Azriel Paez is late to the fight game after choosing a path in soccer that didn't work out. He never had any amateur-level boxing bouts.
But the 23-year-old is off to a 6-0 start as a professional, and looks to improve on that record this Saturday at Iron Boy Promotions' "The Beginning," an event that takes place at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. Paez, nicknamed "El Maromerito" in the tradition of his famous father, Jorge "Maromero" Paez, is the main event in a lightweight bout.
The younger Paez has five knockouts to his credit. Now living in small-town Donald, Ore., with his wife but training for this fight in Casa Grande, Paez has taken quite a long road to the ring.
"My parents didn't want me to do it (boxing)," he said. "They wanted me to study."
Born in Southern California, Paez moved to Texas to live with his mother, Antonia Martinez, for his first two years of high school. He spent his last two years in South Florida, earning a soccer scholarship to Jefferson College in Missouri. After a successful season there, the famous Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara, who'd followed Paez since he went to Mexico for a tryout with the club's academy as a middle-schooler, invited Paez back to play with its reserve team.
But boxing was something the lean and lanky (6 feet tall) Paez had always wanted to try, and it first took Azriel into northern Mexico for his debut at age 21 in February 2010. Though his father was not always around, Azriel found support for what he wanted to do from him, and the elder Paez agreed to back his son "100 percent."
Azriel started working with well-known trainer Robert Garcia in his gym in Oxnard, Calif., but has since left that club. He joins his older brother Jorge Luis in pro boxing, and admits to feeling a little pressure to succeed and follow in his father's footsteps.
"We've got big shoes to fill," Azriel said. "I say us because I got my brother. It gets to me, but my father had his story, now it's my turn to make my story."
Azriel's favorite fighters are Floyd Mayweather -- "I have yet to see who trains harder than that man. He's cocky but he puts in the work" -- plus his father and Oscar de la Hoya, who defeated the elder Paez in 1994.
Azriel said he'll put on a show for the fans this weekend, planning a surprise entrance to the ring that pays tribute to his father, often known as "The Clown Prince of Boxing" for his offbeat and jovial mannerisms and personality in and out of the ring.
His dad's piece of advice to his son? "No pain, no gain," Jorge said.
When it's time to fight, though, Azriel pledges to offer a lot to the crowd.
"I have strong will. I don't like to give up," he said. "I keep going and going. I fight through the pain."
"The Beginning" also features scheduled guest appearances by Jorge Paez, who is in town already and signed autographs for fans at a Pro's Ranch Market in Phoenix Tuesday, and Roger Mayweather, uncle and trainer of Floyd Mayweather. Phoenix fighters Victor Castro and Thomas Valdez are also on Saturday's card.
Tickets are on sale locally at Filiberto's Mexican restaurants and the Celebrity Theatre box office and website.