Paul Williams has been one of boxing's most avoided opponents, but the towering southpaw met an unfazed foe Saturday night who likewise was itching for a fight.
The result was an action-packed, nonstop-punching thriller at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall as Williams survived a valiant upset bid by Sergio Martinez to win a 12-round majority decision.
Showing why they're considered two of the world's best junior middleweights, Williams and Martinez moved up a few pounds to meet in the middleweight non-title bout, and it didn't take long before they started connecting.
Both fighters scored knockdowns in the first round to set the tone for an ebb-and-flow donnybrook that ended with judge Julie Lederman calling the fight even 114-114 while judges Lynne Carter 115-113 and Pierre Benoist 119-110 both gave the nod to Williams.
"It was a good fight, a war,'' said Williams, who spent most of the bout nursing a profusely-bleeding cut over his left eye that was opened by a combination of punches and an apparent head butt.
"This fight wasn't easy, but I wasn't trying to box him,'' Williams said. "I wanted to make it a war."
Williams (38-1, 28 KOs) landed a left to the temple that dropped Martinez in the first round, but the 6-foot-1 slugger from Aiken, S.C. found himself on the seat of his pants moments later when Martinez unloaded a hard right to the jaw.
"He stunned me, like I stunned him, but I had to show him what a warrior is made of," Williams said. "I had to show him what a true champion is."
Martinez (44-2-2, 24 KOs) made a good account of himself by landing right hands that found their mark quicker than Williams' defense could react.
In turn, Williams used punishing left hands and a furious pace to dictate his offensive assault as Martinez was barely able to stand late in the fight because of fatigue. "It was a great opportunity,'' said Martinez, an Argentina native who fights out of Oxnard, Calif. "I had the most feared fighter in the world in front of me but I had no fear whatsoever."
Martinez was gracious in assessing the one judge's lopsided score that had Williams winning by eight points, calling it simply "a true error," while one of his handlers described it as "a travesty."
Both fighters said they would welcome a rematch. "Of course, he's a great fighter,'' Martinez said. "If they want to do it again, I'm all for it,'' said Williams.
In the co-featured fight, America's top heavyweight prospect Chris Arreola lifted his record to 28-1 with his 25th knockout, a TKO at 2:40 of the fourth round against undersized Brian Minto.
Arreola was eager to get back in the ring after suffering his first defeat just 10 weeks ago at the hands of heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko. The Riverside, Calif. native made good on his vow of a triumphant return despite a game effort from Minto.
"It was a great fight,'' said Arreola, who knocked down Minto twice in the fourth round before Eddie Cotton stepped in to end the scheduled 10-rounder.
"I take my hat off to Brian Minto. He's a tough (expletive deleted). I hurt my hand on his head."
Minto (34-3, 21 KOs) was sent to the floor on his hands and knees by Arreola's right hand early in the fourth round, but the Butler, Pa. fighter struggled to his feet and came up swinging. With both fighters trading wicked punches, Arreola's size and two-fisted power eventually proved too much as Minto was in no condition to continue after the second knockdown.
Having rebounded from his loss by 10th-round KO against Klitschko, Arreola, 28, is looking to get back in the mix for another title shot.
"I hope I sent a good message that I'm still a man to be reckoned with,'' Arreola said. "Regardless of my previous loss, I'm still a top-five heavyweight. I want to fight again as soon as possible."