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.

"It should be Paul 'The Businessman' Nave."
The Youth Center gets quiet as Nave and Lopez lace up their oversize 16-ounce sparring gloves and rub their faces with vaseline. At the bell, the two friends tap fists and get into it immediately. Nave's feet are constantly in motion, as Lopez follows him around the ring, cocking his head quizzically, searching for a chink in the armor. Nave engages, then quickly disengages, and occasionally unleashes a wicked right hook -- one of his strongest punches. A portable radio blares a Top 40 station, with the repeated lyric "Everybody dance now."

Harold DeRouen leans against the rope in Nave's corner, watching the action with the intensity of the pit man behind the craps table. A dapper, laid-back guy from Sebastopol, he's trained Nave for the last several years. And like Nave, his easygoing demeanor disappears in the gym. It's all business here.

Nave normally hangs in and fights close, but for this bout the strategy is different, says DeRouen. They plan to move Haugen around the ring more than usual, make him miss and get him frustrated.

Nave is not thought of as a gym fighter, instead saving it for the ring, but today both he and Lopez seem to be going full speed. Lopez throws so many different things at Nave -- quick jabs, combinations to the body, devastating wallops to the gut -- you almost forget about Nave, until he connects with an uppercut out of nowhere, and you realize he's been right there all along. Despite the new strategy, Nave still seems most potent inside, when he's hammering away up close.

The final bell finds both slugging like crazy, then Nave slips and loses his footing, and it's over. Lopez leans against the rope, and the two fighters have a private conversation. It's feedback that Nave can consider for another three weeks.

Later the same evening, as part of another promotional appearance, Nave hosts a pay-per-view bout being shown on a big screen in the Atlantis' disco lounge, a vacant junior welterweight title match between six-time world champion Julio Cesar Chavez and Miguel Angel Gonzalez, live from Mexico City. Once undefeated for 14 years, Chavez now is older and slower. Gonzalez is top-ranked. Odds say it could go either way. The guests are chatty and excited, and the complimentary bars pour like spigots.

A few minutes before the bout begins, Nave stands in front of the big screen and looks out over the crowd of hard-core VIP gamblers. Above his head is suspended an enormous metallic orange octopus covered in rivets, a surreal apparition apparently designed to wiggle and shoot lasers over the dance floor.

The Marin County Assassin, dwarfed by the screen behind him, waits patiently for his cue. This promotional appearance means little to a man who has hustled his entire life. But how long does he have left? He's 37, an age by which most fighters are already retired. He has a daughter. He still wants to walk, talk, and chew gum someday. Either he scores an upset by beating Haugen, or it's back to selling jalapenos.

Somebody hands him a microphone. He introduces himself to the room, and starts in about his upcoming fight with Haugen. But something is missing. The high-rolling boxing fans squint to focus on this handsome man in a sport coat. He's talking about how he once sparred with Chavez. He's going on about a title fight in someplace called San Rafael.

A man in a red T-shirt interrupts, his voice loud enough for all to hear: "What's your name again?"

Nave pauses; the room grows quiet, and he answers politely, "Paul Nave."
The man thrusts a finger at him and announces, "I'm gonna remember you!"

WBF World Welterweight Title
Paul Nave vs. Greg Haugen
Televised live on ESPN-2
Ring announcer: Mr. T
Special guest:
Marla Maples Trump
Friday, March 27,
San Rafael, Calif.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.,
fight starts at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25-150
BASS: (510) 762-2277
Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium: 472-3500
Howes Entertainment Inc.: 922-7391

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