For Aiken boxing champion Paul Williams, all it took was one "boom" to turn out his lights last week in Atlantic City. That one hit has everyone wondering what's next for the three-time world champion.
"We'll be back," said George Peterson, Williams' longtime trainer. "And chances are we'll meet that young man again."
That not-so-young man was 35-year-old Sergio Martinez, who kept his pre-fight promise and his WBC middleweight crown with one shocking punch in the second round that knocked Williams out for the first time in his career.
The conclusion was as frightening as it was sudden. As Williams lay motionless on the canvas -- arms by side, eyes wide open -- the crowd was stunned into silence. Even after Williams got up and was interviewed in the ring, some of his fans were despondent.
"There were many, many tears shed in that auditorium," Peterson said. "But that's because they had Paul on such a high pedestal that they thought he was supernatural, he wasn't human. But they got to see that he is a human being like anyone else."
The fight of the year in 2009 became the knockout of the year in 2010. Less than one minute into the second round, Martinez delivered a left hook to Williams' chin that brought the rematch proceedings to a halt.
Williams fell face first to the canvas. Everyone in Atlantic City or watching on HBO knew it was over instantly. Martinez already had a toy crown on his head before the referee counted to 10.
"That punch would have knocked anyone out," said Lou DiBella, Martinez's promoter.
No question about that. The two fighters threw simultaneous left hooks, and Martinez's landed first and with perfect clarity on Williams' reputedly strong chin. The three-time world champion lost all motor control as he fell like a rag doll. Peterson said that his fighter never lost consciousness. But his lights were turned out nonetheless.
"His body's nerve system was short-circuited. Like a stun gun," Peterson said. "You're not out. You're conscious but your nerve system is shut down."
It's a moment boxing fans crave and boxers dread. Williams was coherent minutes later in the ring and just gave credit where it was due.
"It's the way the cookie crumbles," he said. "He just caught me with one I didn't see."
It's always the one you don't see that does the most damage. It has happened to the best of fighters -- Joe Louis, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones Jr., etc.
"There's such thing in boxing as getting caught," explained Peterson. "It's almost like a hole- in-one in golf. In football they got a Hail Mary. It seldom happens, but occasionally it does. That was one of those situations. Paul got caught. We're all familiar with that. It's nothing that you can prepare for in the gym because it's something that you never see until it happens."
Over the course of his career, Williams had developed a reputation for being invincible. His freakish size and endurance for his weight range made him the most avoided champion around. While critics have always questioned his penchant for leaving himself open, Williams had shown an ability to take almost any punch while dishing out more punishment than he ever sustained.
But no fighter is immune to a precisely delivered knockout punch.
"I tell all my boxers if you get hit in the right place at the right time, your light switch can be turned off," Peterson said.
What made this knockout stand out was the fact that the fight was just getting started and the boxers were so evenly matched. Their first meeting last December was a 12-round donnybrook that had the boxing community buzzing and ended in a majority decision in favor of Williams.
The rematch picked up right where it left off, with both fighters being aggressive. Ring commentator Emanuel Steward thought that Williams was fighting "the perfect fight" until the knockout came without warning.
So what exactly does the knockout mean to Williams' future and what did it claim from his legacy?
Not as much as some people were quick to judge. As violent as the knockout looked, Williams was signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans at a party 10 minutes after the post-fight press conference. The next day he was back in Augusta going out to dinner and a movie.
"Paul got up and wasn't overly upset about it because he knows he got caught," Peterson said. "He's still going to be considered a pound-for-pound fighter. He was fighting a champion, and you don't lose anything if you're fighting a champion than if you were fighting someone who didn't have that status."
It likely did cost him whatever remote chance there was of hooking up with welterweight icon Manny Pacquiao -- a possibility that was gaining some traction. Some have wondered if it makes "The Punisher" seem vulnerable enough to finally invite a challenge from champs who have been avoiding him -- Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito or even Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But more than likely, it could mean one more chapter in an engaging trilogy with Martinez.
"We're now 1-1," said Peterson of the Martinez ledger, though the knockout certainly tipped the sentiment toward the Argentinian. "We'll take some time off, regroup and then get back and decide from there. Our ultimate goal is to get back to that status."
Until then, we can only wonder what lingering toll that one hit might take when Williams gets back in the ring with the lights turned on.