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'You have to be mentally tough or they will beat you’

Kevin Mays • Apr 6, 2020 at 12:00 PM

PENNINGTON GAP — The two sports Barry Audia is best known for are about as opposite as can be.

The former professional and world-title contender in the punishing sport of boxing has spent the last 28 years as a science and math teacher in the Lee County school system and the past seven as Lee High’s golf coach.

“There’s not a whole lot in common between boxing and golf,” Audia said with a laugh. “But there is one thing for sure that you have to have to do both. You have to be mentally tough. In both sports you have to be mentally tough or they will beat you.”

A CONTENDER

Audia has shown that mental toughness throughout his life and varied careers. The “Pennington Pounder” played golf in high school but said boxing was always the top priority.

In 1980, Audia took that passion to the professional ranks. Over a seven-year span, he boxed his way to a 29-5 record with 17 knockouts.

“It was storybook for a while,” he said.

After 20 straight wins, Audia was ranked fifth in the world in the 154-pound welterweight (junior middleweight) class. Ahead of him? World champion Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez.

After taking down previously unbeaten Thomas Smith in Houston on May 24, 1984, in a nationally televised bout on ESPN, six weeks later Audia found himself in Atlantic City about to fight Giovanni Bovenzi.

Bovenzi pulled off the upset by decision.

“I felt like I had beaten him in eight out of the 10 rounds. Then the next thing I know, they’re raising his hand,” said Audia, whose boxing career changed that night.

“Boxing is tough. It’s a nasty, vicious business,” he said. “You’re either the opponent or the attraction. If you’re the attraction, you get it all. There’s training money, the best hotels, everything. But if you’re the opponent, you get two or three days’ notice for a fight.”

Once he lost in Atlantic City, Audia said his status mostly dropped from attraction to opponent.

“That’s the way it is. The difference between a win or a loss is big,” he noted.

He had other chances for marquee fights, but for one reason or another they didn’t work out. Before his loss to Bovenzi, Audia was scheduled for an IBF junior middleweight championship bout, but that fell through.

In 1983, he had another chance at a big prize fight against Billy Collins Jr. of Nashville. Collins pulled out, however, after choosing to battle Luis Resto as part of an undercard for Roberto Duran. The Collins-Audia fight, which would have brought a purse of about $400,000, was rescheduled for a couple of months later.

Then in a scandalous, headline- grabbing move, Resto and his trainer, Panama Lewis, removed the padding from Resto’s boxing gloves before he fought Collins at Madison Square Garden. Resto pounded Collins into submission but later was convicted, along with Lewis, for the crime.

Collins never fought again. He died in a car crash nine months later.

Audia also missed out on a high-profile bout with Davey Moore at the Astrodome in Houston after Moore broke his hand during his fight prior to facing Audia. Their bout was canceled.

“After missing out on those three chances, I thought maybe it was meant to be,” Audia said of the end of his boxing career.

He fought a few times for promoter Larry Carrier, the former owner of Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Larry was always a boxing guy. I think boxing was his first love,” Audia said. “He did a pretty good job with the racetrack, too. He was just an awesome guy and had a great sense of humor.”

Audia won his last professional bout in September 1987, a major decision over Gary Thomas at the Bristol track.

ON TO TEACHING ... AND GOLF

After retiring from boxing, Audia went back to college. He graduated from East Tennessee State in 1990 with a science education degree and began work as a teacher at Lee High.

“I loved boxing, but I would not have traded the chance of being world champion to do what I do now as a teacher and coach,” Audia said. “I made the right decision when I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. It has been gratifying for sure.

“My second year of teaching, Matt Cridlin was the varsity golf coach and he asked me to start a middle school program and I said sure,” Audia recalled. “They won the state championship in 1990 and they were looking to expand the program and build a feeder program.”

Audia coached the middle school program until taking over the varsity team in 2012.

This past year, he coached the team to its first regional tournament appearance since 2009. He’s already thinking about the upcoming fall.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of good kids coming back and I think they’re going to be improved from last year.”

STILL ACTIVE

When Audia is not coaching the Generals or giving private golf lessons, he’s quite the golfer himself.

He started playing as a youngster but really picked up the game after his retirement from boxing.

“I really have just always loved golf,” Audia said. “After I retired, I went from hitting about 100 balls a week to playing and hitting about 800 to 1,000 balls a week. My score dropped from over 100 to about par.”

Audia played in five U.S. Pro-Am qualifiers and finished in the top 10 in three of the events. His best score over the 36-hole qualifiers was a 147, three strokes above the cutoff.

“It’s tough playing 36 holes in one day, but that was really right up my alley,” Audia noted. “I felt like I had gone 10 rounds when I played in those.”

He has operated a certified boxing gym in Pennington Gap since 2007.

“I really just opened the gym and didn’t plan on anyone boxing out of it,” he explained. “But we had some guys that insisted they were going to box, so we did what we had to do to get it registered as a boxing gym.”

While all sports have been put on hold to aid in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, Audia said there are two boxers at his gym that are ready to enter the USA Boxing Golden Gloves competition.

“It’s the same organization that selects the Olympic team,” he noted.

Audia said one of the boxers will enter the Open Division, which is the top level for Golden Gloves, but the other is just starting out in the sport and will be looking to get into the Novice Division.

QUITE THE RIDE

Looking back, Audia is proud of his accomplishments in the ring and as a teacher and coach. But he’s not ready to put away all his sporting equipment in the locker just yet.

“It’s been a good ride, but I hope it’s not finished yet. I’ve still got some good fight left in me,” he said.

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