Boos. Cheers. Shrieks. Was this a boxer or a rock star?
When Oscar De La Hoya made his usual flashy ringside appearance, a night at the Forum that was supposed to showcase Jorge Paez was transformed into a sea of conflicting emotions and teeny-bopper mayhem.
De La Hoya, scheduled to fight Paez on July 29 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, was at the Forum on June 11 to watch Paez defeat Juan Gomez.
And though any scouting he might have done probably was hindered by the line of young women and other fans wanting autographs, De La Hoya noticed that the unheralded Gomez hit Paez hard and often through the 10-round fight.
"Like Robert (Alcazar, his trainer) said, this is going to be the easiest fight ever in my career," De La Hoya said later that night.
That is the sort of comment, however true it might be, that irks local boxing fans, who have long embraced Paez as one of their own and consider De La Hoya awesomely talented but someone who has had too much too soon.
Easiest fight ever?
In his 13 professional fights, De La Hoya has been carefully matched against boxers with little experience or name recognition.
That changes with Paez, who is past his prime as a featherweight champion but has fought 61 times against some of the best in the world. He is known for his wild, clown-like antics, both in the ring and out.
Put plainly: Until now, De La Hoya has never really gone into a professional fight in which many expected him, even wanted him, to lose.
Put even more plainly: De La Hoya had never been booed before. Especially not in L.A.
"I guess there's a lot of jealous people out there," said De La Hoya, who is 13-0 in his 18-month career. "People want me to fight against good fighters already, at the early stage of my career. All I have to do is get a few more fights under my belt and people will know who the real champion is.
"A lot of people are going for Paez. That makes me train harder because I want to knock him out in the first or second round to show people how much better I am."
Said Alcazar: "There's a lot of people who think Paez can beat him. But I think he's going to be easy. We're not exactly worried about this fight."
Alcazar pointed out that many in the Forum crowd that booed De La Hoya were Mexican national partisans of Paez, or maybe part of a large group that was with World Boxing Assn. junior-lightweight champion Genaro Hernandez.
"This kid doesn't deserve that," Alcazar said. "What he did for this country and for those people's country (Mexico) too, he put that country way up on the top. I don't think Oscar deserved to hear that.
"Oscar wasn't bothered at all. He just said, 'That's boxing.' "
Paez shouted something to De La Hoya from the ring ropes, and Hernandez, who has accused De La Hoya of ducking him, wandered up to De La Hoya to shake his hand as thousands of onlookers craned their heads for possible fireworks.
Then Paez was announced the winner, De La Hoya was whisked out a security entrance, and the theatrics were over.
"Paez is geeked up for De La Hoya," trainer Alex Shearer said. "No offense to Oscar, he's a nice-looking kid, talks good, he's pretty. But a pretty car doesn't always win the Indianapolis 500.
"There's a tremendous amount of pressure on him. He's got a burden to be over and above at such an early stage."
Assuming De La Hoya defeats Paez, Alcazar says there are plans to go on a world tour for the rest of 1994, then prepare for a big fight against International Boxing Federation lightweight champion Rafael Ruelas in early 1995. A showdown with Genaro Hernandez, Alcazar says, would follow that.
"After this fight, we're going to fight in Mexico and Japan and we have plans for Africa," Alcazar said.
Chuck Bodak, who serves as cut man for Paez and De La Hoya, has been asked by both camps to work in their corners and has chosen loyalty over cash flow.
Bodak has decided that, unless the Nevada State Athletic Commission allows him to serve both fighters, he will sit out the bout and forfeit a $10,000 payday.
"I'm a great believer in loyalty," Bodak said. "I've worked with both, think the world of both, and to me, loyalty is a lot more important than money. Even if I was destitute, I'd do the same thing."
Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada commission, said it would be highly unlikely that anybody would be allowed to work both corners.
Alcazar says he respects Bodak's position and explains that if anybody needs a top-flight cut man, it isn't De La Hoya.
"We have a big advantage in this area," Alcazar said. "I think Oscar's going to destroy Paez just with the jab. He's going to cut his face all over."
Friday: Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez vs. Carlos Eluaiza, flyweights; Alfred Ankamah vs. Marco Antonio Lizarraga, welterweights; Juan Valencia vs. Erisel Nucamendi, featherweights. Forum, 7:30 p.m.