For the next few days, Rufus (Bubba) Hadley, an extremely large corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, will be allowed to live in a fool's paradise.

Hadley, you see, is the only man in these eighth Pan American Games who is going to win a medal for doing nothing.

Of corse, there's a catch, as they always is with a free lunch.

Of 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere, only two were able to find a man willing to step into a boxing ring for three rounds, or probably less, with Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba.

As host nation, Puerto Rico felt honor-bound to come up with a 200-pound sacrificial lamb chop -- his name is Siso Maldonado. Presumably, he is being kept in protective custody to make sure he does not hop the first banana boat to the Netherlands Antilles.

A gentleman from Ecuador named Luis Castillo also entered his name in the heavyweight category. However, upon learning of the precariously depleted state of his weight class, he decided that there were fewer people named Stevenson back home in Ecuador. He has left.

In the mysterious manner of international competitions, a drawing was held to determine who would have a first-round bye. Pan Am officials decided that if Headley and Castillo were put in the same ring, both might suddenly decide that defeat and a bronze medal would look better than victory, a silver medal and a rearranged face.

So, officials have decided that somebody gets to play heavy bag for Stevenson first -- and get a bronze, while the other brave soul gets to fight him second and receive a silver.

Since San Juan is located in Puerto Rico, guess who gets the silver? That's right, Maldonado. Hadley will have the pleasure of getting first-crack.

A wise man might greet this opportunity by asking Stevenson each day if he would like his shoes polished, or if, perhaps, he had always wanted a personal manservant. After all, Stevenson is to amatuer boxing what tornadoes are to corn fields.

An even wiser man, however, might do as Headley is doing.

"The gold medal is already mine," said Headley, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounds U.S. Military Interservice champ. "All I have to do is go and collect it. Stevenson will be beat.

"Hey, he's never really impressed me. He's never been anyone I Looked up to. Why should I praise him? I only praise God, not another man.

"If you pinch Stevenson's arm, what do you feel? Flesh, same as me, ain't it?"

Other optional answers to that question include: muscle, steel and titanium.

It should be noted that Stevenson does not speak English, and reads only on rare occasions in any language. Mostly, he looks in the mirrow, throws jabs and stands very erect.

Hadley, a mere lad of 18 who has grown wise on the streets of Detroit, had divided that if he is to be rendered inoperative by the Cuban statue, he might as well go down in a blaze of publicitty.

And if Stevenson, who has occasionally looked poorly trained and half-asleep in the ring, should have one of his plodding days and Hedley actually wins [or even comes close], a prediction come ture might be worth several professional paydays.

"I'm just a corporal now." said Hadley, who has never suffered anything worse than a split lip in the ring, "but after I get back, I bet I'll be a sergeant real fast."

Such prognosticating might seem rash for a man whose amatuer record includms 10 defeats, including a recent one at the hands of a person called Tony Tubbs.

Hadley, however, makes it clear that "about five of those 10 I didn't really lose, you know. I was always the young one and they gave 'em to the older fighters."

Like Dizzy Dean, Hadley gives the impression that he might be a well-meaning but not entirely reliable source on tricky pieces of information like, for instance, the pertinent facts of his own life.

"When I was 10 years old, I was 'bout 5-foot-1 and weighed 210 pounds, more than I do now. All I did was smoke cigars and eat. I was a trip, I tell ya.

"One day, I got in a figth with this girl and she bit me. See here, I still have the scar on my chest. I said, 'Man, I got to learn to defend myself.'

"I got down to 147 pounds and my first fight was with a big old man named Charles Brown, who was 19. I was still only 11 years old, but I lied about my age. I stopped him.

"To this day, people don't remember me as a child. I tell 'em, you rememeber fat Bubba who always used to work in Mosley's store and had that cigar in his mouth all the time. Well, that's me."

The transformation could not be more complete. Hadley is one of the most popular athletes on the 600-member U.S. team.

The U.S. women's basketball team has been dubbed, by Hadley, as "Bubba's Angles."

Whenever the towering U.S. men's basketballers approach Hadley, he tells them, "You big old dubes better bend down when you meet me. You're making me look small and I'm going to be heavyweight champion of the world."

Hadley's approach to the world is to embrace it. "My motto is to treasure small things," he said. "I treat everybody like I been knowing 'em all my life. I may talk a lot, but I'm no boster like Ali. I don't hold myself over anybody. Anything I say, people always known how I mean it. I love kids. Gonna have about 20 of 'em someday, and give 'em all those good down-South names like Rufus Lee."

In fact, a great deal of Hadley's brave talk is just that. He admit it. "How can I win," he said, If I talk like second place?"

More often, Hadley is almost humble, referring to his opinion as "my little two cent worth."

It would be hard to imagine anyone who knows this son of welder and a nurse who would not root for him to make an honorable showing against Fortress Stevenson.

"I'll be sitting down reading scripture the hour before the fight. 'God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power . . .'" said Hadley, who joined the Marine the day he turned 18 and call it, "the best move of my life."

Until the second he steps in the ring next week, Hadley swears he will not have given a thought to strategy. "I seen these paralyzed guys get in with Stevenson, lookin' at his right hand like it was a snake or had fire in it," said Hadley. "He's used to dictating. Well, he's gonna have to think about me.

"I'm not a slugger and I'm not runner. I never plan. I just mix it. Like always, I'm just going to go in there and do things accordingly," said hadley, emphasizing the last word.

If hadley is unpolished, he is tough. "I was born 11 pounds and they called me Big Bubba as soon as they saw me," said Hadley. "When I was a kid, I loved to play football, but only if we played on cement.

"I've always felt that goal in life was the heavyweight crown.

"Now I've got my stepping-stone. The man to beat is here."