This is the story about a kindly former police officer and two unrelated boxers named Williams – a skinny one with a spotty amateur record named Paul, and a husky one with a way with words named Thomas.
Both Williamses met the ex-police officer when they were down on their luck and needed a break.
The husky one turned out to be a con who wound up in jail, draining the aging officer of a small fortune and nearly bringing down the sport of boxing.
The skinny one turned out to be one of the game's bright young stars, with a work ethic so ingrained, hands so fast and a punch so pulverizing that he and the old man now stand on the precipice of a gold mine.
Paul Williams is 25 and is drawing comparisons to the legendary welterweight champion Thomas Hearns for his frame and his power. He's tall and angular, with pencils for legs and generational power.
Thomas Williams is 37 and in a federal prison, convicted in 2004 of conspiracy and sports bribery for taking a dive in a 2000 fight in Las Vegas with Richie Melito.
George Peterson, the one-time police officer, tried his best to help each man.
He lost $150,000 and a lot of faith in trying to help Thomas Williams.
With Paul Williams, he feels like he's added another son as he now stands on the verge of winning a world title.
"It's funny how things work," said Peterson, who was an investigator in the narcotics division of the Washington, D.C., police for many years. "I guess I just ran into the wrong Williams first."
Paul Williams will fight WBO welterweight champion Antonio Margarito at the Home Depot Center on Saturday in the main event of an HBO-televised card.
When this Williams first met Peterson, he said he had no one else to turn to who believed he could make anything of himself as a pro.
Peterson was still helping Thomas Williams as a trainer and a manager when Paul Williams came along. Paul Williams was working out at a community center in Aiken, S.C. There a coach, Leroy Green, asked Peterson if he would work with the youngster.
Peterson was hesitant. He had been through the wringer with Thomas Williams, and the worst was yet to come.
This was in 1999. Peterson had left the police force and was involved in real estate in South Carolina. He had promoted fights, the only one doing so in South Carolina at the time, and was known throughout the area as a fountain of boxing knowledge.
He was also known as a guy who cared, who couldn't say no to the many down-on-their-luck types who inevitably found him.
One of those who did was a somewhat talented heavyweight named Thomas Williams. He was hardly Muhammad Ali, but he had enough skills that he enticed promoters into believing they could use him and make a few bucks.
Thomas Williams was in desperate straits when he met Peterson. His mother recently had died. He'd been sleeping in his car. He'd been shot four times in a drive-by shooting.
He wanted to fight because it was all he knew. But by that point, Peterson had gotten out of the fight racket. Friends, though, prevailed upon him at an annual picnic to talk to Thomas Williams, to at least give him a shot.
He needed the help, badly, they told Peterson. He needs you.
"A guy who's had bad breaks and wants to get back up from the floor, I'm a sucker for that," Peterson said. "I'm the kind of guy who loves human beings. I want to help."
Peterson agreed to help Thomas Williams, and the two embarked on a journey that wound up landing them a number of significant fights.
They saw places they'd never dreamed of seeing.
And then they wound up in Denmark.
"Man, how I wish we never had that fight," Peterson said solemnly.
Peterson and former boxer Johnny Gant worked the corner for Thomas Williams on March 31, 2000, when Williams fought Brian Nielsen in Esbjerg, Denmark.
Williams hurt Nielsen with a punch that sent the Dane staggering into a corner. Williams, Peterson said, stayed in the middle of the ring waving Nielsen out.
That's when a disgusted Gant leaned over to Peterson.
"He said, 'Why didn't you tell me the fix was in before we came all the way over here?' " Peterson said. "And I was like, 'What?' "
He didn't understand at first, but it quickly dawned on him. Williams was throwing the fight. Nielsen went on to win by third-round knockout, and Peterson quickly severed his ties with Williams.
He wasn't the type of guy who would condone jaywalking, and now he was working the corner of a guy who he was convinced had thrown a fight.
"I confronted him and he said they wouldn't let him leave the country if he won the fight," Peterson said.
In testimony later in a federal court, boxing agent and manager Robert Mittleman admitted he had helped arrange to fix the Nielsen-Williams fight, though no charges have been filed.
Peterson clearly didn't buy Williams' explanation and distanced himself from the fighter. He went back to Aiken and began to tend to Paul Williams, who showed a remarkable spirit.
Anything Peterson asked him to do, the skinny kid would do with a fury. Run. Lift weights. Hit the bag. Spar. Whatever it was, Paul Williams complied gleefully.
When Green had asked Peterson to work with Paul Williams, he remarked how good of a kid Williams was and how he'd do anything he was asked. Peterson, though, needed to see it for himself.
"He told me about himself and all the things he had to do and how he couldn't waste his time on a kid who wasn't serious," said Paul Williams, who was 17 when he met Peterson. "He made the impression on me right away. I needed him because he was the smartest (boxing) man around me and he told me what it would take."
As Peterson was teaching Paul Williams the ways of the professional fight game, he received a call from Thomas Williams.
Not surprisingly, Peterson was standoffish.
But Williams told him of an upcoming fight against a hot prospect named Richie Melito. And he mentioned that he would make the Nielsen fiasco right. He would pay Peterson well.
It wasn't long before Peterson realized: He's bribing me. He's going to throw another fight.
Peterson said he'd get back to Thomas Williams. When he did, he recorded the call. It became the smoking gun in an FBI investigation that landed Thomas Williams and Robert Mitchell in jail and put Mittleman on probation.
Thinking of Thomas Williams and his offer was enough to make Peterson vomit. He wanted to quit and never see the inside of a boxing gym again.
But when he'd close his eyes, he'd see Paul Williams. He saw the kid's smile. His earnestness. His desire. And he knew he couldn't quit. Williams needed him. And, he realized, he needed Williams.
"This kid was a special person, and it was getting to be pretty obvious that he could be a special fighter," Peterson said.
They went on a barnstorming tour and haven't stopped. They've been on the road for 11 of the past 13 months. Peterson has six children, 15 grandchildren and a wife of 46 years, Toney, whom he saw rarely as he drove the countryside helping build Paul Williams into boxing's next big thing.
They are together 24-7, Williams said proudly, and loving life. Williams has learned to tolerate, and even appreciate to some degree, Peterson's tastes in music.
"Marvin Gaye, Al Green, The Temptations, Bob Marley … they're not bad," Williams said, laughing.
And Peterson agreed not to scream every time he heard another rap song.
"He has his room and I have mine, and every now and then, I'd have to go knock on the door and get him to turn it down a little," Peterson said. "Only so much rap a guy like me can take."
It's easier to take the rap, though, when you have such strong feelings for the person who enjoys it so much. Peterson said he regards Williams as a son. And Williams, who grew up without his father in his life, said he regards Peterson as a father.
"He was with me when I started, and he's going to be with me when I quit," Williams said. "If he leaves, so do I. We're a true team. This won't be my title. It's going to be our title. It's a team championship."
Peterson is asked if the heartache and the sleepless nights caused by the Thomas Williams saga were worth it, given what he's discovered in Paul Williams.
He sighed, and then paused.
"I'd never want to go through anything close to that again," Peterson said. "But I have a kid here who, if he never wins another fight, is a special person and a special part of my life. It does something for you, it restores your faith to see someone like him, well-mannered and hard-working and loyal, make something of himself.
"I got myself hooked up with the wrong Williams at first. But it's a happy ending. I got the right one now."
- Paul Williams
- Thomas Hearns