If Sergio Martinez or Kelly Pavlik happen to look over their shoulders Saturday night, they might see Paul Williams waiting in the wings. To say the "Punisher" might be a reward for the victor is not necessarily accurate.
Williams will be ringside in Atlantic City on Saturday night to make his presence known and challenge whomever wins the two 160-pound world titles at stake.
Three weeks later, however, Williams will have to live up to his own end of the proposed bargain in California against another world champion.
The Aiken native will take on fellow former welterweight champ Kermit Cintron at 154 pounds May 8 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., with the only thing at stake in the HBO fight being a bigger piece of the pie in their upcoming options.
"The thing about boxing is you've got to win every fight," said George Peterson, Williams' trainer. "If you take a loss, it sort of drops you all the way back to the beginning and you've got to fight your way back up to contention. So every fight is really important and every win is like a pay raise."
A few years ago, Williams-Cintron would have been a title shot in its own right. Several times a match-up between the two has been all but set, only to fall through for various reasons. Neither plans to back down this time.
"We're going to bring the heat that night, so come wearing your tank tops," Williams said at the news conference announcing the bout.
While Cintron hopes to earn a crack at the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley winner, Williams knows from experience he has to look elsewhere. None of the marquee champs in the welterweight division are interested in getting in the ring with a fighter they fear has superior gifts at that size, so the Martinez-Pavlik winner is in his sights.
He was all set to take on Pavlik for his two middleweight belts in October, but Pavlik chickened out just weeks before the scheduled date, citing an injury. That forced Williams into a hasty decision to fight Martinez at 154 pounds.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Peterson said. "We'd been training for three months for Kelly Pavlik, who was a different kind of fighter. Real slow and right-handed. Three weeks before the fight, he pulls out and left us to prepare for a left-handed guy that's lightning-fast and moves. The complete opposite. Three weeks is not enough time to train for a champion. So we knew it was going to be tough."
It proved to be an epic 12-round battle. Williams won a majority decision, with one judge scoring it a draw while another favored Williams in all but one round. It got consideration for "fight of the year," and HBO showcased it among its year-end replay of top fights.
"That's not Paul's style of fighting, but the only way to beat that guy was to change our style and pressure the fight," Peterson said. "We knew we'd have major, major problems trying to outbox that guy. So you have to take that boxing ability away from him. When Paul fights his fight, he's so dominating. So whenever he's not dominating, they say he's lost it. But you can't dominate everybody."
Peterson expects Martinez to beat Pavlik on Saturday and set up a rematch with Williams at 160 pounds.
"If that be the case, we'll be right back where we want to be and fight Sergio Martinez for both titles," Peterson said.
Until then, Williams can't look past Cintron (32-2-1, 28 knockouts). A dangerous foe with significant knockout power, Cintron believes he can do the same to Williams based on what he saw from the Punisher's last fight against Martinez.
Williams -- in the midst of a two-month training camp that is half the duration of his usual preparation time -- is ready to give his growing legion of fans another show to talk about.
"For my fans that come out, they are going to be on pins and needles because they know they're going to get a knock-down, drag-out fight," he said. "And they love that. I love to fight. Either the guy's going to get me or I'm going to get him. May the best man win."
And may the best man Saturday night be willing to meet Williams for a title showdown this summer.
"It doesn't matter to us who we fight," Peterson said. "We're not like this new school of guys out there today who want to fight who they know they can beat. Paul wants a challenge in each and every situation. The more the person brings to the table, the more Paul gets up for his fights."