Former welterweight contender Armando Muniz tries not to sound bitter about his boxing career. But it isn't always easy.
More than seven years after retiring from the sport with his dream of becoming a champion shattered, the 40-year-old Muniz is still struggling for an identity outside of the boxing ring.
He is making progress, but it isn't always easy.
It has meant driving long distances from his home in Mira Loma near Riverside and working long hours at two jobs in the San Gabriel Valley.
He teaches eighth grade science and learning-opportunity classes at Baker Intermediate School in El Monte and also sells real estate in Monterey Park. Most of his working days are at least 14 hours, leaving little time for fun and family.
It isn't the easiest of life styles, but for Muniz it is a means toward achieving long-term goals.
"If I decide to work eight hours like the average guy, that's all I'll ever be," he said. "It's the price I'm paying to keep my family satisfied. I'm doing it because I have to, but it's also because I want to."
Muniz hopes to achieve the financial security and professional acclaim that always seemed to elude him as a boxer.
With a 65-9-1 record as a pro, Muniz certainly had the mark of a winner. But his four defeats in welterweight championship bouts, two of which ended with controversial suddenness, are embedded in Muniz's mind.
The first, against long-time champion Jose Napoles of Mexico in March of 1975 in Acapulco, might have been the most difficult loss for Muniz to accept.
A heavy underdog, Muniz was on the verge of putting Napoles away, when referee Ramon Berumen stopped the bout in the 12th round of the scheduled 15. Napoles was bloodied and struggling, but Berumen ruled that Napoles' cuts had been caused by Muniz's head, said that the champion had been leading on points and therefore retained the title.
"They stopped the fight and declared him a winner because they said I butted him in the third round and that caused cuts over both eyes," Muniz recalled.
Muniz had been warned four times about butting, three times in the third round.
He still blames Jose Sulaiman, president of the World Boxing Council, for stopping that fight. He says Sulaiman was at ringside and conferred with the referee before the fight was stopped.
"To this day, I know I beat him and Jose Sulaiman knows that too," Muniz said. " . . . He knows it and I know it. Some day, we'll get together again and he'll ask, 'What did I ever do to you?' But I won't have to say a thing. He'll know."
Muniz got a rematch in July of 1975 in Mexico City, and Napoles a unanimous decision.
"I fought the wrong fight and I wasn't prepared," Muniz said. "But if I had won the first fight, the rematch would not have been in Mexico City"
Despite his disenchantment, Muniz decided to work toward another title shot.
"The dream was there, but I was 31 years old and by that time it was all psychological," he said. "After the Napoles fight, nobody would fight me. To put it bluntly, I was naive. I thought that if I worked hard and fought hard, I could win the championship."
Muniz finally did get another title bout, against Carlos Palomino in January of 1977 at the Olympic Auditorium. Palomino was declared the winner on a technical knockout with 36 seconds left in the 15th round of what would probably have been a split decision had the fight gone to the end of the round. At the start of the 15th, each fighter was ahead on one official card and the third had them even. Muniz, however, was knocked down just before referee John Thomas stopped the fight.
Thomas was quoted at the time as saying: "I didn't stop it sooner because I thought (Muniz) was still in the fight. But then I had to stop it because Muniz was going to get hurt."
Muniz remembered it another way. "I was not cut and I wasn't hurt," he said. "I was just very tired. I could have gone another few seconds. The referee shouldn't have stopped the fight."
He got a rematch with Palomino in May of 1978 at the Olympic Auditorium but lost a unanimous 15-round decision.
"I was 32 years old and I was kidding myself," he said. "I lost the fight fair and square."
Muniz had thought of retiring after the second fight against Palomino and, in fact, did step away from the ring for a while, trying his hand at politics.
Taking advantage of his popularity among Latinos, Muniz ran as an independent for the state assembly's 59th district in Montebello in November of 1978. Although he started his campaign late, he says he still wound up with 24% of the vote.
But with bills piling up, Muniz could not afford to stay away from boxing. He gladly accepted when he was offered $26,000 to fight Sugar Ray Leonard, then a fast rising welterweight, in January of 1979.
"After seven months with no money and no fighting, I wanted to fight again," Muniz said. "I had to fight because I needed the money and the only guy I could get a fight with was Leonard. I was in shape, but in retrospect I was fighting time."