EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --- Kelly Pavlik can't seem to get any respect, despite spending two years reigning over the middleweight division. Paul Williams gets so much that nobody is willing to step in the ring with him.
Good thing they have each other.
The humble pride of Youngstown, Ohio, will try to defend his WBO and WBC titles against Aiken's Williams on Dec. 5 at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in a fight originally scheduled for October before a staph infection on Pavlik's left hand flared up.
It took two operations, but Pavlik said Tuesday that his hand is feeling better. It's his pride that is still bruised.
"I still have a lot to prove," Pavlik said in a meeting room at the New York Giants' practice facility, where the fight was officially announced. "Even after the Williams fight, a dominant performance, there still would be a lot to prove."
Pavlik is routinely lampooned for sticking with hometown trainer Jack Loew, rather than finding someone with a bigger reputation, and for refusing to leave Youngstown for camp. Two underwhelming title defenses against Marco Antonio Rubio and Gary Lockett left many fans unsatisfied, and Pavlik was beaten soundly by Bernard Hopkins.
The unassuming 27-year-old champion is generous to a fault, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He chats with fans and answers questions with candid honesty.
Then he turns around to find himself defending everything he's accomplished.
"Critics come in boxing all the time, no matter what you do," Pavlik said, leaning forward and sounding exasperated.
"If I go in there and dominate Williams, people will probably say he's a welterweight, blown-up junior middleweight, blown-up middleweight."
The bout came together after months of negotiations, then weathered the postponement caused by Pavlik's infection.
Williams (37-1, 27 KOs) was hoping to fight before December and his promoter, Dan Goossen, considered other options. Then he ran into the same problem that has been hampering Williams for the past several years: Nobody wants to fight him.
"We're coming up out of necessity, but that's part of Paul's attraction to the fans is that he's willing to take anyone on," Goossen said. "You never like to give up any advantages, but Paul just has that extraordinary talent that overcomes any advantages someone may have from a weight position. We're not concerned, but you always like to fight in your own weight division."
Like Pavlik, Williams is a lanky fighter with surprising power in both hands. He's also incredibly versatile, winning WBO belts at 147 and 154 pounds.
Williams was impressive his last time out, winning a stunningly one-sided decision over former junior middleweight champion Winky Wright. Before that, the left-hander beat Antonio Margarito and Verno Phillips, and avenged his only loss to Carlos Quintana.
"This is going to be a real big fight. A lot of people are asking, 'How are you going to stand up to Pavlik's power?' " Williams said. "I'm going to do what I do best. I'm going to make an exciting fight for the fans, and an exciting fight for me."
Winning the 160-pound title would give Williams carte blanche to begin picking opponents, a luxury that he's never had.
"We had the first taste of it with Margarito. We tried to get any other welterweight in the ring, we just couldn't drag any of them in," Goossen said.
"A win over Pavlik cements his position in the middleweight division."
WHO: Kelly Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) vs. Paul Williams (37-1, 27 KOs)
WHEN: Dec. 5
WHERE: Atlantic City
WHAT'S AT STAKE: Pavlik's WBO and WBC titles