The 68-year-old former welterweight from North Beach orders a drink and spins around to greet another old boxer. He doesn't have to look far. Today, the Silver Moon bar in Daly City is packed with old fighters, pug-nosed, gnarl-knuckled survivors from the last 50 years of boxing in the Bay Area, hard-bitten characters, one and all.
Hall of Famer Johnny Gonzalves. Lyle Mackin. Mongo "The Rock" Luciano. The third Friday of every month, any boxer who can still bend his limbs ducks out on the wife and kids and limps down here for the meeting of the Round House Boys. Within walls papered with fight posters and photos from times when ring attire resembled winter mittens and Speedo swimsuits, the old fighters exchange a steady stream of friendly epithets and raunchy jokes between shots of booze and mouthfuls of cold cuts. Above the cash register hangs a blown-up image of Sugar Ray Robinson making hamburger of Jersey Joe Walcott's face; next to it, a promo shot of Rocky Marciano from a 1950s bout at the Civic Center.
In postwar San Francisco, every neighborhood had its own boxing gym, and the bouts were entertainment for the masses. Big fights saw mayors and governors sitting ringside in tuxedos. Most of the guys here at the Silver Moon boxed the Bay Area circuit for little or no money, some fighting three times a night at long-closed venues -- the old Dreamland in the Fillmore, or the National Hall down at 16th and Mission, nicknamed the "Bucket of Blood." But that was then, and now the aging crowd grows more boisterous, shouting for drinks, slurring into one another's occasionally cauliflowered ears.
A bell clangs behind the bar, and Al Ilardi calls the meeting to order -- "Brothers, let's get ready to rumble!" -- and starts to make announcements. But he can't read his notes, and reaches for his glasses. "I want my money back," hollers someone over the noise. Ilardi adjusts his specs, and informs the mob of a new inductee into the club -- Marin real estate agent Andy Nance, a four-time Golden Gloves champion who boxed pro for six years, and was once rated No. 2 in the world. The crowd roars approval. They've all seen him fight. He was the Great White Hope of the Bay Area, just before the 1980s heyday of "Irish" Pat Lawlor.
The bell rings again, and Ilardi announces that on March 27, another Marin fighter, Paul Nave, will duke it out for the World Boxing Federation world welterweight championship, which currently stands vacant. His opponent will be three-time world champ Greg Haugen, who's fought and beaten the best.
The 37-year-old Nave (pronounced NAW-vay) stands in the doorway, smiling politely. Although currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the WBF (Haugen is ranked No. 2), he appears small, young in comparison to the oldsters. Ilardi cracks a joke, and then asks Nave if he's got any words on his upcoming fight.
The crowd quiets. "I'm gonna knock him out," grins Nave.
There is a pause. It is not a long silence, just one microsecond of hush too long. Then, suddenly, the Round House Boys burst into cheers, fists pumping in the air.
The delay in demonstrated enthusiasm might be attributed to many things. Alcoholic stupor. The slowing reflexes of the elderly. Perhaps even boxing dementia. But one factor almost certainly contributed to the short but meaningful time between Nave's announcement, and the response to it.
Privately, almost nobody in the Silver Moon thinks Paul Nave has a chance.
Paul Nave has encountered tough opponents in the ring during his time, but none with as sneaky a punch as Daryl Napier.
Napier wasn't a boxer. He was a law student and musician who dealt cocaine in the small-town bars of Marin County, and although not under arrest or suspicion, he wanted to extricate himself from the underworld. He approached the San Rafael police and offered to help them nail one of the many suspected coke dealers in Marin. Several names came up, and one stuck out in particular: Paul Nave.
Napier told police he knew Nave only in passing. They hung out at the same bars -- Baxter's in Sausalito, TKO's in Harbor Center. But Nave, scion of an influential business family and son of a former city councilman, made an attractive target. Police agreed to the deal, and set Napier up with a wire.
And on July 18, 1989, Paul Nave's life changed significantly.
The phone rang at one of the family businesses, Nave Limousine. Napier was on the line, and after dropping the names of mutual friends, asked Nave about coke. Nave was wary; a few months earlier he'd been arrested after a drug deal and charged with two counts of sale and transportation of narcotics. He told Napier he didn't need the risk of a cocaine deal, but the aspiring lawyer Napier was persuasive, claiming he had just gotten out of jail himself.
Two days later, the pair met in the parking lot of the Belli-Deli in San Rafael. According to court documents, Nave got in Napier's Porsche and told him to drive around awhile. They pulled up at a stop sign and did the deal -- $1,000 for an ounce of blow in a brown paper bag. Napier dropped Nave off, then drove to meet police and gave them the goods.
In the future, Napier would call the limo service and say he wanted to "rent a limo." Each "limo" would represent an ounce of blow. On July 24 Nave answered the phone and took an order for "six limos." Later that day, Napier stopped at the San Rafael police station, picked up $6,000 in cash, and met Nave at a Burger King in Ignacio, where they negotiated price.