ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – George Peterson has been involved in training fighters for around 60 years. And never in those 60 years, a period which dates back to the Truman administration, has Peterson had a more difficult time finding matches for one of his boxers than he has for Paul Williams.
No one wanted to fight Williams when he was a neophyte and even less do now that he's seasoned and one of the world's elite talents. Williams, who is ranked No. 3 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound poll, faces champion Sergio Martinez for the World Boxing Council middleweight title Saturday at Boardwalk Hall on HBO in a rematch of the 2009 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year.
If he had his druthers, he would be facing someone in a welterweight fight, but there aren't too many welterweights who are eager to hop into the ring with a 147-pounder who has the wingspan of a pterodactyl.
He hasn't fought at welterweight since knocking out Carlos Quintana on June 7, 2008, which Peterson attributes to opponents being put off by Williams' height (nearly 6 feet 2) and reach (82 inches).
"It's never been easy getting him fights, even from when he just turned pro," Peterson said, shaking his head. "Always – always – been hard."
Williams hopes a win over Martinez on Saturday will lead to a shot at Manny Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound king, but Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum already shot that possibility down.
Williams is resigned to having to fight a class, two or three above what he feels is his best weight simply to get fights.
"The thing about me is, I'll fight anybody," the soft-spoken Williams said. "I don't really care. I just want to be in good fights. But you can't force someone to fight you."
Williams averages over 100 thrown punches a round and has to look like an octopus attacking his opponent with his extraordinarily long arms coming constantly from all directions.
His 82-inch reach is two inches greater than 6-7 1/2 World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko and only three inches less than the 85-inch reach of 7-foot former heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev.
Williams is a guy with little to say, answering questions with short, clipped answers and not bothering to use three words when two would suffice. He clearly wants a bout against either Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr., the top two fighters in the world. Neither, however, has shown an inclination to fight him.
Williams says he's not frustrated by it, but how could it not be frustrating to be No. 3 in a division where Nos. 1 and 2 represent huge paydays, the ultimate recognition and yet will have nothing to do with you?
Williams is left trying to come up with flimsy reasons why Pacquiao, a former junior flyweight, should agree to fight him.
"I don't fight tall," Williams said, pleading his case. "I like to get inside and throw (uppercuts)."
Williams promoter Dan Goossen points out that the 5-7 Roberto Duran also fought 6-1 Thomas Hearns, who had a 78-66 edge in reach, in a super welterweight title fight.
But the Williams camp would have a better argument if it weren't insisting on concessions from Martinez. In order to agree to fight Martinez again, Williams adviser Al Haymon insisted upon an upper weight limit of 158 pounds, meaning the middleweight champion would be over the weight if he came in a pound under the 160-pound division limit.
It's completely ridiculous and something that ought to stop sooner rather than later. If fighters want to fight in catch weight fights, that's fine, but doing it this way is simply devaluing the championship.
The funny thing is, the fighters don't particularly care. It was his management team, and not Williams himself, who insisted upon the 158-pound limit.
"What do I care what (Martinez) weighs?" Williams asked. "I don't. He can weigh what he wants. It don't matter none to me. I just want a good fight."
Judging by the first scrap with Martinez, in which each went down in the first round and which had fans on their feet exhorting them on by the end of the pitched battle, he'll get it on Saturday.
Williams showed signs in his May win over Kermit Cintron that the great fights he's been in were beginning to take a toll. He was hit more by Cintron in May than he ever had been before and seemed off his usual form. That fight ended in the fourth round when Cintron fell out of the ring and was injured and unable to continue. Williams won a technical decision, but for one of the few times in his career, showed some vulnerability.
He disputes that notion and feels he's the same as he's ever been. He also understands he's going to have to prove it on Saturday.
"That's fine by me, because that's all I want," Williams said. "I'm a fighter. When you fight, you want good fights. The rest of it, I don't care."
He prefers to let Goossen plead his case and defend his position for him. Goossen has worked hard to cultivate the image of Williams as the most feared man in boxing and said that after Williams defeated Winky Wright in Las Vegas last year, he was approached in the ring by Shane Mosley.
Goossen said Mosley told him he didn't want to fight Williams.
"I respect Shane Mosley for at least being honest and coming out and saying it," Goossen said. "I believe Paul is the best fighter in the world, and I believe the other fighters know it, too, which is why they're not calling him out and looking to fight him. Paul Williams is ready, willing and able to fight anyone, anywhere."
Except if they weigh 159 pounds. Then it's a problem.
But he's an exciting fighter who delivers action on a regular basis, so it doesn't matter other than sounding a bit hypocritical.
"Whatever it takes to get a good fight, I'll do it," Williams said. "Everyone else cares about that other (stuff) more than me."
- Paul Williams