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The solution to Paul Williams’ problem: Fight in three weight classes

08
Jan

Paul Williams, seen here with trainer/manager George Peterson, has had a tough time getting big fights at welterweight but he's lucky to have the support of Peterson and a body that can perform at 147, 154 and 160 pounds. Photo / Jan Sanders/Hoganphotos.com

Paul Williams opted not to over-accessorize the 1973 Caprice Classic candy-apple convertible, because he didn’t want to devalue the single most cherished toy to which he has treated himself. Other than the customized television sets for the headrests and sun visors, and the 22-inch rims to keep her riding low, you wouldn’t notice much difference between the car today and when she first wheeled off a Chevrolet dealer’s lot eight years before he was born.

The car symbolizes Williams’ nouveau-riche status. How he found it symbolizes something else.

Paul Williams is lucky. He was lucky to have a single-parent mother who still works in a steak house and doted over her four children. He was lucky to have a school-bus driver who happened to be an amateur boxing coach and knew exactly how to handle a rascal passenger. He was lucky to find an honest manager-trainer in his small hometown of Aiken, South Carolina, a man who once blew the whistle on a fight-fixing scandal that led to federal convictions, and who became a mentor beyond boxing. And he was very lucky to have astute handlers who demanded a rematch clause for what became his worst night as a professionalÔÇöand very good in the one-round blowout that avenged that lone loss.

Then, there’s the car. Oh, sure, Williams, who probably is the most-avoided southpaw in boxing today, already had a Tahoe and Crown Victoria. But the Caprice is his “dream come true.” That is, after his nightmarish journey to obtain it.

“How I actually got that car, I had a box ChevyÔÇöof course, I had it sitting up on 24s and all thatÔÇöand we drove it to Augusta for the fights one night at Bell Auditorium,” Williams said. “I parked in front. But then, I went to the mall to buy a shirt. When I went back, I parked it in the back.”

When he returned after the fights, his car was stolen. The next day, Williams saw the Caprice by the side of the road.

“The dude was moving overseas and had to sell his car, so I turned around in the road and bought it right there,” he said. “Oh, man, it was a blessing for me. That’s the car I had wanted. I was looking for them all over the Internet, but they were asking crazy money for them. Then, the day after my car got stolen, I happened to see one and I got it.”

The one aspect of life to which Williams’ good fortune does not extend is securing opponents. A much-anticipated rematch with Antonio MargaritoÔÇöa loser to Williams in a riveting 12-round fight in 2007ÔÇöwould clarify a muddled picture in a jam-packed welterweight division, but has been dismissed by rival promoter Bob Arum, who said he declined to do further business with Williams’ advisor, Al Haymon.

So the 27-year-old Williams adopted a hybrid role, willing to float between welterweight and middleweight to pursue the biggest fights. A proposal to face middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik grew close before Arum turned to a Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins bout instead.

Williams, after losing a decision to Carlos Quintana last February, followed by their 2 minute 15 second rematch, moved up to middleweight to score another one-round win, September 25, against Andy Kolle, at Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, Calif., driving his record to 35-1 (26).

Following the Kolle victory, Williams moved down in weight – to junior middleweight, where he faced former 154-pound title holder Verno Phillips on November 29 in Ontario, Calif. – not all the way back to welterweight.
Williams ignored a nasty cut caused by a headbutt in the early rounds and swarmed Phillips until the veteran’s corner wisely chose to keep him on the stool after the eighth round, driving his record to 36-1 (27) and earning him a No. 2 ranking in THE RING’s junior middleweight ratings.

Williams’ first fight in ’09 might be an April showdown with former junior middleweight champ and middleweight contender Ronald “Winky” Wright, a bout that will most likely take place at a 160 pounds.

Williams’ victories over Kolle and Phillips and his willingness to face naturally heavier world-class fighters like Wright prompted debate about exactly where he plans to settle, weight-wise. His answer is nowhere.

“I’m just going to chase all the weight classes and make guys a little mad that I can win at 160, at 154, and at 147,” he said. “If I could get the belts in all those weight classes, I would. I’m trying to make guys fight, but they won’t fight. I’m to the point that I’m not going to be waiting around on this guy anymore. Everybody wants to see the rematch with Margarito. But he’s not going to fight. They say he’s the best and all that, but true boxing fans know that if you’re the best, you’ll fight the best. I lost a fight to Quintana, okay? But I came back and avenged his loss in good fashion. Why doesn’t Margarito want to come back and avenge his loss?”

Williams never played another sport. He was eight when his school bus driver, Lee Wells, grew weary of the youngster’s excess energy and encouraged Nancy Williams to allow her son to box at Wells’ L.A.W. Boxing Club, now renamed Aiken Boxing Club. The mother, who worked 10 years in a textile mill before working the last nine years at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Aiken, approved.

Wells instilled core principles in his new pupil. He died before finishing the task, just as Williams was getting into his teens and discovering girls.

Williams drifted away from boxing, and then returned after his mother showed him a newspaper article about some local Golden Gloves stars, and he realized what he was missing. He returned at 16. Within a year, he was talking about turning pro.

George Peterson was the only man in Aiken doing much with pros. Owner of an insurance company and 26 rental houses, Peterson had a long background in boxing, much of it in Washington, D.C., where he trained former welterweight contender Johnny Gant (who lost a 1975 title shot against Angel Espada) before moving to Aiken in ’77. Peterson took a long respite from boxing before starting a gym in Aiken in ’90. In ’00, he surreptitiously taped a telephone conversation with an estranged fighter in which Thomas Williams admitted a fight-fixing scheme with promoter Bobby Mitchell. Peterson turned over the tape to the FBI, leading to convictions and prison time when the fighter and promoter were convicted four years later on conspiracy and sports-bribery charges.

In early-’99, just before Paul Williams turned 18, he met his future manager-trainer at Final Round Gym, which Peterson operates out of a five-store strip mall he owns in Aiken.

Both men call it a father-son relationship. Peterson, 67, expresses as much concern for Williams outside the ring as in it. Moreover, Williams has adopted his mentor’s real-estate entrepreneurialism. After buying a new home, Williams bought a four-unit apartment complex behind a shopping center in south Aiken, “the rich part of town.” He owns both free and clear, and said he plans to buy another four-unit complex, adjacent to the first, with his next payday. He calls his growing real-estate acumen “my greatest achievement.”

Peterson took Williams wherever they had to go for work. In Washington, D.C., Williams sparred with the likes of William Joppy, Robert Allen, O’Neil Bell, Teddy Reid, and Travis Simms from as young as 19, back when no rival managers or promoters were interested in him. That changed too.

“Paul has been a dream, as far as being loyal, because he has had people come to him all the time,” Peterson said. “He’s had business people give him the sales pitch. He’s had trainers come after him, without my knowledge. It’s all about loyalty. This young man closed his ears on all of that and decided that we started this thing together, we have a bond, and we were going all the way. It seldom happens, but I’ve met a few real people in boxing, just a few. But this young man is one. And whenever someone says something to him, he comes straight to me.”

Williams said he frequently is told he needs to hire a big-name trainer to sharpen his skills. He refuses to consider it. Peterson has been there the entire way, after all, while Williams was beating the likes of Margarito and Sharmba Mitchell. And then there are the times they spend together away from boxing, working on maintenance at rental properties or just driving around Aiken. Williams’ nickname, “The Punisher,” was devised while he and Peterson were dining at a local Waffle House. That intimacy, he could not share with any other trainer.

“We have that loyalty and trust,” Williams said. “He took a chance on me and I took a chance on him. There’s a bond, you know what I’m saying? It’s not about boxing all the time. It’s about life. He wanted me to see what he’s achieved, and what he’s got, so I could exceed everything he has done. He’s about his business and, with me being around him that made me get on my business. I wanted to get property and have stuff of my own, so when I quit boxing, I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to get my next paycheck. So I’ve already got that intact. I think I’m doing pretty good.”

Both men dismiss the notion that a big-time trainer is always the panacea for improving a ready-made fighter.

Said Williams, “To me, a good trainer is a guy like Mr. Peterson, who took me from Day One, when I had no pro experience at all, and he raised me and taught me the boxing game, to become 36-1 and a two-time world champion. That’s a great trainer to me.”

Said Peterson, “How many of these big-time trainers took guys from the incubator and turned them into champions? How many of those guys have started a fighter from Day One and made a champion out of him? Oh, boy, you start Xing those guys out, and there aren’t too many big-time trainers out there.”

Williams lives in North Augusta, South Carolina, just across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia, but his heart lives in nearby Aiken, a city of 29,000 where his favorite activitiesÔÇöother than hanging out with his children, five-year-old Paul Jr. and three-year-old Jecoria, who live with his motherÔÇöare stopping at the firing range to shoot one of his half-dozen weapons, including a Glock .40 handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, then consuming 20 chicken wings at Wing-Stop.

Williams never got Floyd Mayweather into the ring, but, as if to illustrate the absurdity of his matchmaking difficulties, one fellow Aiken native did: Paul “Big Show” Wight, Mayweather’s opponent at WrestleMania XXIV.

Dan Goossen said the lengths taken by his rival promoters to avoid Williams are something he never has experienced, and then ticked off the list of potential opponents he said he has pursued, unsuccessfully, since Williams-Quintana II. It includes Margarito, Pavlik, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Carlos Baldomir, Joshua Clottey, Luis Collazo, Sergio Mora, and Michael Jennings.

“I’ve never seen Bob Arum and Don King, in all my years I’ve been going toe-to-toe with them in the promotional business, avoid someone like this,” Goossen said. “I called Richard Schaefer about Shane Mosley, before Mosley beat Ricardo Mayorga, and Richard said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ I haven’t gotten that call yet. And what makes it hilarious are the responses I get. It’s always, ‘Are you crazy?’ or, ‘Are you serious?’ or, ‘Do you think I’m nuts?’ It never gets to money.”

Goossen publicly offered $4-million or 50 percent of the revenue, whichever Margarito preferred, to make Williams-Margarito II. When that didn’t fly, Goossen said Arum never offered more than his initial tender of $1.5-million to Williams for a fight against Pavlik. Williams’ team learned negotiations had collapsed, by reading on the Internet that Pavlik-Hopkins had been finalized.

Goossen rails against perceptions that Margarito is the best welterweight in the world: “It drives me nuts that there are certain reporters, certain announcers, who are sitting there with tunnel vision,” while most marketable opponents shy away from facing a welterweight with an 82-inch reach, one inch longer than Wladimir Klitschko’s.

“I’ve never seen anyone, in my entire promotional career, as avoided as Paul Williams,” Goossen said. “It will change. We’ll do it by opening up the pool of fighters. If Paul stays at 147, that limits us to the same pool of fighters. But if he’s fighting at 147, 154, 160, and even 168, simultaneously, we’ll have a bigger pool of fighters to choose from. The money is there. It’s just going to take using a pool of opponents from all four weight divisions.”

Williams may be the man without a weight division, fighting primarily in a class where he already defeated the dominant force, but if welterweight supremacy eludes him, he’ll just keep looking by the side of the road. You never know when you might get lucky.

David Mayo covers boxing for the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press and is a regular contributor to THE RING.

Homepage photo of Paul Williams courtesy Hoganphotos.com.

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