His 2009 brawl with Sergio Martinez was labeled the “Fight of the Year.”
His 2010 truncated rematch with Martinez was branded the “Knockout of the Year.”
His 2011 controversial decision over Erislandy Lara was dubbed the “Robbery of the Year.”
Now 2012, Aiken boxer Paul Williams returns to the ring Saturday night against modestly regarded Nobuhiro Ishida hoping to redefine the direction of his suddenly stuttering career.
“We’re in a much-needed position where we need to have Paul come back and show his greatness,” said George Peterson, Williams’ trainer. “Every great champion has gone through this and this is where we are.”
Williams (40-2) and Ishida (24-6-2, 9 KOs) meet Saturday night in Corpus Christi, Texas, in a scheduled 12-round bout that headlines on Showtime. It is hardly the kind of showcase fight that Williams has been craving ever since winning the first of three world titles in 2007 against Antonio Margarito.
Despite having beaten every boxer he’s ever faced (Williams split matches with Martinez and Carlos Quintana), there are growing doubts that Williams is the same “Punisher” who was considered the most feared and ducked boxer in three weight classes before he had his lights turned out with one blistering punch from Martinez 16 months ago.
Now lesser fighters are calling him out.
“I’ve already done more than a lot of those other fighters have done in their whole careers,” Williams said recently. “So now, I want to get a couple of more of them belts and go down in history. I’m basically looking at getting those big, legacy types of fights. ... I’m in the mind frame now that I want to get back in there and get right back on top of the ladder.”
Williams spoke similarly of trying to reestablish his “Punisher” reputation before last year’s comeback fight against Lara, a lightly regarded Cuban. His majority decision in Atlantic City was universally decried as a “travesty,” leading the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board to take rare action by suspending all three judges indefinitely over their scoring of the fight.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Williams said of the criticism. “As long as they’re talking about you you’re doing something good. Of course people who don’t know boxing will read what the commentators said and go on that. But they don’t count the body shots or who landed the most punches. They want to give it to the guy who landed maybe three big punches a round.”
Peterson believes observers were biased in favor of Lara and says if people watch the fight with the volume down they will “clearly” see how Williams prevailed. There is no argument that Williams threw more punches (1,047 to 530 according to CompuBox statistics), but Lara landed more (204 to 200), including some hard left hands at will.
“The winner was Paul Williams, constantly working the body for three whole minutes every round and not four or five punches a round that clearly landed,” said Peterson, calling Lara an “overly glorified amateur” who mostly ran away from Williams’ punishment instead of trying to finish him off.
The Williams camp hopes to steer the conversation in a new direction with a statement performance against Ishida, a Japanese right-hander with only modest credentials before he took on James Kirkland last April in what was supposed to be a tune-up for Kirkland’s title shot with Martinez.
Ishida shocked everyone by knocking down Kirkland three times in the first round to score a knockout. He registered another first-round knockout in November against debuting pro Edson Espinoza.
“I’m definitely going to do my thing and come out with an impressive win,” Williams said. “But I look at it as I’m the underdog. Me beating him, it’s like just another big win for me. Him beating me, it’s a big opportunity. My game plan is to go out there and show him I’m the better fighter.”
Peterson expects Williams to dominate and finish it in “eight rounds at the most,” then reestablish himself with perhaps two more fights before the year is out.
“Paul is ready this time and he’s going to show these (critics) that he hasn’t gone nowhere,” Peterson said. “He took some much-needed time off, but he’s back.”
If he makes the right statement in Texas, Williams hopes it will earn him the tie-break title shot with Martinez to avenge that “one-in-a-million punch” that haunts his reputation.
“He keeps putting us on the back burner going off that knockout shot,” Williams said. “Most people are saying he didn’t wind that shot up – he just threw it and I ran into it. Well, we both want a piece, let’s do it again.”