Middleweight title, pound-for-pound status motivates Williams for Martinez rematch
Paul Williams, who has held two welterweight belts and one interim junior middleweight strap, wants the middleweight title held by Sergio Martinez, who he beat in one of the best fights of 2009 last December. The two southpaws will rematch at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Saturday. Photo / Emily Harney-Fightwireimages.com
The 12-round majority decision Paul Williams scored against Sergio Martinez last December was so hotly contested that all who witnessed the thriller agreed a return bout had to happen sometime in the new year.
It took months of on-and-off-again negotiations, but just when it seemed the rematch would go the way of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. superfight, one of the most-anticipated bouts of 2010 was made. Williams and Martinez are set to fight again this Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the site of their first bout.
Hardcore fans already frustrated by the sport’s inability to deliver Pacquiao-Mayweather were close to giving up on the rematch before it was finally agreed to on Sept. 20. But if you ask Williams, whose representatives were responsible for most of the negotiation stalls, the fight was never in jeopardy of not happening.
“I had to fight him again,” Williams told RingTV.com. “He got something I want. He stole something from me, and I have to get it back.”
Martinez did not directly take anything from Williams, of course. The giant former welterweight titleholder is talking about the middleweight championship of the world that Martinez claimed by out-pointing Kelly Pavlik in April.
In Williams’ mind, he should have claimed the title first. He had two scheduled bouts with Pavlik last year, but the troubled Ohioan withdrew from both fights because of a recurring staph infection in his left hand.
Williams, who won a bizarre four-round technical decision over Kermit Cintron in May, doesn’t believe Pavlik ever wanted to face him but he says he wasn’t upset that the man he beat in December received the opportunity to challenge the middleweight champ.
“I wasn’t mad at all at Martinez for getting the fight,” said Williams (39-1, 27 knockouts). “I was glad he was fighting Pavlik. I thought he would win, and then I knew I’d get a shot at those titles. I wasn’t ever going to get a fight with Pavlik. He didn’t want to fight me. He can say that he had to pull out because of a hand injury or whatever, but he fought two weeks after we were supposed to fight, so I knew what was up.”
The second time Pavlik pulled out, just two weeks before their scheduled Dec. 5 date, opened the door for Martinez to step in as a late substitute for the middleweight champ and what was widely viewed as walkover for Williams quickly turned into a fire fight.
The two southpaws traded knockdowns in the first round and fought at a frenzied pace, with many ebbs and flows in the action, until the final bell. Williams applied constant pressure and his usual high-volume offense while Martinez counter-punched effectively and landed the harder punches. The clash of styles made for a razor-thin fight-of-the-year candidate.
This time, Williams says he knows what to expect from Martinez, who surprised many observers with his punching power and willingness to trade, and has trained accordingly.
“My camp for this fight was nothing but southpaw sparring and a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “I’m definitely more prepared for Martinez this time. Last time I was training for a slow guy who stands right in front of you, and I wound up fighting the exact opposite.”
Martinez (45-2-2, 24 KOs) and his adviser Sampson Lewkowicz don’t buy the notion that Williams was ill-prepared for his style in the first fight. They point out that he had just as little time to prepare for Williams.
They also question Williams’ willingness to take the rematch and point to the long negotiation process as proof.
Talks for the fight began in June, but the two sides labored on for months, mostly because of the demands of Williams’ promoter, Dan Goossen, and adviser Al Haymon.
HBO, which aired the first bout and will televise Saturday’s rematch, was willing to cut a substantially bigger check to get Williams and Martinez back into the ring for a scheduled Oct. 2 date, but the fighters’ representatives quibbled over the split of the money, the weight at which the bout would be fought and the location, among other details.
The impasse between the camps was bad enough late in the summer for HBO to attempt to replace Williams with Alfredo Angulo. However, Angulo turned down a reported $750,000 offer to face Martinez, and negotiations with Williams resumed with a new fight date of Nov. 20.
Team Martinez, headed up by the Argentine veteran’s promoter, Lou DiBella, agreed to most of Goossen and Haymon’s demands, including a 157-pound catch weight rather than the middleweight limit of 160 pounds, which ultimately closed the deal.
However, Martinez, who barely made the WBC’s mandatory 30-day weigh-in limit by tipped the scales at 176 pounds four weeks ago, is not happy about the concession.
“I think, as a man and a fighter, he should be ashamed to ask to fight for a world title at a catch weight,” Martinez said through Lewkowicz at the final press conference on Wednesday. “I would never do that. I would allow the champion to weigh in at the division limit.”
Williams believes Martinez is making a mountain out of a molehill.
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” he said at the final press conference. “We’re both going to weigh more than 160 pounds on Saturday, anyway. I’m more of a junior middleweight than a middleweight. I feel comfortable at 157.”
Williams is also comfortable with Martinez and Lewkowicz’s criticism.
“I know everybody is saying all kinds of crazy stuff to hype the fight, but I really do all my talking in the ring,” he said. “I know Sergio is going to bring his ‘A’ game and so am I. It’s just going to be a hell of a fight on Saturday.”
Williams believes the winner of the fight will claim more than the middleweight title.
“The top two guys, pound for pound, are Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, but they’re not going to fight each other,” he said. “I’m No. 3 on most pound-for-pound lists, and Martinez is No. 4. So of course, whoever wins our fight should move up a place or two. That’s only fair, right?”
“I think Sergio and Paul are the third and fourth best fighters in the sport,” he said. “This fight firmly establishes who is third behind Pacquiao and Mayweather, and if given the chance against Nos. 1 or 2, I think [the winner of this fight] would beat either guy.
“My guess is that this fight will be another war. I don’t see either guy blowing the other out, but if one guy wins dominantly, I think he can beat his chest and say ‘I’m the best in the world until someone proves otherwise.'”
If Williams wins, he might value his pound-for-pound recognition more than the middleweight championship, as he’s non-committal about defending the 160-pound title. Williams says he will continue to look for major fights at junior middleweight and welterweight even as the reigning middleweight champ.
“Wherever the money floats is where I’ll float,” he said. “I’m a warrior and I love entertaining the fans but I fight for money. I fight to feed my family. I’m trying to put enough away so that I can be set once I retire. Any fighter who tells you that he isn’t fighting for money or to put food on his table is lying to you.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want to be the middleweight champ. I’m going to get those titles. If there’s a big name for me to fight at middleweight, I’ll stay at this weight and defend my titles, but if there are bigger names below me, that’s where I’ll go.”