GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Curt and Pauletta Muhl fight a lot. When they started slugging it out in the living room of their mobile home in Iowa three years ago, the kids made popcorn and watched.
It was just a mock training session, but Curt, a 189-pound ex-Golden Glove champ turned toughman fighter, came away with a pair of shiners, a bloody nose and some bruised ribs. Pauletta, a diminutive 119-pounder whose tiny fists delivered those telling blows, came away with a thirst for a professional boxing career.
Working out at the Wyoming Boxing Club under the watchful eye of trainer Bill Chrisman, Pauletta, 26, has advanced rapidly toward that goal as one of only 254 licensed female boxers in the world.
The Covington, Ky., native became a good high school runner, softball thrower and varsity basketball player in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where her family moved when she was 11.
She met Curt there when she was a high school sophomore. The two married in 1978 and had two children, Jennifer, now 8, and Scott, 7.
When Curt got the idea to enter a local toughman contest in 1983, Pauletta at first opposed the idea because of the brutal style of the slugfests. But she eventually relented and even agreed to help him train.
Shortly after pummeling the love of her life in that first living-room encounter, Pauletta walked into the Fort Dodge Boxing Club to start working out. She found herself less than welcome.
"They wouldn't accept me," she said. "I went in to hit the bag and they all freaked . . . and it was a dump too. I didn't think there was a gym in the country ready for a woman, so it shocked me when I came here and they treated me like one of the guys."
Chrisman, a former Marine, works with about 35 fighters--five of them women. He first saw Pauletta fight last March in a full-contact karate bout. She had turned to kick boxing as an outlet for her skills because female opponents in straight boxing are so hard to come by.
"I thought she had potential," Chrisman said. "I saw a lot of raw talent and she said she wanted to go on with it, even though she'd had such a rough time in the gyms in Iowa."
Chrisman persuaded her to come to Michigan, and Pauletta inked a five-year contract with him last summer. Since then she has compiled an overall 3-2 record, winning her only "straight" boxing match in Detroit's Cobo Hall last November in a four-round split decision against Sharon Harrington of Cleveland, despite Harrington's 20-pound weight advantage.
"I knew I did good in that fight. . . . I had her nose bleeding in the first round," Pauletta says with an impish smile. "This is a long-term commitment. I want to go for a world title in boxing. Actually, I want all the titles I can get!"
She racked up her latest title Jan. 17 in a two-round decision in Battle Creek against Andrea Deshong of Cambridge, Ohio, to win the Professional American Karate Assn.'s world featherweight title.
Curt, who now fights only full-contact karate and is undefeated in four bouts, captured the Professional Karate Assn.'s North American Amateur Championship in the cruiser-weight division the same day, across the state in Rochester.
He battled a snowstorm after his afternoon fight to get there in time to see Pauletta win her title. They popped the cork on a bottle of champagne in the dressing room to celebrate the dual victory.
At 29, Curt is as quiet as Pauletta is bubbly, but admiration beams on his face as he simply evaluates his wife's performance: "She looked good."
"It's really picked up since the fight at Cobo," Pauletta said. "I'm getting a lot of requests for interviews and people are coming up to me after I fight and asking for my autograph."
Chrisman, recently appointed northeast U.S. representative by the International Women's Boxing Assn., says there is a good chance that Pauletta will get a second opportunity.
Promoters are increasingly interested in women's boxing, he says, particularly after the success of the event at Cobo--the first women's boxing contest in Michigan in six years.
"It's still a rarity here--most of the women boxers are in South Africa," he said. "It's really only big in California and Texas, but promoters in the Midwest are starting to see the technical nature of women's fights, and I think it's really going to be big here in Michigan pretty soon."