Paul Williams was an undefeated contender, just 14 days shy of his 26th birthday, when he entered the ring for what, at the time, was the biggest fight of his career.
The date was July 14 of 2007, and the nearly 6-foot-2 southpaw was about to put his 32-0 record on the line against Antonio Margarito at a time when the hard-hitting WBO welterweight beltholder was considered to be the world’s most feared welterweight.
Margarito was at the height of his powers, two years past a fifth-round TKO of then-undefeated KO artist Kermit Cintron and a year short of handing Miguel Cotto his first loss with an 11th-round stoppage.
“Margarito was really, really dangerous, because you’ve got to remember that Floyd Mayweather didn’t want to fight him. Shane Mosley didn’t want to fight him (at that time),” said Williams’ manager and trainer, George Peterson. “Paul Williams was the only one who stepped up and said that he wanted to fight him because of all that we knew.”
Williams had been encouraged by sparring sessions against Margarito some three years earlier, when he was brought in to prepare the Mexican warrior for an eventual technical decision loss to southpaw WBO junior middleweight beltholder Daniel Santos in September of 2004.
“Margarito was preparing for someone who was a left-hander who was a champion in Daniel Santos, and they had us to come out there for three days,” said Peterson.
“After those three days, they were like, ‘You all have got to go home.’ We had been out there to Margarito’s training camp and whipped on him for three days. And they sent us home.”
Over the course of 12, high-action, spirited rounds, Williams decisioned Margarito in a victory that the fighter still considers to be the definitive moment of his career.
“Beating Margarito when Margarito was the top dog out there and when I won the title from him and nobody wanted to fight him — that was big for me and Mr. Peterson,” said Williams. “I came off of beating a world champion and I became a world champion for the first time. So, that was a big step for me and him.”
Since defeating Margarito, Williams has split middleweight bouts with fellow southpaw Sergio Martinez, as well as welterweight clashes with left-hander Carlos Quintana.
Williams’ first-round knockout of Quintana avenged a unanimous decision loss, and his majority decision over Martinez came before Martinez dethroned Kelly Pavlik as undisputed middleweight titleholder. Williams also owns a one-sided win over former world titleholder Winky Wright, who is also a left-hander.
Now 30, Williams takes a mark of 40-2, with 27 knockouts into Saturday night’s Showtime-televised junior middleweight bout against Japan’s Nobuhiro Ishida (24-6-2, 9 KOs), who is coming off a sensational first-round knockout of power-punching southpaw James Kirkland in April, followed by another first-round KO of Edson Espinoza in November.
There is a lot on the line for Williams, who is two bouts removed from his own shocking loss via second-round knockout in the return bout with Martinez, as well as living under the stigma from his last fightt in July, when he escaped with a disputed decision over Erislandy Lara in a fight many ringsiders thought Lara won.
“Of course, I’m going to show my fans that I’m not done. They’re always going to write you off. Out of 40-something fights, I’ve only lost two,” said Williams. “Of course people are going to say, ‘aw, you’re done,’ or ‘you’re through.’ But the bottom line is that I know I’m not done and I feel really good about going in there and performing.”
WILLIAMS-ISHIDA HEADLINES STACKED CARD
Williams-Ishida will be part of a Showtime-televised card from the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, that will also feature IBF light heavyweight titleholder Tavoris Cloud and, on Showtime Extreme, heavyweight contender Chris Arreola
Arreola (34-2, 29 KOs) will pursue his seventh straight win and his fifth knockout during that run against Eric Molina (18-1, 14 KOs), who will be after his 19th consecutive victory and his third straight stoppage.
Cloud (23-0, 19 KOs) will be after the fourth defense of his belt against former WBA titleholder Gabriel Campillo (21-3-1, 8 KOs).
CLOUD ‘JUST DON’T GIVE A DAMN’ HOW HARD CAMPILLO TRAINED
Nicknamed “Thunder,” Cloud earned his belt with a unanimous decision over Clinton Woods in August of 2009, has decisioned former world titleholder Glen Johnson in August of 2010, and is coming off an eighth-round stoppage of Yusaf Mack in June.
But Cloud, who turned 30 last month, longs for a signature matchup such as WBC beltholder Bernard Hopkins, unbeaten WBO titleholder Nathan Cleverly, once-beaten WBA titlewinner Beibut Shumenov, or even former WBC titlewinner Jean Pascal.
“With Bernard Hopkins, he’s supposed to be the super star and the super champion, and The RING Magazine champion and all of that,” said Cloud. “So he’s got the name and the credibility. If I could get him in the ring and beat him, then I would take that position from him.”
Cloud wants to score an emphatic victory over Campillo, who has split bouts with Shumenov.
“I’m looking for a good fight. The thing that is exciting about fighting Gabriel Campillo is that you know when you’re champion, you know all of these guys come in there and they say that they’ve trained harder than they’ve ever trained before or they did this or they did that. All of this stuff, and I understand that,” said Cloud.
But, they have to understand the mind of the champ is that I’m extreme, man. I just don’t give a damn. I can’t put it into words exactly where my mind is at as far as explaining what I plan to do to my opponent and what the performance will be like. The only thing that I can tell you is that I’m sharp and in shape. I’m going out there to win and put on a good show, and that’s what ‘s going to happen.”
What exactly does that mean?
“It means that I don’t care how hard they train or who their sparring partner is or what sacrifices they made, I feel like I train harder than them and my training is better than theirs,” said Cloud.
“Mentally, they’re trying to come and take something that people have tried to take from me several times. You know, I still have it. So, it’s like I’m defending my house, and I still have thieves trying to break in. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I don’t really care what their state of mind is.”
MUHAMMAD ALI PARTY TO BENEFIT LOU RUVO CLINIC FOR BRAIN HEALTH
Five-division titlewinner Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, former world heavyweight titleholder Leon Spinks, and former heavyweight contenders Earnie Shavers, Chuck Wepner and George Chuvalo will comprise a special autograph fan festival on Saturday in the lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas from noon to 2 p.m.
The fighters are in Las Vegas inking their signatures for a fee in honor of event commemorating Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday and benefitting the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center.
The Lou Ruvo Center is engaged in the most comprehensive brain imaging study of professional boxers to date, and has imaged the brains of a large number of professional boxers and mixed martial artists over the past few months. The study will enroll 600 over the next four years.
Photo by Emily Harney, Fightwireimages.com
Photo by David Martin Warr, Don King Productions.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com