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5 reasons Martinez isn’t a gimmie for Williams

03
Dec

Paul Williams (right) hasn't fought since he outclassed Winky Wright in April. Will he be rusty against Sergio Martinez on Saturday in Atlantic City. N.J.? Photo / Ray Kasprowicz-FightWireImages.com

In the current pound-for-pound rankings listed on this site, Paul Williams is No. 10 in the world. The rankings only go 10 names deep, so Sergio Martinez isn’t listed. But in the hot-off-the-presses January 2010 issue of THE RING magazine, those P-4-P rankings are extended an extra 90 spots for the annual “RING 100,” and Martinez’s name can be found way back in the pack at No. 71.

One could reasonably suggest that maybe the ranking is a touch low. Perhaps the Argentina-born, Spain-based “Maravilla” deserves to be higher – somewhere in the 50s or 60s or, if you’re really a fanatical Martinez supporter, in the 40s. Whatever the case, whether he’s the 45th best fighter on the planet, the 71st or somewhere in between, we should all be able to agree that Williams is a better pugilist than Martinez is.

But sometimes the simple matter of who’s better doesn’t determine the outcome in boxing. That’s why we see upsets – and we’re not talking about the kind that occur when we misjudge the quality of the fighters. True upsets occur when style and circumstance conspire to allow the superior fighter to lose. Think Randy Turpin-Ray Robinson I. Turpin had an awkward style and Sugar Ray had reached the point where “roadwork” meant walking from one European nightclub to another.



This Saturday night’s fight in Atlantic City, N.J., between Williams and Martinez, pitting a Top-10 pound-for-pound fighter (arguably even a top-fiver) against a guy who’s nowhere within earshot of the P-4-P conversation, has true upset potential. That’s not necessarily a bold prediction that Martinez will win, but it’s a statement that danger is lurking for “The Punisher.” Here are five reasons the Williams bandwagon might lose a few passengers on Sunday morning:

1. Martinez is a rich man’s Carlos Quintana.

Williams’ lone loss came in February of last year against Quintana, a crafty veteran southpaw who deftly moved in and out of the 6-foot-1 Williams’ range, scored with a variety of punches round after round and won a close, but clear-cut decision. In the rematch, Williams blew Quintana out in one round, leading us to draw any number of conclusions (he figured Quintana out, he had an off-night the first time, he simply caught Quintana cold the second time). What we know for sure is this: The first time around, Quintana’s style caused major problems. And Martinez is a crafty veteran southpaw who’s similar to Quintana, except his hands are faster and he’s more awkward. He’s basically Quintana, only better.

Martinez is excellent at gauging distance, getting in and out and using his hand speed to get off quickly. That hand speed will be key, because Quintana’s speed gave Williams all sorts of trouble, and Martinez is definitely superior to the Puerto Rican in that department. Martinez is also quite capable of thinking in the ring and adjusting. His jab isn’t heavy, but it’s pesky and will likely keep Williams from getting comfortable. And speaking of making Williams uncomfortable, Quintana used lateral movement to do precisely that, and Maravilla is similarly fleet of foot.

Some of Williams’ technical deficiencies became abundantly clear in the first Quintana fight. He tends to stand up tall and straight, often directly in line for a southpaw’s left hand. He sometimes reaches from too far away with his punches – something you wouldn’t think a guy with an 82-inch wing span would ever be accused of – and after he misses, he ducks and leaves himself exposed. And particularly after he fell behind against Quintana and knew he needed to make something happen, Williams had his mind on offense and left his chin available.

Highly respected trainer Naazim Richardson, who coaches the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Steve Cunningham, is among those who puts more stock in what happened in Quintana-Williams I than what went down in Williams-Quintana II.

“Williams has problems with southpaws,” Richardson stated bluntly. “In the second fight, he caught Quintana with something, so there’s no proof that he solved that puzzle. He just caught him with a shot early. That can happen anytime, anywhere. So I’m not sure if he actually answered the problems.”

Of course, there’s an important flip side to all of this: Williams is a southpaw himself, has a heavyweight’s reach, can throw 100 punches a round and has above-average one-punch power. He’s unlike anything Martinez has ever seen. He’s rated on everyone’s P-4-P list for a reason. For his handful of flaws, he has a dozen fistfuls of strengths. And Martinez has flaws himself – such as his tendency to hold his hands down by his waist at times.

Williams is rightfully favored (at most online betting sites, you can get about 4-1 odds on Martinez). But the Quintana parallels are undeniable – and Team Williams is so acutely aware of it, they hired Quintana as a sparring partner. Williams-Quintana II looked nothing like Quintana-Williams I. But maybe this fight against Martinez will.

2. Williams is in danger of an emotional letdown from the Kelly Pavlik fight falling through.

It’s not easy for an athlete to treat every contest like it’s the Super Bowl. You just can’t stay that amped up day after day, year after year. So you sometimes produce a serviceable performance instead of a superlative one. Over the course of a 162-game baseball season, that’s easily forgiven. When you box two or three times a year, it’s imperative that you avoid those subpar nights. But sometimes the circumstances make them difficult to avoid, and certainly we’d all understand if Williams looks flat against Martinez, given who he thought he was going to be facing on Saturday.

The Punisher was expecting to challenge Pavlik for the world middleweight championship, until the champ’s physical ailments forced the fight’s second postponement in just a couple of months. So Williams booked a replacement fight. He found the most attractive opponent he could. But Martinez is not Pavlik. This is not what Williams had in mind. He’s now fighting in a smaller room at Boardwalk Hall. He now faces the pressure of being the “A”-side. And before he even steps into the ring, he’s already lost – he’s lost the opportunity to win a true world championship and he’s lost the opportunity to become one of the biggest stars in boxing overnight.

Maybe Williams is made of stern stuff and isn’t susceptible to a major letdown on Saturday, but certainly the way this fight came about will put his emotional fortitude to the test.

3. This fight means everything to Martinez.

You could really call this one “2a,” since it’s connected to the potential-letdown issue explained above. Williams had his Super Bowl in his grasp and then had it taken away. This is Martinez’s Super Bowl.

“Martinez is mentally where Williams was when he was getting ready for Pavlik,” Richardson said. “Martinez will be hungry. Williams and his team need to get hungry too, because a loss to Martinez puts him in a bad position.”

Martinez is 34 years old, hasn’t yet broken through to the major money and has everything on the line here. If he wins, he’s a front-line star of the sport, probably the most attractive challenger for Pavlik’s title. If he loses, he remains somewhere between the ESPN2 circuit and the Boxing After Dark co-feature realm. Needless to say, Martinez won’t be taking this opportunity lightly.

4. Williams is returning from the longest layoff of his pro career.

Williams is something of a rhythm fighter and he’s best when he’s busy, fighting every two to four months. It’s not his fault the Pavlik fight was postponed twice, but the reality is that it’s been eight months since he defeated Winky Wright. The last time he had a layoff nearly this long: leading into the Quintana defeat, when he went seven months without entering the ring.

It should be noted that Martinez has been inactive even longer: 10 months. But the Argentine doesn’t have a career-worst performance after a long layoff to point to. So we don’t know what conclusions to draw for him. All we know for sure is that Williams recently had a lousy night in the ring when he had some rust to shake off, and the rust could be there again on Saturday night.

5. Williams could be reaching the point where he starts believing his own press clippings.

It’s only natural that when you’re on every pound-for-pound list and your promoter can’t say your name without uttering the phrase “most avoided man in boxing,” you start to think you’re something special. In Williams’ case, he very well might be something special. But it can be dangerous for a fighter to believe he’s headed for the Hall of Fame before he’s built up a Hall of Fame resume, because he can either start relying too heavily on his physical talent or he can stop coming into the ring with a Plan B.

In Williams’ case, his cockiness sometimes manifests itself in the form of him fighting the wrong fight because he presumes (correctly, most of the time) that he can win even if he gets away from what he does best.

“I know Paul Williams loves to fight,” Richardson said. “As tall as he is, he loves to fight. He has all the attributes to be a boxer, but he doesn’t box that way. It’s kind of like what Michael Carbajal was. Carbajal was built to be a boxer, but he just liked to fight too much.”

For the fans, it will be a wonderful thing if Williams decides he’s invincible and tries to go toe to toe with Martinez all night. But that approach might give Martinez just the openings he needs to spring the upset.

Several style points and several circumstances are already tilted in Martinez’s favor. The last thing Williams wants to do is open the door to the upset any wider.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó I wasn’t sure at first how to feel about Lucian Bute coming to the ring to the opening lyrics, “I want to run, I want to hide.” By the end of his destruction of Librado Andrade, he could have exited to “I Touch Myself” and I wouldn’t have passed judgment.

ÔÇó I still love Showtime’s Super Six tournament, but I’m sorry to say Bute has made it extremely difficult for the winner to emerge as the only man with a claim to super middleweight supremacy. (Unless, of course, Jermain Taylor drops out and Showtime can convince Bute to drop in.)

ÔÇó I’m not sure who was more off-base: the two judges who had Ali Funeka-Joan Guzman a draw, or me predicting a one-sided win for Guzman.

ÔÇó Please tell me Evander Holyfield-Frans Botha isn’t a real fight, but rather a topic of discussion on VH1’s I Love The ’90s.

ÔÇó Is it just me, or are John Molina and Joe Goossen turning into one of those couples who look the same?

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]