Friday October 1st, 2010

NEW YORK -- At 6-foot-2 and with the ability to slim down to 147 pounds, Paul Williams is a freakishly built fighter. He throws so many punches -- like the 1,086 he unleashed in a one-sided win over Winky Wright in April 2009 -- that your own arms get tired from watching the effort. His lean frame doesn't suggest much power but it's deceptive, as 67.5 percent of his wins have ended in a knockout and he has finished his last two title fights with a KO.

Face it: Williams is pretty good.

He knows it, too. Last December, Williams eked out a majority decision over Sergio Martinez in a struggle that saw both fighters knocked down in the first round and both men battered and bruised by the final bell. Sitting at a table at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan recently, Williams talked about next month's rematch with Martinez like it was the second go-around between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

"This is the biggest fight out there except for [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao, and they're not fighting," Williams said. "So the next biggest one is me and Martinez. I am going to be in the best shape of my life like I always am, and I am going to win. I know there is a lot of stuff out there that he may have won and it was a close fight. I know it's my job to make sure everything is all right."

Confidence is good. Run down the list of all the greats -- Ali, Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard -- and you will find each brimming with it. The difference is, those fighters backed up their bragging with significant wins. To date, Williams's most impressive victories are against Martinez last year and Antonio Margarito in 2007.

It's not that Williams hasn't tried to make big fights. After beating Kermit Cintron last May, Williams began a full pursuit of Mayweather, Pacquiao and every other big name in boxing. Each of them passed. Williams' camp would like you to believe that his size and punching output scared them off. But it was more than that. Pacquiao is one of the most feared fighters in the sport, but there is a long line of opponents calling his name daily. Why? Because with Pacquiao's power comes a sold-out crowd and the promise of a seven-figure payday.

Williams doesn't bring close to that. His past three fights have been in California, Atlantic City, N.J., and Las Vegas. None of them have come close to selling out. Sure, HBO signed on to broadcast each fight. But if any of them had been put on pay-per-view, organizers would have been lucky to recoup the money it cost to turn on the lights.

What Williams needs more than anything are wins. Lots of them. Martinez, who is ranked No. 5 in SI.com's pound-for-pound rankings, is a good start. With his stunning win over Kelly Pavlik in April, Martinez established himself as the standard bearer in the middleweight division. When the two square off Nov. 20 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Martinez's WBC title will be on the line. A win by Williams would earn him a title in his third weight class.

"He's got something I want," Williams said. "He's got those belts. I want those belts. It's my job to go out there and get them."

Beating Martinez won't make Williams more appealing by itself but it would be a step in the right direction. There are other opponents who could push him even further in that direction. Pavlik, whom Williams was scheduled to fight last year before Pavlik pulled out with an injury, is still out there, as is German WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm. Taking on a recognized champion on his home turf would go a long way toward establishing Williams's credibility.

There are options at other weight classes, too. Junior middleweight champion Miguel Cotto is looking for an opponent for early next year. Same goes for welterweight champion Andre Berto. Shane Mosley, Sergei Dzinziruk and Yuri Foreman are other names Williams could consider.

Undoubtedly, Williams has the potential to be great. And at 29, he still has time to do it. But greatness is achieved in the ring, not on a dais, a lesson Williams seems unwilling or unable to learn.

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