight will be for a title, as I donít wanna wait around. This was a very slow year for me, and I want to make up for it.
Q. Why did you feel the need to take a year off after the Morales defeat?
PA. Well it wasnít my fault. It was because there were no fights being offered to me. It wasnít like I was turning down fights, they were never giving me any kind of purse, they just asked me if I want to fight Ďso and soí, and I was like Ďyeah, how much?í but those details were never presented to me. Some of the guys around here in the media have tried to say I was refusing fights because of purses, and thatís totally wrong cosí I was never offered them in the first place.
Q. How would you like to be remembered in the sport once youíve retired?
PA. As a technical fighter, not the fastest or the biggest puncher but a guy who got in there with the best and never ducked or dodged anyone. Somebody that always did his best.
Q. How did the ĎPaulie Ayalaí day in your hometown come about, and what sort of stuff do you get up to on the day?
PA. Well I received a proclamation after winning the first world title and it became an official day. Iím pleased to have the day in honour of me, and as far as my family and me; we simply celebrate on that day because that was of course the day I won the world title on. We eat as a family and enjoy each otherís company and fellowship.
Q. Have you regretted anything in your career?
PA. No I definitely havenít regretted anything. I know everything happens for a reason and Iíve learnt from the mistakes Iíve made in and out of the ring and thatís the main thing. Iíve built character on the trials that Iíve been through.
Q. So in the grand scheme of things, the move up to featherweight was the worth the risk then?
PA. Oh no doubt. It was an opportunity and I felt it was a great chance for me and that is why I tried to capitalise on it. I winded up falling short, but my spirits arenít down, and just because I fell down doesnít mean I gave up or I quit.
Q. If you could change one thing about the sport what would it be?
PA. Definitely to make the lower weight divisions the higher paid divisions (laughs). If they can get more exposure and the recognition Iíd be extremely content. However a lot of the lower weight class fighters are from overseas so that kind of hurts our chances. I mean itís gradually improving, but thereís a long way to go to catch up with the purses of the higher weight classes. You donít see many fights of the year at heavyweight, most of emí happen at the smaller weights, and that tells you something about the entertainment value.
Q. You obviously follow the sport closely, and Iíve heard you are interested in becoming a commentator when you hang up the gloves, is there any truth in that?
PA. Yeah Iíd like to do that. There have been a few local shows here that Iíve commentated on and theyíve come out pretty good so hopefully Iíll get the opportunity to do something like that. It would give me a chance to enjoy the sport that I love.
Q. Who do you consider to be the best P4P boxer at present?
PA. It would probably have to be Roy right now, even with him moving up, moving down, I donít see anybody beating him so with that being the case he has to be considered the best.
Q. How do you see the upcoming Marco Antonio Barrera Ė Manny Pacquaio fight going?
I definitely think Barrera is gonna win it. Pacquaioís been stopped twice before and heís been dropped recently. Even considering the fights that have been televised in America, those guys never began to get offensive on him or push him back, which I know Barrera will and thatís where Pacquaio is gonna be tested. Heís got a punch and everything but he canít hit any harder than Morales does.
Q. Scott Harrison fights Manuel Medina in November also for the WBO version of the featherweight title, how do you see that going?
If Scott can avoid the punches that Medina throws then he has got a great chance of revenge, but Medina has been around a long time and heís very experienced so itís a pretty tough one to call. I didnít see the first fight but from what Iíve heard Medina pretty much won hands down, so I think Iíd have to give the nod to Medina in the second fight. Medinaís just so busy, and unless you stop him like Juan Manuel Marquez did your in for a tough nights work.
Q. Who was your boxing idol when growing up?
PA. Even from here in my hometown, we had Donald Curry, Steve Cruz, who was a much better fighter than his career suggests, and I followed both those guys closely. Those guys I have been watching ever since I was growing up, and I used to like other fighters like Sugar Ray, Hagler, Duran and all them guys. I got to see a little bit of Salvador (Sanchez) too, and all those fighters were pretty exciting for me to watch.
Q. After the Mosley Ė De La Hoya controversy, Bob Arum stated this year would be his last in the sport. What do you make of that?
PA. No man, it ainít gonna be his last year. He regretted what he said and apologised for it, and he just said it out of anger and was pretty irate about the decision that De La Hoya received. People do that all the time, they say things out of the heat of the moment that they donít mean. Thereís too many good young fighters that Top Rank has, and I just donít think Bob would just finish the things that he has planned for the future off the back of one bad decision.
Q. Do you have a good relationship with Arum?
PA. Yes I do. Heís a very smart businessman. And Iím very grateful for my relationship with him and Iím grateful for being able to be involved with Top Rank.
Q. Thanks for your time Paulie, and good luck on November 14.
PA. Thank you, I appreciate it.
Elliot Worsell would like to thank Paulie Ayala and wife Leti for their time, and wish them good luck on Friday night, and in future fights.
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