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Too Good For Their Own Good

As two of boxing's most avoided fighters, Ronald "Winky" Wright and Paul "The Punisher" Williams were each having trouble finding a worthy foe. So they turned to each other and agreed to the best fight they could find.

It's hard to tell which southpaw feels more gratitude toward the other, but Wright and Williams sound equally ecstatic about their upcoming middleweight showdown April 11 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

The scheduled 12-rounder will headline an HBO World Championship Boxing doubleheader (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT) that also features the unbeaten rising heavyweight Chris Arreola (26-0, 23 KOs) in a scheduled 12-round bout against veteran contender Jameel McCline (39-9-3, 23 KOs).

"I want to thank Paul for stepping up and taking this fight,'' says Wright (51-4-1, 25 KOs), the former undisputed junior middleweight champion from St. Petersburg, Fla. "Nobody wants to fight either one of us, but true champions fight each other. When I fight, I want to fight somebody that also has a chance to beat me. Paul comes in and throws a lot of punches, so I'm looking for an exciting fight and I know he is, too."

Williams (36-1, 27 KOs) is a former two-time WBO welterweight champion and the reigning WBO interim junior middleweight champion. He's fighting at 160 pounds for just the second time in his career after stopping Andy Kolle on a first-round TKO last September in his middleweight debut. The move upward came only after Williams found no quality takers to fight in the weight classes in which he's won titles.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity Winky is giving me,'' says Williams, a native of Aiken, South Carolina who lives in Augusta, GA. "If I wasn't fighting him, I probably wouldn't be fighting anybody. I'm just happy for the opportunity to show my skills again."

Standing 6'1", Williams' long frame and 82-inch reach give him something of a freakish welterweight physique. But his slim body also lends itself to comfortably packing on more pounds, similar to how former great Tommy Hearns began his career as a 147-pound welterweight champion and was able to gradually move up and become a world champion at middleweight and light heavyweight.

Most welterweights aren't nearly as tall as Williams and few fighters are as skillful or punch as hard. Consequently, the best of the rest of the 147-pound division don't want any part of him.

"One of the reasons we're coming up to 160 is because the guys that should be fighting Paul at 147 obviously are looking to fight someone else,'' says Dan Goossen, Williams' promoter.

"Make no mistake about it, Paul could make 147 pounds today. We're giving up the weight to Winky to make a statement so that we don't have to call out anybody. And [with a win], Paul will be the man that everyone between 147 and 160 will have to come to."

Goossen points out that it took a lawsuit before Williams landed his first title shot against Antonio Margarito. After initially trying to get out of a signed agreement, Margarito was forced to honor the contract and Williams won a unanimous decision in July, 2007 to claim the WBO welterweight crown.

Since then, Williams has fought four times. Having grown weary of waiting for the likes of Miguel Cotto, Sugar Shane Mosley, Kermit Cintron and Margarito to step forward, Williams scored an eighth-round TKO against Verno Phillips last November to claim the WBO interim junior middleweight title.

That victory was Williams's third consecutive KO since he sustained the only setback of his career, when Carlos Quintana pulled off a stunning-upset unanimous decision to take his title in February 2008.

Attributing the loss to an off-night that he can't otherwise explain, Williams made the rematch no match by knocking out Quintana in the first round last July to regain the crown.

Still, his career path had largely stagnated until Wright stepped forward to provide a marquee opponent.

"I know how Paul feels because I've been going through the same kind of thing my whole career,'' Wright says. "It's always frustrating when you can't get a fight, especially when you see the best fighters in your weight class getting fights but they're avoiding you like the plague."

"You've got a young fighter like Paul with a lot of skills and he wants to prove himself too" he says. "It gives boxing hope when you've got a young fighter that takes chances and takes opportunities to better themselves. A lot of these young fighters won't take that chance, and that's why I give Paul credit."

At 37, Wright is 10 years older than Williams and he hasn't fought since July 2007, when he lost a unanimous decision against former middleweight great and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins at a catch weight of 170.

The nearly two-year layoff is the longest of Wright's career and though he's been constantly working out to stay in shape, one must wonder how the time away from the ring will affect him.

2009 04 11 Wright Williams overview

"I don't feel rusty,'' says Wright, who is noted for his defensive ability and sneaky-quick offensive style. "But gym work and fighting are two different things. We will see when we get in the fight. It has been a long time but, I feel good in the gym."

Williams expects his veteran opponent to be nothing less than on top of his game.

"You can't play into that ring-rust stuff and all that because Sugar Ray Leonard was off and he came back and beat Marvin Hagler,'' Williams says.

"I think Winky's been training while he was off, so in a way it's like he's been in training camp for two years. That's the way I look at it. I'm not going to go out there and say, 'OK, you know, he's rusty.' I'm just going to going to go out there and do my work and make him work."

Wright's biggest break came in 2004 when he decisioned Shane Mosley to become the undisputed junior middleweight champion and then won the rematch later that year. He then parlayed his leverage into landing a fight against Felix Trinidad and won a lopsided middleweight decision in May 2006 to send the Puerto Rican great back into retirement.

Following a draw against then-middleweight champion Jermain Taylor in June 2006, Wright expected to become a lot more active in his career after aligning himself with Golden Boy Promotions. But it hasn't worked out that way.

The alliance with Oscar De La Hoya's well-connected promotional company helped Wright get the fight with Hopkins, a Golden Boy vice president, but lining up other big-name opponents has been difficult through no fault of Wright's own. Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy, said he has scoured the rolls trying to find a big fight for Wright, naming Arthur Abraham, Vernon Forest, Mikkel Kessler and Taylor as some of the name opponents that turned him down.

"Winky Wright is really one of the easiest guys to work with,'' Schaefer says. "When Winky suddenly said, 'yes,' I think some of these names were surprised and they tried to find a way—and they did find a way—to weasel out. Suddenly, they're not available or they were scheduled to fight somebody already or one was injured or one was this or one was that, and they changed their mind and we just couldn't reach them anymore. A multitude of reasons."

Not that anyone can blame a potential opponent for avoiding Wright, whose .910 winning percentage is among the highest of any fighter with 15 years in the ring.

The fact is, guys aren't lining up to face a fighter with tricks like Wright any more than they're willing to risk their stature against the freakishly-built Williams.

In their search for quality opponents, both have almost been too skilled for their own good. But at this juncture of their careers and with nowhere else to go, Wright and Williams are looking just right for each other.

"I don't feel rusty,'' says Wright, who is noted for his defensive ability and sneaky-quick offensive style. "But gym work and fighting are two different things. We will see when we get in the fight. It has been a long time but, I feel good in the gym."

Posted 12:00 AM | Apr 6, 2009

Winky Wright vs Paul Williams

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