The man was known as the most feared prize fighter in the sport for a time. The 6’1” southpaw, sporting the wingspan of a small passenger jet, was the kind of imposing figure that few were willing touch with a 10 foot pole.
In fact, such was his size that you might figure on having that 10 foot pole just to reach him.
It was with these lengthy concerns that Paul Williams, the affable Aiken, South Carolina native, found much of the challenge in his career.
His biggest victory was often just getting opponents into the ring.
Corralling competition aside, what made him all the more enigmatic a fighter over the course of his time in the spotlight and upper echelon of the sport was that his fighting style seemed to belie the very attributes that made him such a daunting prospect to face.
Instead of using that abnormal length for a 147-pounder, Williams liked to get close and bang away inside. Instead of standing tall and pumping out a jab, “The Punisher” preferred to crouch low and throw overhand bombs like some sort of hellbent octopus.
If there was a knock on Williams as a fighter, it was that he made things difficult on himself. He fought against his natural advantages.
He went to war, when he could have leveraged his size and brokered some chaste surrender with just a steady jab peppering his opponent from above.
In short… he made ill-advised choices.
The man outside the ring has tragically fallen at the feet of the foe who gave him the most trouble inside the ropes.
Paul Williams’ career almost certainly ended along a roadside in the suburbs of Atlanta, after he lost control of his motorcycle on Memorial Day.
The accident has left him paralyzed from the waist down.
It leaves one wondering at the tragedy of a vibrant young man who invited danger into his life as an occupation, but found ultimate ruin in danger-for-thrills in his leisure life.
Over the course of a tumultuous career, questioning Williams’ discipline in the ring became a common critique, but what went unquestionable was his status as a warrior of the highest order.
Starting with his first shot at the big time, a showdown with the reigning most-feared-monster-of-the-era Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams showed that he was more than capable of matching fire with fire.
The notoriously prolific Tijuana puncher found himself, incredibly, out-punched by a determined Williams who swarmed the hapless belt holder with what would become his signature swamping style.
As punches flew from all angles and banged off Margarito’s head and arms and chest like patters of rain in a never ending deluge, a shifting of the mantle was occurring.
Margarito was suddenly mortal and Williams was wielding the title of most avoided.
It was an instant boon for his faithful fans who finally had a marquee win as proof of his talents. It was a measuring stick that had been hard to garner, and even harder earned on the night.
Interestingly, it would only be until his next bout that the glow of Williams career truly continued burning at its brightest.
Enter one Carlos Quintana — a cagey, tricky fighter, best known for a debilitating loss via withering bodyshots from division superstar, and fellow Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto.
A southpaw like Williams, Quintana had just the tonic for a extraordinarily big man who fought low and wide. As their showdown unspooled, so too did a continual string of lead overhand right salvos that Williams seemed unable to find shelter from.
In a stunner, Quintana quickly undid the image that Williams posed an unsolvable riddle.
It was the first curveball in what would end up being a career full of strange and explosively sudden twists.
Next fight, the same Williams who seemed so befuddled by Quintana’s start-and-stop guerrilla warfare blitzed through him in round one of the rematch, knocking the Puerto Rican out and ascending once more to the top of the division.
Middling bouts would follow, and then a pitched classic with Sergio Martinez. The nip and tuck barnburner went Williams way on the scorecards, and “The Punisher’s” reputation as warrior through and through was cemented.
The next twist came against perennial scene-causer Kermit Cintron, best known for crying in the ring against bogeyman Margarito, and getting knocked out by Martinez only to somehow be allowed a reprieve to get gifted a draw. Cintron saved some of his best work for Williams.
Early in their bout, the two titans tangled and Cintron managed to hurl himself through the ropes catastrophically hurting himself in the process. A technical decision was metered out to Williams and the interesting matchup was never to be revisited.
The next shocking reveal in the Paul Williams story came as he entered the ring against his old foe, Sergio Martinez. Since their first showdown, Martinez had assumed the middleweight thrown by besting the divisions kingpin Kelly Pavlik.
Slicing the fan favorite middleweight’s eyes with precision punching, Martinez waded through his opponents blood and lifted the 160-pound belts in memorable fashion.
In their rematch, with the crown on the line, Paul Williams would get spectacularly knocked out in the 2nd round by a crisp Martinez left hook, collapsing face first to the mat.
His eyes were open, but vacant; there was a disconnect.
A frightening scene and scary moments ensued, until Williams was revived.
In a 180 degree turnabout of fortune, the title that would be attached to his name was not middleweight champion, but instead Knockout of the Year.
Many wondered if Williams could recover from such a brutalizing event both mentally and physically.
While his mind seemed unscarred, or at least unfazed when it came to throwing down in his next fight, Williams was outboxed and outfoxed by Erislanda Lara over 12 rounds the following year. Incredibly, in what many consider the injustice of the year, Williams was given a dubious majority decision victory.
In an unusual and telling move, the judges from that bout were indefinitely suspended by the New Jersey Athletic Commission.
And so it went: Williams was stuck to defend his return performance and luckless in having to make his point that he can’t control what the judges do.
One final bout, a dominating decision, against Nobuhiro Ishida, set the stage for an intriguing and lucrative bout for Williams this fall.
He was to face Saul Alvarez, the ginger haired Mexican superstar seemingly being groomed for a Floyd Mayweather showdown in the near future.
That fight offered plenty of intrigue; Canelo’s compact power pit against Williams’ avalanche of arm slinging action.
It would have been a return to the main stage for Williams in a bout that, while dangerous for both men, seemed tantalizingly winnable to each.
Now, of course, there are other battles looming for the paralyzed prize fighter.
It has been a career that has painted Paul Williams in stark hues at either end of the spectrum.
As a pound-for-pound pugilist… and knock out victim of the year.
The preeminently feared fighter… and a gift decision grabber.
Through so many ups, downs and iterations, one thing seemed to always hold true about him.
When the chips were down, you could count on one type of behavior flowing out of the long lanky lad: That of the inimitable warrior.
One suspects he will attack his recovery in much the same way he went after his opponents — ears pinned back, caution be damned, make it happen, or go out trying.
Finally, as we started to hear the terrible news of Williams accident — with concern and regret, hope and disbelief — fans and admirers bestowed one final mantle on a gutsy performer willing to give his all in the ring…
Paul Williams was now the most feared for man in boxing.