Former welterweight champion and fan favorite Paul “The Punisher” Williams will be returning to the ring as a trainer on March 25th in Miami, Oklahoma. Under normal circumstances, news of a fighter returning as a trainer does not usually warrant much attention, but after a motorcycle accident left Williams paralyzed from the waist down in 2012, his return to boxing is more than just news. Williams will be guiding Justin DeLoach, a 13-1 fighter from Augusta, Georgia, in an eight-round affair against Dillion Cook on ShoBox: The New Generation telecast.
“I’m scared all over again, like this is my first fight,” Williams said in a press release. “Now, I have to think about everything that (my former trainer and manager George Peterson) was thinking about when I was fighting. I have to try and teach Justin what I knew how to do.”
For those unfamiliar with Paul Williams, he was once regarded as boxing’s “most feared and avoided boxer”, having taken the label from its former holder Antonio Margarito, when he bested the Mexican in a 12-round decision win in 2007. After avenging his sole loss against Carlos Quintana, he vacated the welterweight division in search of tougher challenges, claiming that all the top names at 147 were avoiding him. Many analysts even speculated that Williams’s bizarre height and reach for the weight class (6’1’’ with a 71’’ reach) would have given fits to then champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But Williams found considerable success in his campaign north, shutting out the formidable Winky Wright and snatching back-to-back wins against Sergio Martinez and Kermit Cintron. A 2nd round KO loss in a Martinez rematch, however, quickly derailed the Williams express train. The fight following afterward only brought his legitimacy further into question as Williams edged by in a highly controversial majority decision win over Cuban contender Erislandy Lara; the decision was so controversial that the three judges scoring that night were suspended by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
In some ways, both the loss and controversial majority decision win actually worked in favor of Williams’s boxing career. Before, he was a high-risk opponent with little reward attached to his name, but after all that had happened at middleweight, he had made himself more known to the public, and also revealed a number of exploitable flaws. This prompted boxing’s bigger names to seek him out as an opponent, and resulted in him landing a multi-million dollar payday against the Mexican megastar Canelo Álvarez, a fight in which was scheduled for September of 2012.
That match would sadly never be realized, however, as Williams crashed his motorcycle on the way to his brother’s wedding, damaging a nerve in the spinal cord that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The accident occurred three months prior to the fight.
Though it’s been widely reported that Williams has had a fairly positive attitude in light of the situation, being paralyzed from the waist down obviously comes with its dark moments. For a couple years, Williams had still been hanging onto the hope that he would regain his ability to walk, and perhaps even one day box, but that prospect dwindles as more time passes. And having falling so short in his career-high payday, even thinking about the sport of boxing could conjure all sorts of feelings of regret and resentment. Stepping back into the ring next Friday is actually a huge act of bravery.
“You know me, I really didn’t want to do this, but finally after three or four years of George practically begging me to try and do it, this opportunity came along and I decided to give it a shot. Everything is about timing,” Said Williams. “I started thinking about it, George kept asking me and messing with me about it. One thing led to another, and I finally said I’d take a stab at it.”
His first pupil is certainly excited about the decision.
“Me and Paul, we’ve known each other our whole lives,’’ DeLoach said in a press release. “I’m from Augusta, Georgia and he was right across in Aiken. We knew each other when I was coming up as an amateur. He came to my last pro fight that was in San Antonio. When I saw him, I got so excited. We started to talk and I said something like, ‘Hey, Paul, wouldn’t it be cool if we got together?’ It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to work with one of my favorite fighters.”
It would have been interesting to have Williams in the mix of today’s middleweights. Matchups against Gennady Golovkin or Canelo Álvarez would be worth watching and I would have given a chance at Williams winning either one of those matchups given his awkward dimensions. He was lanky, tall, and oddly fought well on the inside, though he also probably shouldn’t have. Williams began taking more punishment as his career wore on and began developing a noticeable slur in his speech towards the end of his career. He had barely turned 30.
I’d never go as far as to say that Williams’s motorcycle accident was a blessing in disguise, but there are perhaps silver linings present as they are with most situations. Unlike most fighters, Williams had invested his ring earnings wisely into a number of profit-generating real estate properties, and while missing the multi-million dollar payday against Álvarez was tragic, it did not determine whether Williams would be living life comfortably or as a destitute. This is to say that while there are a number of reasons to become and continuing being a prize-fighter, for Paul Williams, money was not necessarily one of them, and given the punishment he was taking late into his career, many in the fight community were suggesting he stop. At least now as a trainer, Williams can still be a part of the sport, and pass on his abilities to the next generation. With the way the sport is currently headed, having guys like Paul Williams to guide younger fighters is certainly a blessing.
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