Lara, a Cuban defector and 2005 amateur world champion, was steamrolling his way to the top, having beaten all 15 of his opponents, including the last four by first round knockouts. Then he took on rugged Mexican fighter, John Molina, whom he was supposed to beat, but narrowly escaped with a draw. What was most surprising was the lackluster effort by the normally aggressive Cuban, who seemed content for long stretches to let his opponent dictate the pace. When both fighters' arms were raised at the end, suddenly Lara didn't look like the sure bet to be world champion so many predicted he'd be.
The 29-year-old Williams (39-2, 27 KOs) had already been a champion, but many wonder how he will come back from such a devastating knockout. Other fighters who have suffered similar losses were never the same. Williams, however, was apparently so unfazed by the defeat that he partied after the post-fight press conference.
"We went to a little meet-and-greet party, met with fans and signed autographs and then had fun in the casino," Williams says. That may have been surprising to some, but not to his trainer, George Peterson. "Paul just came to the realization that these kinds of things can happen and was ready to move on." Although Williams might have quickly forgotten the fateful second round blow last November, many others didn't, including Ring Magazine, which named the one-punch KO the 2010 "Knockout of the Year."
Williams was far less impressed with the shot heard around the boxing world. "That punch was like a Hail Mary pass a quarterback throws in football," Williams says. "He just caught me on the perfect spot on my head." Peterson also downplayed the punch. "Paul had been pressuring him real good, so in desperation he just threw that shot hoping it would land."
Not only is Williams getting right back on the bicycle, but will be fighting Lara (15-0-1, 10 KOs) in the same arena he got knocked out, Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. Unlike other top fighters who have suffered stunning defeats, Williams did not take an easy fight back. Lara, when he is on his game, is a handful. "Paul is a fighter, and it don't make no difference to him who he fights," Peterson says. "He's a throwback to the old-time champions who would fight anybody."
Like Williams, Lara certainly didn't take a gimme in his return to the ring. Going from Molina (18-4-2) to Williams is a huge step up, indicating his handlers still have great confidence in him. Ronnie Shields, who trains Lara, claims Williams had been ducking him and now sees him as safer fight. "We never hesitated to take this fight, not at all," Shields says. "The draw with Molina in which Lara didn't look as good as he was supposed to could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The only reason Williams' people took Lara was because he didn't look good. We had offered to fight him before, and he said no. Now all of a sudden he wants to fight him?"
Chances are very good Williams will not see the same Lara he did against Molina. Although Lara dismissed the draw in the post-fight press conference as "an off night," Shields says there was a more solid reason why he looked sluggish in the ring. "For that fight I had no chance to train him. He was supposed to come down [to Houston] for six weeks, and didn't. Instead he trained in Miami by himself. As a result he wasn't in the right shape and paid the consequences. This time we will have had eight weeks together, and he's been working hard with his conditioning coach, Edward Jackson, to get his stamina back up to where it's supposed to be.'
Prior to the Molina fight, Lara had looked like the total package. The heralded amateur, who would've been one of the favorites in the 2008 Olympics had he not defected, is an exciting fighter who works well behind a crisp jab, has excellent hand and foot speed and power to spare in both hands. He is also a strong counterpuncher, which might serve him well against the overly-aggressive Williams, who typically throws 100 punches a round. "We will use Williams' aggressiveness against him," Shields says.
Williams, on the other hand, will be a "tall" order for Lara. At 6'1" with a heavyweight's reach of 82 inches, Williams is much bigger than the 5'9" Lara. However, Williams generally gives up a lot of his height by leaning over and fighting up close, which negates the size of his arms and doesn't allow him to utilize his long, hard jab. Lara also has a flaw which could play to one of Williams' strength. When the Cuban has his back to the ropes, he tends to bring his gloves up high by his ears and leans forward, leaving him in perfect position for one of Williams' jarring uppercuts.
Williams says it doesn't matter what Lara has in his arsenal. When the going gets tough, Williams expects his experience under fire from top quality opponents like Antonio Margarito, Carlos Quintana, Kermit Cintron and Martinez will make the difference. "I'm going to go in there and do my thing," Williams says. "I ain't worried about him. I know you can't walk into the rain and not get wet. Now we'll see if he can get wet and weather the storm."