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Vaden a poet with punchy lines

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TC

"Become amazed at the quickness I display in the ring

'Become enraptured with each song that I sing

"Sharing my time can be as vibrant as Irish roses

"Keep staring at me and you'll see some tingling poses."

, -- From a poem by Paul Vaden LAS VEGAS -- Keats, Coleridge and Tennyson can rest easy. Paul Vaden is not yet a contender for poet laureate.

But the undefeated San Diego fighter who challenges Baltimore's Vincent Pettway for his International Boxing Federation junior middleweight title tomorrow night is a man of many talents.

All Vaden, 27, wants from life is a world championship belt, an Oscar for acting and a Grammy award as a recording artist.

"My ultimate dream is to perform in the ring, win a title, then, a couple of hours later, give a concert and poetry recital, I'm looking at boxing as a springboard to any number of things in the entertainment field."

But Vaden says he has his priorities in order. Beating Pettway, a 2 1/2 -to-1 favorite, is his single goal on the eve of his first championship match.

He has been preparing for the occasion since he was 8 years old, when his father decided he needed to escape his mother's apron strings.

"I was a Mama's boy and kind of a wimp," said Vaden, recalling his youth. "So my dad got me involved in the boxing program at the Jackie Robinson YMCA in town. It began as a two-week experiment.

"The first time I fought for just a minute and got a bloody nose. It seemed like I was in the ring forever."

But Vaden persevered. His two-week boxing trial quickly expanded to eight weeks, and the welts and bruises were now being inflicted on his opponents. His early success in the ring soon became an obsession.

Vaden developed into one of the country's top amateur boxers. He grew to a lanky 6 feet 1 and used his height and athleticism to compile a 317-10 record while winning national honors and medals in the Olympic Festival and Goodwill Games.

He was being groomed as the team leader of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, And the shakers and movers in professional boxing -- including his idol Sugar Ray Leonard, Bob Arum, Dan Duva and Dan Goosen -- were waving checkbooks in anticipation of Vaden carrying home a gold medal from Barcelona.

But Vaden surprised everyone by passing up the Olympics.

"I know I would have been one of the favorites in the 1992 Games," he said. "But they had changed the scoring system that year, and, quite honestly, winning a gold medal wasn't that important anymore. I always felt amateur boxing was too political."

Vaden's next surprise was in spurning contract bids from the major power brokers to sign originally with a San Diego group of backers,

"Team Vaden" has undergone several changes in recent years. The fighter is now managed by Arnie Rosenthal and trained by David Love, a top middleweight contender in the late '70s.

In winning all 23 of his pro bouts, Vaden has established a reputation as a clever boxer, though lacking a knockout punch.

"I'm certainly not a one-punch knockout artist, but how many fighters are today?" he said. "I rely on my speed and combinations. I'll cut you up and outbox you. It's more artistic."

Ringsiders are saying Vaden has not been seriously tested to date, with his most significant victory a 12-round decision over John Montes in March 1994 to claim the IBF Intercontinental title.

Most recently, he was hard-pressed to win a 10-round decision over previously unbeaten Rueben Bell, of Washington.

"Paul had the flu that night," said Rosenthal. "He saved energy by fighting off the ropes. That's not his style, but he proved he had a big heart."

Now Vaden wants to prove he is capable of whipping a champion.

"I respect Pettway, especially for the way he got off the floor to stop Simon Brown," said Vaden of Pettway's first title defense. "But I'm not Simon Brown. I believe I can beat Pettway a lot of ways."

And if he does?

"It will be worthy of a lovely sonnet," the fighting poet said.

FIGHT FACTS

Who: Vincent Pettway (38-4-1, 31 KOs), Baltimore, vs. Paul Vaden (23-0, 11 KOs), San Diego

What: For Pettway's International Boxing Federation junior middleweight title

Where: MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas

When: Tomorrow night

TV: Showtime, 10 p.m.

First fight: Derrell Coley (27-0-2, 19 KOs), Washington, vs. Oba Carr (34-1, 22 KOs), Detroit, for Coley's North American Boxing Federation welterweight title

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