Examining Paul Williams’ fall from grace.
There is little, if anything, more resounding in the world of sports than a knockout. The fact that a simple, tactical misstep from a boxer can lead to something so devastating both in the moment, and for the rest of that fighter’s career, is what makes this pugilistic combat so intriguing to witness and follow. The objective is simple: inflict more damage to the opponent than he or she does to you. The methods of obtaining this vary, but the core of the plan is always the same.
On the evening of November 19th, 2010, Paul Williams was regarded as one of boxing’s brightest talents. He was 39-1 with 27 knockouts on his record. Some even held him as high as number three pound-for-pound in the world behind Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather. It was forgone that the next American boxing superstar had arrived and HBO were wetting themselves. However, later that night in Jersey all these plans changed thanks to a 35 year-old Argentinean left hook; a punch Williams never saw, nor does he remember.
“I got caught with a punch,” claimed Williams post-fight; the kind of response I would give after being pulled over for going 40 in a 25. The mind of a fighter has always been fascinating, yet quite meshugga. What came across as just another day at the office to Williams, turned out to be career changing. Perhaps he had not yet realized the damage Sergio Martinez actually administered that night at the Shore? I’m sure he thought it would be a simple matter of returning to the drawing board and fighting his way back to the top. This was just a stumbling block, right?
Williams and trainer George Petersen would go back to the drawing board, and after an 8-month layoff (a small indicator of future events), return to Boardwalk Hall to go against welterweight Erislandy Lara. In what everyone expected to be his return to prominence, Williams was outclassed for 12 rounds by the 28-year old southpaw, only to have the judges unfathomably award him with a majority decision victory; a decision so ludicrous it resulted in indefinite suspensions of all three judges by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
After the fight, Williams attempted to justify his victory in a not-so-convincing manner:
“You saw the knot on his head. The bottom line is, I outworked him.”
While always willing to make the braggadocios statement, Williams is hardly an electrifying character. He has a fraction of Mayweather’s athleticism, but none of the charisma. And while his rags-to-“riches” story is an admirable one (think Lamont Peterson-Lite), it doesn’t shroud the fact that it has become increasingly difficult to see him as the take-no-prisoners competitive machine that we often associate with a great American fighter.
But perhaps Williams never was the next great American fighter. Maybe it’s our mistake for taking that leap. Andre Ward’s recent emergence has made us sit back and say, “Ohhh, wait a minute…here’s our guy.” A young, strong, athletic fighter who is dominating his division with uber-confidence, and will do everything in his well of an arsenal to guarantee he never gets caught with a Goliathian left-hook that could end his career.
But is that even what truly happened? It seems silly to say that a single punch potentially ended a career that was built on so many talents and attributes, including the granite chin that Williams had always been credited with having. Are we maintaining that the same guy who in the past four years has outperformed notable names such as Carlos Quintana, Winky Wright and Antonio Margarito can be completely undone with ONE punch? The truth is that that notion IS quite far-fetched and outrageous. And it’s also the only notion that makes any sense at this point.
Tonight, Williams will step back into the ring against Nobuhiro Ishida, a Japanese fighter who shocked the boxing world last April with a first-round TKO of promising middleweight James Kirkland. Will we see a timid Paul Williams, with his mind fixed on his opponent’s left glove, dreading a reoccurrence of that cold night in 2010? Or will we see the return of the high out-put boxer whose eyes now only aim forward? In most sports must-win games start revealing themselves as the season winds down; but boxing has no season, nor is it a game. Therefore the objective is simple: Paul Williams must win.