The reaction from the fightgame punditry after WBO weltwerweight champion Paul Williams was upset by Carlos Quintana on February 9 was unanimous.
The weight was the issue, the opiners opined.
Williams is 6-1, for goodness sake, he obviously has no business trying to squeeze his frame into that division, the experts railed.
Next stop, 154, we all predicted.
Not so fast, you (usually) sage chroniclers of the sweet science.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Paul Williams has not in fact jetted north to 154, and will in fact try his luck at re-obtaining that WBO belt against Quintana on June 7 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.
That fight, along with a tasty co-feature which pits Vernon Forrest (who is living up to his nickname, Viper, with a newfound aggressiveness which was displayed in volcanic style on a Wednesday conference call) against Contender alum Sergio Mora, will be shown on the Showtime network, and will bump heads with HBO.
HOBO is offering a Kelly Pavlik middleweight title defense the same evening against journeyman Gary Lockett, along with a perhaps more promising undercard attraction, Daniel Ponce De Leon in a tussle with undefeated but less tested WBO super bantam king Juan Manuel Lopez.
The lefthanded Williams (33-1, 24 KOs) is the type who is most comfortable letting his fists and considerable skills do the bulk of his talking for him. You’ll notice I do refer to his considerable skills; I’m not one to hurriedly jump off a bandwagon when an undefeated fighter taste the lemon-bitter taste of defeat for the first time, especially when the loss comes to one of the games most underrated technicians, the 5-9 1/2 Quintana (25-1, 19 KOs). Paul Williams, it says here, did not suddenly go from being “Long, Tall, Paul,” a freakishly proportioned superbly skilled boxer with a prodigous work rate, to being a bum overnight. Not that most of the pundits, or even knowledgable fans, assumed this. Rather, we assumed that the soon-to-be-27 year old Williams was sapped on Feb. 9, because he had to labor too hard to keep meat off his 6-1 frame. The fighter, and his promoter Dan Goossen, and his manager/trainer, George Peterson, insist this is not so.
On the call, one of the most contentious, explosive sessions I’ve ever had the pleasure to take part in, Williams repeatedly offered the explanation that on the California night the 31-year-old southpaw Quintana outworked and outboxed him, he was never able to find his rhythm. We expected to hear him offer up the excuse that in fact, he tried to take off too much weight too quick, and thus wasn’t in top form that night. But Williams never went there. Several times, he stated that he wasn’t able to do what he wanted against Quintana because his rhythm was off. The keyboard tappers are always wanting to dig deeper, and get to the why. Williams didn’t offer much in the why department, and it was left to Vernon Forrest, the viper tongued version, to come to the Georgia resident's rescue, and offer the explanation that sometimes every man just has an off night, for no discernible reason.
But in fact, a post conference call phoner with promoter Goossen allowed me to get a bit more insight on what went awry in February. Goossen explained to me that he bears some of the blame for Williams’ off night, as does the fighter, and his team. Leading up to that match, Williams was on a high, and rightly so. He’d downed Antonio Margarito, who’d been skillfully presented as the most avoided man in the sport, by his promotional outfit. Thus, Williams had inherited that designation, in Goossen’s mind, especially when, as the promoter tells TSS, Kermit Cintron turned down a million dollar purse to fight Williams, and instead chose to take less money to fight a rematch with Margarito, with an eye on a showdown with Miguel Cotto after he finished with The Tijuana Tornado. We all know how that worked out for Kermit, right? But Goossen played up the “most avoided” tag for Williams going in to the February scrap, and Williams departed somewhat from his soft-spoken style. He departed from his pre-fight regimen with his (albeit) low-key trash talking.
“I don't know who would step up to the challenge besides Quintana,” Williams said before the February upset loss. “These guys know it will be a hard fight. I wouldn't say I am avoided. I would say I'm their last option.”
“Certain fighters don't care how bad they look ducking Williams as long as they can avoid him,” Goossen said at the time.
Now, in hindsight, Goossen admits that playing up the most avoided and feared angle was not the right move. The Williams on the Wednesday call was the real Williams, Goossen said.
“He sounded like he did before every other fight,” Goossen said. “He's always soft spoken on calls. He was more outgoing going into February, and it wasn't what he was accustomed to.”
So, Williams was trying on a new persona, basically, and it didn't suit him. Also, being the beltholder, he didn't have the same edge as when he was chasing the strap, the promoter said.
So, a hustle and bustle training camp in Puerto Rico is out, and a business-only camp in DC is in. Goosseen truly believes that the old “Long, Tall, Paul” will be back in business in the rematch. “He's got his mojo working,” he said.
So, the weight issue that we all focused on wasn't really an issue. “Anyone speaking on that issue after the fight was saying it just to speak,” Goossen said. “They had no intimate knowledge with the weight, it was never an issue in camp or leading to the fight.”
Goossen did check in with George Peterson after the suprise decision loss and queried him if 147 was the right place to stay. He'd noted that the boxer had gained nearly 20 pounds between the weigh-in and fight night. The trainer assured him that Williams was still comfortable there. “The weight thing did not affect the fight at all,” Goossen said. “We discussed it with George (Peterson) and with Al Haymon, and the bottom line was that it was going to be left up entirely to Williams and to Peterson because they're the ones that have to deal with it every day. We certainly gave them every opportunity to say it was a problem, and that we should move up. But they insisted it wasn't the weight. Based upon that, you move forward. It was a Williams that none of us had seen before, expected to see that night. Come next week, he has to go out there and show that that's exactly why he lost. His actions next Saturday will dictate where everything is if the weight was good, bad, or if it was a rhythm problem, or just a Quintana problem.”
On the call, Williams echoed the “weight was not the issue” stance. “I gave a little thought to it, but not that much,” the fighter said. “But the weight's no problem. It is not tough for me to make it.”
He then repeated the belief that his rhythm was off in February, and callers heard Forrest jump in, with the wisdom that comes from age. “Paul, sometimes you have a bad night,” Forrest said. “Sometimes Mickey Mantle had a bad night. Sometimes guys just have a bad night. That's just the way it goes.”
Besides the spurious weight angle, there's another angle that we in the press have probably misplayed somewhat. That is the undeniable fact that Carlos Quintana is a much better technician and fighter than he's given credit for, even today, even after his win over Williams. The Dibella boxer is slick, and smart, and gets down in the mud when need be. A loss to Miguel Cotto is no shame, no dark mark on a man's resume. Quintana, it says here, didn't get the credit he deserved for beating Williams, because so much ado was made of the Williams weight deal.
Lou Dibella weighed in with his viewpoint on how he sees the rematch playing out. “People discount Quintana’s credentials because of one loss to Miguel Cotto,” he said. “A lot of terrific fighters have been knocked out by him. That night doesn't reflect his career. He's a very tough guy, a very cagey guy, skilled boxer and he's rough. As Williams saw from the first fight, Quintana is a guy that will fight you in the ring, but is also a boxer. Quintana is a tough fight for anybody. Williams is going to discover again that it's a tough fight. But, I know Williams is not underestimating him, and is ready for a tough fight. I just think that Quintana might have his number and I expect the same kind of fight.”
End story, Goossen says that Williams has learned that getting to the top of the mountain is tough, but staking out your turf on the peak is even tougher. There is no shortage of climbers looking to shove you off the apex, and get a turn on top.
“Paul learned that hunger can't be replaced with pure ability and toughness,” the promoter said.
I don't mean to beat the “weight was not an issue” angle into the mat. Truth be told, there will still be a lingering perception that making 147 was the primary reason why Paul Williams found himself on the losing end that night in February if he does not roar back in impressive fashion in the rematch, even if he sits down and takes a lie detector for us, swearing that making 147 didn't sap him. Bottom line, most of us accepted the most logical assumption when we saw Williams underperform in February. The weight was the issue, we decided, without collecting sufficient evidence. So let us decide that the jury is still out on Paul Williams versus Carlos Quintana at 147 pounds. June 7, a verdict, after we've collected ample evidence, will be rendered.