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RING OF GOLD : A LOOK AT THE 1984 U.S. OLYMPIC BOXING TEAM : His Torch Burns Out : WHILE DE LA HOYA GETS RICH, GONZALES GIVES HIM A PARTING SHOT--AND WONDERS WHERE THE TIME WENT

August 10, 1994|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul Gonzales throws verbal combinations at the latest Grim Reaper, making believe it is 1984 again and he is the one and only Kid Barrio.

Retirement? No way. Never.

"What, you crazy?"

Stick and move.

It is a Thursday afternoon at the Hollenbeck Youth Center in East Los Angeles and, if one is willing to ignore the obvious, turning back the clock is not difficult.

Same musty gym. Same crusty trainer, Al Stankie. Same fighter, Paul Gonzales.

The Cop and the Kid. They were going to make a movie. As boxer skips rope and trainer tends to paperwork, you half expect the phone to ring and a fight card to break out.

But this is 1994.

Upon closer inspection, Stankie's hair, pulled back into a ponytail to make a 53-year-old man look hipper, is streaked with gray.

And gravity has at last chased down a now full-faced Gonzales, 30 pounds heavier than the flyweight who 10 years ago Thursday, a few blocks away at the Sports Arena, became the first Latino to win an Olympic gold medal.

"Where did the time go?" Stankie wonders.

Time, in fact, has come calling for Gonzales' gloves. It isn't that simple, though, so the fighter continues to box his shadow.

In another room, Stankie acknowledges that he doesn't know how to break the news to Kid. They've been Mutt and Jeff going on 20 years, ever since Stankie, then an LAPD officer, rescued the 9-year-old street punk from the barrio, taught him to box, took him into his home, then turned him into an Olympic champion.

"When do you give up the ghost?" Stankie asks. "When does a ballplayer hang up his gloves, a hockey player his skates? When is it time?"

For Gonzales, the time is now. After a four-year rupture in the relationship, reportedly the result of Stankie showing up drunk at one of Gonzales' fights in 1989, the trainer, who has since undergone alcohol rehabilitation, has returned to the corner, if only to tie up loose ends.

Gonzales still calls Stankie "Pop." And Stankie still calls Gonzales "Son."

During a professional decade strewn with confounding injuries, bad luck and questionable business decisions, Gonzales fought only 22 times.

The 30-year-old Gonzales scored his 18th--and probably last--victory in February.

It is clear that Stankie has returned for purposes of preservation, not resurrection.

"I could give him a fight with a phone call," Stankie says. "He's not a bum. He's still an Olympic champion."

But . . .

Stankie, father protector, is not about to allow some up-and-comer to stomp on Gonzales' good name for promotional purposes.

History will reflect that Gonzales' dream fell several punches short. He never became a millionaire, or wore a world championship belt.

Worse, after blazing the Latino trail out of the barrio, Gonzales has watched Oscar De La Hoya steal his poor-East-L.A.-boy-makes-good script and run off with the riches.

Cashing in on \o7 his \f7 Olympic fame, De La Hoya recently landed a $7.5-million contract with HBO. Gonzales never made six figures for a bout.

Envy?

"There has to be, whether he admits it or not," says Don Chargin, who promoted more than half of Gonzales' fights. "Paul had all the bad breaks, while De La Hoya has had it really easy."

Gonzales insists he is not jealous of De La Hoya. But don't rule out contentious.

"People say, 'Do you know Oscar?' and I say 'Yeah, he's my shadow,' " Gonzales says. "That's what he is, my shadow. Paul Gonzales paved the road for a lot of Hispanics. Now, a lot of them are getting what I should have gotten. But it's not too late.

"I'm the first, I'll always be the first. They'll always be the second, or third, or fourth. Paul Gonzales will be the prince of the barrio."

Their stories are virtual parallels, to the degree that De La Hoya built a home for his family in Montebello only a few blocks from the home Gonzales had built for his mother, Anna, 10 years ago.

The rift between Gonzales and De La Hoya stems from a magazine story last year in which De La Hoya criticized Gonzales for saying in so many words that he considered himself an American first, then a Mexican.

Gonzales has been counterpunching ever since.

"I would love to crack him on the chin," Gonzales says. "He's got a big mouth, and I'd like to shut it. The guy's a punk, a snake."

Publicly, though, only Gonzales spews venom.

De La Hoya claims to harbor no ill feelings.

"I have lots of respect for Paul Gonzales," De La Hoya said when informed of Gonzales' comments. "I remember how we were close buddies not too long ago. But I guess there was a bad interview in a magazine or something, and he saw it and didn't like it. But I still respect him. I look at him as the first one who did it."

You suspect it is De La Hoya's success that keeps Gonzales sparring in dank gyms.

"That guy has nothing to do with it," Gonzales snaps. "He doesn't motivate me, because I'm never going to fight him. If they would fight me, then I would say, 'Let's do it.' I'd love to fight him."

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