NEW YORK -- Paul Williams is making a comeback.
Mario Lemieux made a comeback when he returned to hockey in 2000 after a three-year battle with lymphoma. George Foreman made a comeback when he came back to boxing after a 10-year absence in 1987.
Williams? He's just back.
This is the problem with boxing today, where a single loss has the public impact of 20. Last November, Williams got caught with clean overhand left from Sergio Martinez that turned out the lights. He wasn't wheeled out in a stretcher; an hour later he was on a dais asking for a rematch.
To many, however, it was a sign of weakness. To many, that one punch from Martinez erased the following:
• The fact that in 2007, when no one wanted to fight Antonio Margarito, Williams punished Margarito over 12 rounds to claim his first major title.
• The fact that with every 147-pounder avoiding him, Williams moved all the way up to middleweight and wiped out former unified champion Winky Wright in his second fight at the 160-pound limit.
• The fact that when Kelly Pavlik pulled out of a scheduled 2009 middleweight title fight, Williams quickly accepted Martinez as a replacement and beat Martinez in an entertaining, back-and-forth slugfest.
Here's the question: Why?
Did one loss tarnish Sugar Ray Robinson's reputation? Better yet, do the 19 Robinson has on his resume? Does Muhammad Ali's five losses make "The Greatest" any less great?
Of course not.
Williams (39-2, 27 KOs) is not in the Robinson or Ali's class but the standard should be the same. Losses are a part of boxing, particularly for the rare fighter who accepts any and all challenges.
"I have never been in a comeback fight," Williams said. "None of that talk would get under my skin. I never let anything like that worry me. To me it's just another fight. Some of the top guys out there, like Manny Pacquiao, he lost a couple times. He didn't have a comeback fight. He just comes back and fights. This is what we do. Guys that do have comeback fights, they are guys that don't know themselves or what they are doing."
Williams will get his first chance to erase the memory of the Martinez fight on Saturday, when he takes on Erislandy Lara (15-0-1, 10 KOs) in a junior middleweight bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City (10:15 p.m. ET, HBO). There won't be a new game plan. There won't be a new style or any flashy new techniques.
"Why would we do that?" asked Williams' trainer George Peterson. "He lost a fight. He didn't lose his talent."
Indeed. Williams says he will be the same high-pressure, volume-punching fighter he has always been. He says he is refreshed from the much-needed vacation Peterson sent him on following the Martinez fight. He says he didn't dwell on the loss to Martinez after the fight -- he was busy hitting the blackjack tables -- and the memory won't be with him in the ring. He says he is eager to show the world that his chin is fine, his skills are still there and any fighter thinking of cherry-picking a wounded Paul Williams for his next opponent better think twice.
That includes Martinez. Williams says he wants a third fight. Peterson says he wanted the third fight to be this fight. There's no question there will be big public interest -- and big money -- in a rubber match between two entertaining guys who have already gone to war twice. And if it happens -- early 2012 seems like a safe bet -- they will be on equal ground.
Martinez has two losses too, remember?