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.

All similarities end there.
If Paul Nave comes off as the quintessential self-actualized California nice guy, Greg Haugen appears to have exactly the opposite personality -- he's a mean little son of a bitch who could kick the crap out of someone twice his size.

Haugen's official record is 37-7-2, but that doesn't count his amateur bouts. Before turning pro, Greg Haugen fought an incredible 300 fights, many of them nasty "tough man" competitions in Alaska bars, where the winner beats up three or four guys and walks out with beer money. Haugen has been pounding on people since he was old enough to walk. He knows little else.

Haugen has won three world titles and fought a who's who of boxers while making -- and losing -- an estimated $7 million in the ring. He won his title belts by beating IBF world champions Jimmy Paul and Vinny Pazienza, and Hector "Macho" Camacho, a boxing legend who at the time was undefeated, with 38 wins. Haugen's also knocked out the popular Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and lost his IBF title to world-class fighter Pernell Whitaker in a brutal 12-round decision.

In 1993, still smarting from a bitter divorce, Haugen flew to Mexico City and climbed into a ring at Azteca Stadium in front of 133,000 people, the largest audience ever to attend any sporting event. His opponent that night was Julio Cesar Chavez, Mexico's boxing icon, a man so beloved he could probably run for president tomorrow -- and win. Before the fight, Haugen mouthed off to the press, claiming most of Chavez's wins were "against Tijuana taxi drivers."

Chavez beat Haugen so badly the referee stopped the fight in the fifth round. Afterward, Haugen acknowledged, "I guess they were tough taxi drivers."

Anybody who follows boxing has watched or heard of Greg Haugen, the tough bastard who just keeps punching and punching. Many are surprised he's taking this fight, but as different as they are in personality, he and Nave are similar in professional circumstance. Both are older fighters who need the money -- reportedly in the high five figures -- and the prestige this bout offers.

"Both of them are at a point in their career where they cannot afford to lose this fight. They want to build up a reasonable record and get another money fight," says Peter Howes, promoter for the upcoming bout. "They are two very different characters. Paul is poised, well-dressed, well-spoken. Greg is captain of his own ship, right out of the gym, no bull."

"They're smart guys and they know their business. In terms of the match, you're gonna see some immediate action."

The Fourth Street Youth Center is located so close to downtown Reno that you can almost throw a snowball from its front door and hit the garish neon sign that boasts: "RENO -- the Biggest Little City in the World." This grubby building is where the city's young people come to play pool and video games. For the past week, it is also where Paul Nave has been training to prepare for the fight of his life.

Training a boxer in a gambling oasis like Reno might be seen as stylistically fitting. The win-or-lose life of a gambler, after all, does mirror the turbulent roller-coaster ride a pro boxer faces. And in gambling, as in boxing, whether you win or lose, there's no one to blame but yourself.

In Nave's case, though, Reno has been chosen for convenience and its natural attributes. There are only two full-time boxing gyms in all of Marin County, San Francisco, and Oakland; Reno offers gym space at a high altitude that helps improve a boxer's cardiovascular training. Also, this weekend, the Atlantis Casino Resort will host a pay-per-view championship bout, and Nave has agreed to help promote his fight, co-sponsored by the Atlantis, by hosting the event.

And Reno is close to Sacramento. And commuting from Sacramento to spar with Nave is three-time world champion Tony "The Tiger" Lopez, one of the few men in the world who has ever beaten Greg Haugen.

Like Nave and Haugen, Lopez is on a bit of a comeback trail himself, looking for a couple of big payoff wins, and will also be fighting on the 27th. Having been in the ring with both fighters, he's got an insider's view of what might happen.

"Haugen's in your face, Nave's in your face. I think it's gonna be one of these fights that's gonna go back and forth. Someone might take the first couple rounds, or it might even be even rounds all the way through. I think you're gonna find out toward the middle, or towards the end of the fight, when it starts to wear. They both hit about the same.

"Honestly, I think Haugen hits a little bit harder than Paul does, but shit, that don't really mean nothing either."

In 1994 Lopez went 10 rounds with Haugen before finally knocking him out. It was, Lopez says, the longest 10 rounds of his life.

"Haugen -- he's kinda like I am. I don't give a shit about anything. I figure, the man's gonna be punching, he's gonna be swinging just like I am. But that's me," Lopez says. "Paul seems more like a guy that wants to have a plan when he goes in. He's a businessman. He wants to go in there with a business plan.

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