Boxing is many things, and a playground for extreme personalities is one of them. While plenty of normal people climb into the profession, it also attracts more than its fair share of attention-seekers, fringe characters and loveable weirdos. Jorge Paez was all of the above.
Paez once wore a dress to a fight. This was in 1992, against Rafael Ruelas, in his adopted hometown of L.A. Imagine showing up for a bout in a black sequin gown, on your home turf. It sounds like the sort of nightmare you might have after snacking on the old pizza your fridge. But for Paez, it was just business as usual.
That's because - as the commentators unfailingly mentioned before, and often during, every fight - Paez was a professional circus clown. A native of Mexicali, Jorge spent a good part his youth working in his grandmother's show, learning how to do the sorts of tumbles, goony dancing and acrobatic backflips that he'd showcase before and after every victory. According to him he never fully left the circus, and would return to clowning for short stretches in between fights. It wasn't hard to imagine, either. He had a wide easy grin, and whenever he flashed it you got the sense the only thing he enjoyed more then hitting people was cracking them up.
But in the ring, at his best, Paez was a sly and vicious court jester, ripping out gut-busting bodywork in between his crouching, bobbing advances and jelly-legged taunts. El Maromero was a fairly limited and inconsistent slugger, but he also had a nerve-jangling ability to turn the tables and a Roman gladiator’s deference to the crowd. You could tell by looking that he loved being in the ring. And in between antics, he could occasionally churn out a sudden, sinister left hook. If he was a linesman for Ma Bell, he would’ve been the weird, unpredictably evil linesmen. And if he was a Notary Public, he’d be the weird, unpredictably evil Notary Public. Jorge Paez was basically the definition of a "scary clown."
On the comeback trail from a hard-fought loss to Sweet Pea Whitaker, Paez wanted to make more than a fashion statement that night in California. In a busy year, Ruelas was the first truly dangerous opponent he'd faced aside from a downsliding De la Rosa. The fight looked like it would be a barnburner from the first bell, with a volley of big exchanges that saw Paez floored by a thunderous hook. Gutsy as always, he rose – in a dress, mind you – to finish the round by throwing and catching a lot of leather.
Paez was roundly outfought, if not outclassed that night. Gabriel’s brother was a very focused and fit guy; if not a born killer then a born wounder-and-bleeder. The gap in preparedness was clear for the majority of the bout, with Ruelas often unloading at will on an increasingly available chin. But early in the fourth round, something interesting happened. Jorge pulled one of those ripping one-two combinations down from orbit and nearly mugged Rafael. In the blink of an eye, the smartass in the dress suddenly looked dressed to kill, vandalizing Ruelas in the corner with heavy lefts and rights. I had Paez under, and I thought I was going to feel smart.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. In the middle of his furious assault, Paez accidentally spit out his mouthpiece, providing Rafael a much needed breather. It was the turning point for both guys, and the remainder of the bout was mostly a matter of Ruelas' tenacious combinations gradually overwhelming the clown’s desparate antics. El Maromero was stopped by the referee in the 10th from a very ugly and academic barrage that would’ve popped the balloons of many decent fighters over the years. But he lost bravely, and took the loss well. Despite getting savagely beaten in front of a large crowd of people while wearing a dress, he had his moments. And, at the end of the day, I suppose getting beat up in a dress is preferable to getting beat up by the guy wearing the dress.
Paez would fight for another ten years, losing mostly to good and great fighters over that talent-rich period. He was a hard-slugging showboat, which in the upper tiers of the sport can be a recipe for disaster. But his confidence was outstanding compared to most "normal" people, the role of which is hard to overestimate in Boxing. I’d bet every dollar in the bank that he was un-trainable in some very fatal and very admirable way, and that this factor played just as large a part in his victories as it did in his defeats.
Thinking about him now, I guess it’s possible he was nuts. Jorge’s glory days came before self-promotion was just a Youtube video away, so it’s hard to explain some of the weirder stuff. But I like to think he was a throwback with an eccentric streak. The guy who runs off to join the circus seems to share some old, quixotic DNA with the guy who embarks on a career in professional boxing. As for all of the accessories: the cryptic slogans emblazoned on his trunks, the "Batman" paraphenalia, the crossdressing, the wild hairdos - in almost any other guy this stuff would have seemed like a paint job to market an otherwise boring pug. But Paez had a brave, fan-friendly style. He didn't really need that stuff, even though it's probably the reason he is so memorable. I've never seen him perform as a circus clown, but I think he probably must have been fun to watch there too. Center ring is center ring, after all. Win or lose he was fun to watch, and, like height, that's something you can't ever teach.