Time for De La Hoya to Stop the Clowning : Boxing: Fight against Paez considered key for former Olympic star. Toney faces Williams.


James Toney and Oscar De La Hoya, two of boxing’s prized and pampered prodigies, go up for examination again tonight against a backdrop of vast expectations and against older, less-wealthy former champions.

For Toney, the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion, a main event against a fighter as respected as former light-heavyweight champion Prince Charles Williams is old hat.

But De La Hoya has made millions, done commercials and won a minor title without meeting an opponent nearly as savvy and experienced as former featherweight champion Jorge Paez, whom De La Hoya fights tonight at the MGM Grand.


The bouts will be televised by HBO, starting at 7.

Twenty months into his post-Olympic gold-medal career, De La Hoya is moving up to the lightweight division and facing the most important, and scrutinized, bout since his professional debut.

“That’s what the so-called critics say, that Paez is going to be my toughest opponent,” De La Hoya said. “But they’ve been saying that since I fought maybe Troy Dorsey (in June 1993). Paez fought Troy Dorsey (in July 1990), took him 12 rounds to win a decision--and I stopped him in one round.

“So I’m not sure what to think, I’m just going to believe in myself. If that’s what the people want to see, then I’m going to give it to them. They want me to go up against a fighter who has a big name, and that’s Paez.”

De La Hoya (13-0, 12 knockouts), who is being paid $800,000, and his trainer, Robert Alcazar, have been vocal about their confidence going into this fight for the vacant World Boxing Organization lightweight belt. At one point, Alcazar said that the 28-year-old, less-than-powerful Paez, who is making $175,000, would be De La Hoya’s “easiest fight yet.”

De La Hoya said Paez, known for his goofy showmanship and stiff left hook, is “basically a clown, and that’s about it.”

But De La Hoya, 21, has suffered first-round knockdowns in two of his last three bouts and was not especially impressive in the third, when he knocked out Jimmi Bredahl in 10 rounds last March for the WBO junior-lightweight belt.


Narciso Valenzuela knocked De La Hoya down in October, before being knocked out. Giorgio Campanella knocked De La Hoya down in May, also before being knocked out.

Will Paez (53-6-4, 35 KOs), who has fought the likes of Pernell Whitaker, Freddie Pendleton (both decision losses) and Rafael Ruelas (his only knockout defeat), do what three previous journeymen could not?

“De La Hoya has never been taken into the deep water where we can see if he’ll sink or swim when it gets tough,” said Paez’s trainer, Alex Shearer. “He’s never been in a fight, even the knockdown fights, where he’s had to go head-to-head, fist-to-fist, fighting for survival late in the fight. He hasn’t fought anybody who could do that to him.

“That’s what Paez has to do, and I think will do.”

De La Hoya, who sacrificed meals to make the 130-pound junior-lightweight limit, said he feels far stronger and more comfortable at the lightweight limit of 135.

“No question in my mind, Oscar’s going to knock him out,” Alcazar said. “In how many rounds, who knows? It all depends how many rounds it’s going to take Oscar to catch him with a clean punch. That’s as long as the fight’s going to be.”

De La Hoya lost a coin flip, so Paez will get the traditional champion’s right to enter the ring last. “Oscar’s coming out first,” Alcazar said, “and he’s not happy about it.”


In the main event, Toney (43-0-2, 28 KOs), accepted as one of the two best fighters in the world, clearly considers Williams, 32, merely another man in his way.

Toney, who could have a showdown with IBF middleweight champion Roy Jones in November and who eventually hopes to win the heavyweight championship, is being paid $1.2 million and has disparaged Williams as an old man about to be demolished.

Williams (36-5-2, 27 KOs), whose purse is $250,000, has made less than $1.2 million total in his 16-year pro career.

“Prince Charles, four or five years ago, was a great fighter,” said Toney’s trainer, Bill Miller. “But you can’t cook with old grease. Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Leonard, they used to be great fighters. Charles is in that category: used to be.”


Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, was with Robert Wangila in the hospital before the fighter died Sunday in Las Vegas and was shaken by the incident. But Ratner said a review of the situation shows that there was nothing more the commission could have done to prevent the tragedy.

“The doctor checked him between the eighth and ninth rounds, he said he was fine,” Ratner said. “After the fight, Dr. (Robert) Voy spent 10 minutes with him in the dressing room, there was not a clue that this could have happened. If you had watched the fight, you would have thought nothing.”

The Nevada commission could have a difficult decision on the heels of this incident, if, as expected, Evander Holyfield seeks reinstatement of his license. Holyfield retired after his loss to Michael Moorer in April when doctors discovered congenital heart problems.


Boxing Calendar

Saturday--Rene Arrendondo vs. John Armijo, welterweights; Cuauhtemoc (Famosito) Gomez vs. Juan Mendoza, bantamweights; Hollywood Palladium, 5 p.m.

Tuesday--Jeremy Williams vs. Mark Wills, heavyweights; Ray Lovato vs. Corey Johnson, welterweights; Grand Olympic Auditorium, 6 p.m.