A last-minute change to the fight card hasn't made Paul Williams' job any easier.
You could call it a marriage of necessity. After Paul Williams defeated Winky Wright in April, it looked like"The Punisher's" best chance at getting another fight was picking one on the street. Likewise, his next opponent, Sergio Martinez, might as well be wearing a sign around his neck that reads "DANGER — KEEP AWAY," the way most boxers keep their distance from the fast and tricky lefthander.
The result has been a long stretch of inactivity for both fighters. Williams last fought almost eight months ago, while Martinez has been parked on the bench since February. On December 5th, the two much-avoided fighters will face off against each other.
On the surface, it might look like Martinez, who's been campaigning at junior middleweight, will be at a disadvantage because this fight will take place at 160 pounds. But while size is always a talking point when facing Williams, it shouldn't be all that big a factor here. Williams at 6'1" is just two inches taller than Martinez, and while his freaky reach of 82 inches is formidable, Martinez's wing span of 76 inches is nothing to sneeze at.
Williams can still make 147 pounds and regularly walks around at about 160 between fights. For his only two bouts at middleweight, Williams checked in at 157 on the scales, and is not expected to gain much weight overnight. If Martinez's February fight with Kermit Cintron is any indicator, he might actually enter the ring weighing more than Williams. Martinez tipped the scale at 153 for Cintron, but walked into the ring unofficially at 164.
The real edge in this bout will go to the fighter who is able to impose his will and style. Williams (37-1, 27 KOs) is a high-volume puncher and aggressive fighter who regularly throws 100 punches a round. Martinez (44-1-2, 24 KOs) is the boxing equivalent of an NBA motion offense. He's constantly dodging and attacking from different angles. The challenge for Williams will be to cut off the ring; for Martinez, he's going to have deal with all those punches flying his way and still remain on his game. If you think that's an easy task, ask Winky Wright.
In an interview last month, Wright described how it felt standing up to Williams' onslaught: "Paul is 6-foot-2 and has arms like a giant. And he throws a billion punches a round…From the early rounds I said, 'Let me just work him, try to make him get tired'…But he just kept throwing punches, kept throwing punches, kept throwing punches." Stats bear Wright out: In round one, Williams unleashed 104 punches; in the twelfth, 106.
But as difficult as it is to fight Williams, he can be beaten. It is intriguing that the one man to do so, Carlos Quintana, is a carbon copy of Martinez. Like Martinez, Quintana constantly moves, circles and shows fresh angles. In their 2008 fight, Williams couldn't find an answer for Quintana and consequently dropped a close but unanimous decision. Williams simply said, "I just had an off-night." But Quintana had a lot to do with that. His offensive style helped limit Williams to just an average of 50 punches or so a round, half his normal output. Williams obviously learned a thing or two about the elusive Quintana before knocking him out in the first round of their rematch. However, that first defeat for Williams left a lasting impression on his trainer, George Peterson.
"The man can take a punch," Winky Wright says of Williams. "I hit him with some good shots. You got to take your hat off to a guy when he does that."
When the right-handed Kelly Pavlik scratched out of the fight and Martinez replaced him, Peterson got on the horn to find a southpaw sparring partner who could imitate Martinez's style. He hired Quintana.
Like Williams, Martinez has lost only once—a seventh round TKO by Antonio Margarito in February of 2000. What Margarito did to neutralize Martinez's speed was to constantly come forward and cut off the ring, frequently trapping him on the ropes. But Martinez is quick to point out that that was 29 fights ago. "I have matured a lot since my fight with Margarito," Martinez says. "It has been almost 10 years, and I've changed a lot."
Despite those changes, Martinez may still have a hard time keeping Williams from doing what Margarito did. The lanky Williams has long legs to go along with his out-sized arms, which means he has longer strides than the average fighter and requires fewer steps to cut off the ring.
Even when Williams doesn't trap Martinez, he's still capable of tagging him because of his reach. Martinez's speed and movement keeps fighters from getting close enough to hit him, but as Wright learned, Williams doesn't have to be all that near to whack you. "He threw a lot of punches and they were coming from so long a distance you can't really counter them," Wright says.
There's also a potential flaw in Martinez's game which could work to Williams' advantage. While Martinez can go to the body, the majority of the time he's a headhunter, lunging in to bounce quick combos off an opponent's face before slipping away. That style didn't work with Margarito, who has one of the best chins in boxing, and could be a losing strategy against Williams, too.
Williams knows his chin can stand up to far stronger punchers than Martinez because Peterson frequently brings in top-ranked cruiserweights and heavyweights to spar with him. None of the bigger men have been able to put Williams down, Peterson says, which has built up his fighter's confidence. In 38 career fights Williams has yet to taste canvas. "The man can take a punch," Wright says. "I hit him with some good shots. You got to take your hat off to a guy when he does that."
Some hat tipping will be due for the winner of this fight, but whoever it is will find out that sometimes you can lose by winning. Unlike Manny Pacquiao, who has boxers lining up around the block to face him, the victor here might have to send out a search party for his next opponent. Who's going to want to fight the man who beat the man no one wanted to fight?