by Paul Magno
Paul Williams’ ring nickname is “The Punisher,” but it very well could be “The Dalai Lama” since everywhere Williams’ goes he brings peace and tranquility. His very presence causes aggressive tough guys like Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto and even Kelly Pavlik to suddenly become peace-loving pacifists while veteran warriors like Shane Mosley turn into gentle creatures looking to live a peacful co-existence with the lanky kid from Augusta, Georgia. Nobody, not even in the bloody sport of Boxing, seems to be in the mood to fight when the name Paul Williams is mentioned.
The sad truth for Williams is that fight managers will never be too eager to match their guys up with a 6’1″ southpaw Welterweight with an odd style and an 82 inch reach. There’s too much of a chance that their fighters will look horrible and, frankly, there’s simply not enough money in fighting Williams to make the risk worthwhile.
So, Paul Williams finds himself in a Catch 22 situation- He can only get the big fights by becoming a big enough draw, but he can only make himself a draw by getting the big fights. What’s a fighter to do?
If this were a couple of decades ago, his people would say to just stay busy and beat everyone available in his division until eliminating all competition for the guys avoiding him. In other words, turn himself into their only real opponent by beating the snot out of all the others. And, certainly, while the top 3 or 4 guys pretend that Williams doesn’t exist, there are credible, ranked opponents who would be willing to take the risk of fighting a guy like Williams. Just looking at the BTBC Welterweight rankings (http://www.btbc.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=rankings&action=display&thread=48), names like Cintron, Baldomir and Bonsu stand out as solid fights to help make Williams unavoidable.
However, this is 2008 and things are very different. This is an era where auto industry CEO’s take private jets to meetings where they’re asking for a government bail out. This is an era where people take out mortgages they know they can’t pay, given to them by banks that don’t expect them to be able to. The current atmosphere is one of entitlement, so why should the world of Boxing be any different?
Williams has only been in the ring with 2 fighters who could be classified “world class,” but this doesn’t stop him from feeling that his dues have been paid and that he’s entitled to the big paydays against the top dogs. That’s why him and his people have been testing the waters in other divisions and, maybe, toying with the idea of being simultaneously active in 3 weight divisions: Welter, Jr Middle and Middleweight.
So far this year, he has 2 fights at 147, one at 160 and coming this Saturday, an interim title fight for the 154 lb. crown against veteran Verno Phillips. And, while it’s impressive to have 3 solid wins in 3 seperate weight classes in one year (Carlos Quintana, Andy Kolle and , possibly, Phillips), you can’t help but see the word “gimmick” written all over this approach. Actually, in the long-run, by jumping around so much, he may be making it easier for fighters to avoid him. After all, he’s bound to slip in the rankings as he divides himself in 3 and has already been forced to vacate his WBO Welterweight crown.
Williams is young (27) and has the frame to handle the weight changes, but what about in 3 or 4 years? Will Williams eventually settle into just one weight class and begin take it apart the hard way, or will he always be destined to wander Boxing’s proverbial roadside, looking for whatever decent fight that comes his way?
Win, lose or draw on Saturday, we won’t have that answer, but Williams will have a decent payday and an HBO main event. For now, that’s the best a world class fighter without a world class name can hope for.