by Cliff Rold
It was arguably the saddest news in boxing since the murder of Vernon Forrest. Paul Williams, the former Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight titlist, was injured in a motorcycle accident. Paralyzed below the waist, he may not walk again.
One week ago, who could have seen this coming? Williams, still rebuilding from a second round knockout loss to Sergio Martinez and a fortunate decision over Erislandy Lara, had the table set for a renaissance. A September date with the hottest young star in the game, Saul Alvarez, was on tap.
It was a fight worth looking forward to. It was a fight Williams could have won.
Now the fighting spirit of Williams will be redirected to another ring in life. Boxing will miss him. Boxing can never get enough like him.
In the wake of Williams plight, the opportunity to pay tribute to what Williams got done in the ring is a worthy endeavor.
Blessed with uncommon height for a Welterweight at 6’2, Williams presented opponents with a package of hand speed and volume punching. After making the usual rounds on ESPN2 and other building block showings, Williams made a leap into the boxing consciousness in his first HBO appearance.
Matched with fellow unbeaten Walter Matthysse on the May 2006 undercard of Jhonny Gonzalez-Fernando Montiel, Williams stole the show. Stopping Matthysse in the tenth round, a star was born and he found himself in serious contention for the WBO Welterweight crown.
The man who held that belt at the time, Antonio Margarito, didn’t have any questions about hand wraps at the time. Margarito had cultivated the moniker ‘most feared man in boxing,’ the fighter seemingly no one really wanted to face.
Was some of that hyperbole? Of course. But in boxing, hyperbole is often the beginning of box office. By the summer 2007, Williams was Margarito’s mandatory and the Mexican bad ass ha a choice to make. Offered a crack at Miguel Cotto, he opted to take Williams first.
It didn’t work out as the best-case scenario for Margarito on July 14, 2007. It worked out splendid for fight fans. Matched in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, Williams built a strong early lead only for Margarito to work his way back into what would be an exacting battle.
With the title still up for grabs, Margarito let loose a tremendous assault in the eleventh round. He had Williams reeling and one could wonder if Williams had the stuff to hold Margarito off for a final round. He did, and more, digging deep to win the twelfth round to secure his first major title. It was an exhibition of everything there was to like about Williams in both fighting heart and style.
The roller coaster nature of Williams career near the top of the game set in during his very next fight. Southpaw Carlos Quintana used acute counter punching to take the WBO strap from Williams in his very first defense. Williams rallied late but not enough to stave off defeat. It would take a rematch one fight later to set matters straight. In a single frame, Williams showed a destructive side, annihilating Quintana the summer of 2008 in his final Welterweight contest.
Williams won his next five fights at Middleweight and Jr. Middleweight in the best run of his career. He stopped the rugged Verno Phillips and dominated veteran Winky Wright before the first of two memorable clashes with Martinez in December 2009.
Williams scored a knockdown, and then suffered one, in a thrilling opening stanza. For the remaining eleven rounds, Williams and Martinez treated fans to a Fight of the Year candidate. Both men took the measure of the other, Williams emerging with a hotly debated majority decision.
An injury aborted decision win over Kermit Cintron came before the fateful rematch with Martinez. Seemingly on their way to another bruising battle, Martinez connected with a classic bomb and Williams was counted out in round two.
A comeback bout with Erislandy Lara lasted the route but didn’t appear to go much better than Martinez. The decision win for Williams resulted in suspensions for the judges. He fought only once more, a rousing decision over Nobuhiro Ishida. It was yet another fight where Williams took some to get more and a reminder that he still had something left to give.
How much more is no longer the question in the ring. It is highly unlikely, barring a miracle, Williams will fight again. It doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate what he did in the ring. No, Williams wasn’t a perfect fighter. He certainly had his flaws.
But there was fearlessness to the way Williams fought, a willingness to go to war, that every fan can be thankful for. He didn’t get the biggest names to face him but he also didn’t sit on a single big win, facing no-hopers in pursuit of a payday. He went looking for Margarito when few others would. He tackled Martinez and Lara when easier fare could easily have been his course.
There still don’t seem to be many, if any, looking for Martinez or Lara.
Paul Williams was a real warrior. For now, the warrior is fallen. As he works towards recovery, it will be the warrior within him called to battle. There is no reason to bet against him.
But wait, there’s more…
Froch Wins Big: https://www.boxingscene.com/carl-froch-cobra-strikes-review-ratings-update--53423
Updated Ratings: https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--53420
Cliff’s Notes… Game of Thrones continues to rock and it’s worth wondering if reading the books is a mistake. Knowing what wasn’t on the page, and yet recognizing that outcomes don’t change, make viewing the series different from those who approach it fresh…Mad Men hit it out of the park right after the “Games” war episode and what a marvelous two hours Sunday provides right now…If 24/7 is the only reason some are starting to feel a possible Timothy Bradley upset over Manny Pacquiao, then enough attention hasn’t been paid to how good Bradley has been for awhile…If Lucian Bute takes the immediate rematch with Carl Froch, he deserves a ton of credit. He should not be written off…Froch-Mikkel Kessler II still sounds like the better option.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]