The Great White Nope?

Paul Nave, a polite, well-spoken product of upscale Marin County, has climbed out of boxing obscurity to fight for a world title. He's a polished fighter, but he's probably going to get his ass kicked.

What Nave didn't lose gambling went straight up his nose. Coke was the 1980s drug of choice, and eventually, the evil powder took over every aspect of Nave's life. By the end of the decade, divorced and with a small daughter, he was paying off his debts by dealing ounces of cocaine.

"It was a crazy life," he says, shaking his head. "Flying around everywhere, and the limousine service, and partying all the time, the boxing, trying to develop property.

"I had a million things going at once."
Then he was in prison, with nothing going for him at all.

After a couple of months in San Quentin, Nave began to work out regularly, took a job as a clerk, and wrote lots of letters. But in the joint, there are no rules, no right and wrong.

"You try to keep a positive head, and do everything you can to think of your future, but it's just time that's lost," he says. "That's one thing about freedom. Nobody knows what it's like until you've lost it. You can never back down in prison. You're worse for backing down."

Nave says he came close to getting in fights, but had to suppress his fighter's instinct; too often, fighting led to guard brutality, lock-downs, lengthened sentences, and loss of privileges. There was no real friendship, either. Nave couldn't talk to the guards too much, for fear of being labeled a snitch, and he couldn't talk to the inmates much, for fear of getting sucked into the prison gang hierarchy. He bottled it all in, and waited for his friend Andy Nance, who visited three nights a week to help Nave train for a boxing match that might happen someday.

In 1991, the state Department of Corrections allowed Nave to leave San Quentin for a day to box in Petaluma. If he won, he agreed, he would donate his $1,000 purse to charity.

The fight was a real scene. Prison guards escorted Nave to and from the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building. Nave's corner assistants -- which included legendary San Francisco trainer Sonny Marson -- all wore black-and-white-striped prison garb. Nave didn't just win; he knocked out his opponent in the first round.

But Nave was getting older, and he was sick of prison officials reminding him of it. "You're 30 now," they would taunt. "You'll never box when you get out of here." One said loud enough for him to hear, "He's a good boxer, but he'll never fight for a world title."

Nave was released from San Quentin in July 1993, his six-year sentence reduced to three because of good behavior. The limo service was out of business. The airplane, houses, cars were all liquidated. The party was over. At the age of 32, Paul Nave moved back in with his parents. All he had left was boxing.

Once out of prison, Nave worked the phones, booking himself on fight cards around the Bay Area. Unlike most pro fighters, Nave has never taken on a manager, preferring to save the 33 percent fee and do it alone.

He moved back up the ladder, starting with the four- and five-round bouts that paid a couple hundred bucks. His presence in the ring evolved into a flashy show; the Italian flag's colors were on his trunks and the shirts of his corner men.

His fighting style changed, too. He had been a brawler in the past, swinging for the knockout right out of the gate. But that headhunting is a young man's game, and it saps energy that's useful in the later rounds.

"As you get a little older, you figure out, 'Let's have some fun, take some punches, give 'em.' If you can outbox a guy, that's what you want to do," he says. "I've always been quick, but I've been more of a puncher. I've developed into a boxer-puncher."

Five years and two broken noses later, his pro record stands at 15 wins, five losses, and two draws, with eight knockouts, and along the way he's picked up four regional titles.

The Haugen fight is Nave's first shot at a world title, and although there are several boxing organizations that sanction "world title" status, the WBF is well-respected. A win would mean a hefty cash purse, prestige, and the chance to fight for even more money.

But almost nobody gives Nave very much chance of winning. He's fighting Greg Haugen.

Nave's four belts gleam to the cameras on the dais at a February press conference in a San Rafael hotel. He sits behind them, sharply dressed and with his hair gelled in place.

Greg Haugen, unshaven and in a T-shirt and baseball cap, looks at Nave with a scowl.

"He says he's won four titles," Haugen, a three-time world champion, snarls. "I've never heard of any of 'em."

The crowd chuckles. Nave smiles but doesn't say anything. Haugen, who had an opponent cancel on him recently, is wound up like a spring. But there's a reason, besides the wasted training, for his sour mood.

Sour's the way Haugen is.
Paul Nave and Greg Haugen are both 5 foot 8, 146 pounds, and 37 years old. Both are divorced with children, and both live with their parents.

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