Boxing's most avoided fighter steps in the ring this weekend

Updated: February 8, 2008

Robyn BeckAFP/Getty Images

It's a matter of time before one of the top-echelon fighters is forced to face Paul Williams, right.

Who wants to fight Williams?

For years, Top Rank's Bob Arum promoted then-welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito as the "most avoided fighter in boxing."

He chewed reporters' ears about how nobody wanted to face the dangerous Margarito and complained about how he couldn't get any big names into the ring with him. Arum's favorite line was about Floyd Mayweather Jr. once turning down $8 million to face Margarito. Too much risk, too little reward, Arum would say of those who ducked his client.

Meanwhile, Paul Williams, aka "The Punisher," ascended the rankings to become Margarito's mandatory challenger and, unlike so many others, anxiously looked forward to facing him.

When Williams got the chance last July, he took advantage, claiming the title on a close, exciting decision.

But besides Margarito's belt, Williams also seems to have inherited his tag of boxing's most avoided fighter, and his promoter, Dan Goossen, has dipped right into Arum's playbook.

"It's always hard to get Paul fights because people are reluctant to fight him," Goossen said.

George Peterson, Williams' trainer/manager, echoed Goossen's rhetoric.

"Whenever I read the papers or Internet, I saw all these so-called welterweight champions saying they'll fight anybody, anytime. But when it comes to fighting Paul, they get the flu or they want to take one or two warm-up fights," Peterson said. "They want to keep fighting everyone but Paul."

Goossen cited titleholder Kermit Cintron as an example. Goossen and Main Events, Cintron's promoter, struck a deal for Williams and Cintron to meet Feb. 2 in a unification fight before Cintron injured his hand in late November and withdrew.

Goossen, however, said the offer remained on the table if Cintron wanted to fight him a couple of months later. Instead, Cintron and Main Events opted for a fight with Margarito in April for half the money, but with a chance to fight Miguel Cotto in July for much more money if Cintron beats Margarito.

Goossen said that decision shows that Cintron is ducking Williams. Goossen also says other top welterweights, including Mayweather and Cotto, are also avoiding Williams.

"Certain fighters don't care how bad they look ducking Williams as long as they can avoid him," Goossen said.

Nonetheless, Williams (33-0, 24 KOs) will be back in the ring Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) at the Pechanga resort in Temecula, Calif., making his first defense against Puerto Rico's Carlos Quintana (24-1, 19 KOs), who obviously isn't afraid of facing a 6-foot-2, hard-punching southpaw with a good chin, skills and an 82-inch reach.

"You have to give Quintana credit," Goossen said. "He's the only man who showed the courage to get in the ring with Paul."

"I was the only one willing to step up and fight Williams because I know I can beat him," said Quintana, whose only loss came via fifth-round TKO to Cotto in a December 2006 title bout. "They are saying the same things about [Williams] as they did with [Joel] Julio, that he's the man in the welterweight division. Well we all know how I easily I beat the 'great' Julio."

Williams, 26, of Augusta, Ga., is soft-spoken and prefers to let Goossen and Peterson take up his cause. But when asked point blank if top opponents were avoiding him, Williams offered, "I don't know who would step up to the challenge besides Quintana. These guys know it will be a hard fight. I wouldn't say I am avoided. I would say I'm their last option."

Goossen said he'll continue to make fights for Williams until one of the big names is forced to face him because of public and media pressure.

"Paul just won the title, he's still a young man," Goossen said. "We've got patience and we understand that we'd rather be in this position, where people are afraid to get in the ring with you, than be in a position where people are lining up to get in the ring with you because you are an easy mark."

In the televised co-feature, welterweight Andre Berto (20-0, 17 KOs), the 2006 ESPN.com prospect of the year and a 2004 Olympian, faces former title challenger and former European champion Michel Trabant (43-2-1, 19 KOs) of Germany. It is the first bout of Berto's three-fight HBO deal.

Toney comeback

Former three-division champion James Toney (70-6-3, 43 KOs) will be back in the ring this spring, promoter Goossen told ESPN.com.

Toney

The former three-division champion, who served his second steroid-related suspension last year, was eligible to return near the end of 2007. He hasn't fought since last May 24, when he outpointed Dan Batchelder in a heavyweight fight in San Jose, Calif. Both fighters tested positive for steroids afterward and were suspended.

Toney also tested positive for steroids following a heavyweight title win against John Ruiz in 2005. The result was changed to a no contest and Toney was stripped.

Goossen said Toney would return in March or April. He said he was exploring offers for fights in South Africa and Russia, but also said Toney might stay stateside and fight on a pay-per-view Goossen is considering.

Goossen declined to name the potential overseas opponents but mentioned the possibility of a rematch between Toney and Vassiliy Jirov if he fights in the U.S. Toney won the cruiserweight title from Jirov in a memorable 2003 slugfest.

Guerrero-Litzau set

Although Showtime doesn't have a "Showtime Championship Boxing" card in February, it does have a significantly beefed up "ShoBox" card Feb. 29 (11 p.m. ET), when featherweight titlist Robert Guerrero (21-1-1, 14 KOs) defends against Jason Litzau (23-1, 19 KOs) at Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, Calif.

Guerrero

"I can't wait to put it all on the line again," said Guerrero, who blew away Martin Honorio in 56 seconds on Showtime on Nov. 3. "I'm on a mission right now. Everyone has been talking about this fight for a while, and now its time to make it happen. Jason Litzau is a world class fighter. He's a powerful puncher and one of the best in the division. I believe fans will get their money's worth when they watch this fight, because someone's going down, that's for sure."

Guerrero entered the Honorio bout just a few days after his wife was diagnosed with leukemia. Her condition is a driving force for Guerrero.

"With my wife's condition weighing on my mind, I feel I need to be in the ring as much as possible," he said. "The intensity of my training is like no other time in my life. I have to win this fight for my family."

Litzau, who has had a string of exciting performances, is getting his first title shot.

"The most dangerous fighters are those who are fighting in their first world title fight," he said. "I know what I have to do against Guerrero to be successful."

Also on the card: heavyweights T.J. Wilson (12-1, 8 KOs) and Travis Walker (26-1-1, 20 KOs) hook up in a rematch. In their October bout, Wilson stopped Walker on his feet just 15 seconds into the fight. There was great division over whether referee Raul Caiz Sr. should have stopped the fight so quickly or allowed it to continue even though Walker had taken a few hard punches.


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QUICK HITS

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Kirkland

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Julio

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Tszyu

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Quotable

Mayweather Sr.

"Can't call us that. Dysfunctional families shoot the kids, drown the kids, shoot friends, take a friend out and shoot 'em in the head or run 'em off a cliff. What we do is everyday things. We have arguments and can't get along because we can't agree on things. Floyd just forgot about who put him where he is today. If the Mayweather family is dysfunctional, every family is because everyone has differences. You want to talk dysfunctional, just look at 'The Jerry Springer Show.' That's dysfunctional [stuff]." -- Floyd Mayweather Sr., who will train Oscar De La Hoya to defeat his estranged son, pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. (trained by Floyd Sr.'s brother, Roger Mayweather), rejecting the notion that the Mayweathers are dysfunctional.