Sunday February 10th, 2008

Nicknames should be apropos, shouldn't they?

In baseball, Pete Rose was known as Charlie Hustle for his willingness to play the game with reckless abandon. In hockey, Wayne Gretzky was called The Great One because, well, he was great.

Even in boxing, where hyperbole runs amok, there have been some deserved monikers. "Iron" Mike Tyson. "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler. Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns.

Paul "The Punisher" Williams? Eh....not so much.

The only punishing Williams (33-1) delivered in his welterweight title fight against Carlos Quintanta (25-1) on Saturday night was to the viewers, many of whom tuned in to see the man being hailed as "the most feared fighter in boxing" only to wind up watching a disinterested man underestimate a challenger in his first title defense.

For the better part of 12 rounds the 6-foot-1 Williams allowed the 5-9 Quintana to dictate the pace of the fight. Quintana landed far more punches than Williams (203-157) and was able to take the fight inside almost at will. Even in the final four rounds, when it appeared Quintana was tiring and Williams was beginning to find his range, Quintana still landed more shots than Williams (73-48) en route to a unanimous decision.

"He underestimated me," Quintana said. "This was a do-or-die thing for me and I proved it."

In the days and weeks leading up to the fight, the hype surrounding Williams was considerable. Last July, Williams humanized the feared Antonio Margarito when he outboxed the former welterweight champion to claim the WBO version of the title. In the months following his victory, Williams tried unsuccessfully to secure a big-money, high-profile fight against WBA champion Miguel Cotto. Instead, Williams was forced to settle for Quintana (and a $900,000 payout), who was two years removed from nearly retiring after sustaining a vicious beating at the hands of Cotto.

Did Williams overlook Quintana? His promoters and managers certainly did, and that overconfidence may have had a trickle-down effect. Before the fight the questions posed by reporters were not about how Williams would fare against Quintana, rather about who would be his next opponent. Names like Cotto, Kermit Cintron and Floyd Mayweather Jr. were bandied about and Williams' handlers delighted in painting their fighter as the Achilles of the division. Williams himself declared before the fight that he was "pretty sure" he would get a shot at unifying the titles later in the year and that "no welterweight is as hot as me." Rarely did Williams mention the merits of Quintana, a savvy, 31-year-old veteran who has been hovering around being considered a contender in the welterweight division for the last three years.

Once he stepped inside the ring, Williams was a different fighter than the one whose arms were in a state of perpetual motion against Margarito. Williams looked passive, nothing like the man who averaged 100 punches per round against Margarito. He showed that, despite a tremendous height advantage, he did not have the power to knock out a premier welterweight.

The future for Williams now becomes murky. A potential fight with Cotto that was rumored for later this year is likely off and Mayweather wouldn't even consider a fight with Williams if he did not hold a recognized title (and even then it would take a lot). Williams will probably be forced to climb back up the ladder, starting with a rematch against Quintana. For now, and in the immediate future, The Punisher will have to absorb some punishment.

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