Paul Banke, who used to grin when opponents landed their best punches, who still roars in approval when he watches a tape of one his savage struggles with Daniel Zaragoza, now worries when the wind blows.
He lives a block from the ocean, though, and here the wind blows hard. At night, when he is in bed, awake, and frozen by fear, it seems it will never stop.
On this day, as the salt air pushes softly through the curtains of the second-floor Venice Beach apartment that he shares with his mother, Banke points at the window and laughs, shaking off another blow.
"One day, we had the window open, and we were getting a good breeze," Banke says. "God, it was a nice breeze. But I told my mom, 'Close that window!' I'm paranoid.
"We're in her car, and I say, 'You've got to roll up that window.' It's weird, but I'm scared to get sick now. Do you understand that?"
Banke, the 31-year-old former World Boxing Council super-bantamweight champion with a reputation for wild fights and wild living, has AIDS. He does not look sick and has no symptoms, but on Aug. 21 he was told he has AIDS. Not just HIV, which causes AIDS, but the disease itself.
Although he has his bad days and although his T-cell count is down to 80--very low--when he sits down for the interview he has been preparing to give for days, his energy level is high and his words come rapidly.
He has written a three-page statement, which he stands to read. His older brother, Steve, and his mother, Yolanda Miranda, a longtime union organizer, stand by his side in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment. When he reads, his hands shake and his voice stumbles:
\o7 "I've had many battles during my career as amateur and professional boxer, but nothing compares to the fight that challenges my life today. . . . "\f7
When he is finished reading, he glances at his mother, and almost sags to the floor. But it is time to shake off another punch.
"That's hard to say," Banke says about the statement, almost silently. "My mom said, 'Practice it,' but I don't like saying it. You know why? You keep thinking, 'You're going to be sick. You are going to be sick.' When you find out you have cancer, you die quicker.
"Even though I don't feel sick, and I know there will be a time I get sick, I don't want to get sick. I don't want to say I'm sick."
But from the day he learned he had AIDS, which was only a few months after learning he was HIV-positive, Banke and his mother were determined not to hide it from anybody, hoping that his status as a former world champion still admired by much of the boxing public will allow him to become a spokesman and a symbol.
His mother says later, "This is kind of like his last hurrah. You know what I'm saying?"
\o7 "I've begun a journey of healing, accepting and learning to live with AIDS, including the misconception I once had--that the virus only affects someone else, but it can't happen to me. . . . "\f7
It happened to him, Banke thinks, in the last few years, probably as a result of his frequent drug use and careless sexual activity.
Although he never officially retired, Banke's last fight was Dec. 6, 1993. He fought listlessly and lost a decision to Juan Soto at the Forum. That was while he was separating from his wife, Christina, who now lives in San Bernardino with their children--Marty, 7, whom Banke considers his own although he is a stepson, and his two children, Paula, 5, and Bobby Jay, 3.
Banke, who says his former wife has already tested negative for HIV since hearing the news and will continue to be tested, moved to Las Vegas after the separation. He got a job in construction, and rejoined the world of drugs and sex that he had embraced as a young fighter and never really left.
"Was it drugs that was the cause? I want to say no, but yes," Banke says. "It was the start of it. And I've done my share of going out on my wife, four or five times.
"I was just a dipper, like that guy [actor] River Phoenix. A dipper's someone who just dips into it. I snorted the speed up my nose. I never shot my veins. And I did have a lot of sex. I was very popular in my young life."
He started fighting at 12 and quickly became one of the hottest amateur fighters in Southern California, traveling all over the world with international teams. By the time he was 16, he had been to Russia, been on national television.
"Paul was raised in front of a mirror," Yolanda Miranda says. "The gym was a second home, the ring was his playground, the other boxers were his playmates. He was constantly trained and told what to do.
"But outside the ring, and outside that environment, he lacked the skills to live life. He was very, very sheltered. For him to come out and socialize, it was like a candy store."
Banke failed to make the star-laden 1984 Olympic team, and as a young professional, joined Bob Richardson's All-Heart Gym in Riverside, where his left-handed, face-first, slug-it-out style became the fulfillment of the gym's name.