At Paul Williams – Sergio Martinez Press Conference, Frenemies Are Made


(That’s some get-up, P-Will. Photo credit: Tim Starks)

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – It wasn’t exactly courtesy that Paul Williams trainer George Peterson was serving up to Sergio Martinez at the Palm West Wednesday when he asked everyone to give Martinez some applause for taking on Williams, whose face was emblazoned on buttons handed out at the news conference that read “The Most Feared Fighter In Boxing.”

It was more like a set-up. “Let’s give him a hand,” Peterson said, and moments after the clapping subsided, added, “but he’s in a hell of a predicament.” That was the tone of things, really: Everyone said good things about each other in advance of Saturday’s fight, but with a crucial “but…” at the end of it where they put in the trash talking parts.

In the “fun was had by all” category, this press conference to hype the middleweight main event and heavyweight supporting bout between Chris Arreola and Brian Minto did the trick for me, but then, it was the first such press conference I’ve attended. By that same standard, it also fared well in the “news delivered” category. I learned a little, in other words, even if wasn’t hard fact. With that, I share the best quotes and paraphrases from today’s event, with a side slice of my two cents.

Kerry Davis and Ross Greenburg of HBO

Greenburg really didn’t say much other than some obligatory thank yous and such, nor did he and thorn-in-the-side-of-HBO boxing writer Thomas Hauser – decked in an “HBO Sports” jacket, I should note – engage in a butter knife duel. Greenburg took off for some other engagement, leaving Davis to carry the HBO message.

Davis is kind of a smooth talker. He mixes the general and specific well, to the point that when he said of Williams-Martinez that “The fight not only stands on its own, but it’s one of the best fights that can be made in the sport” it doesn’t sound like hyperbole. He called Williams a 6’3” athlete – I don’t think that was hyperbole, either, because I’ve always thought Williams was taller than he was listed and he was only a touch shorter than the 6’4” Arreola when they stood next to each other – whose unique qualities and tendency to throw 100 punches a round “makes him, from an HBO standpoint, a good fighter to put on.” So if you’re wondering why HBO loves Williams despite him not being a proven ticket seller, it’s because they’ve heard from their viewers somehow that they want action fighters like Williams.

Davis offered a few other noteworthy remarks about the other fighters, including Arreola, about whom Davis said viewers left a lot of positive comments on HBO’s website even after his losing but passionate effort against Vitali Klitschko. Minto brings that kind of effort, too, so “We know we’ll get heavyweight fireworks.” As for Martinez, Davis played him up as a dangerous opponent, since his style resembled that of the only man who beat Williams. “He’s like Carlos Quintana on Red Bull,” Davis said.

Chris Arreola and Brian Minto

Arreola is a genuinely likable, charismatic guy, which is why I hate ragging on him about his weigh. So let’s get that out of the way first: I asked him how much he weighed right now, and he said “‘57.” My prediction that he’d weigh 245 for this fight, and the notion that a quick comeback would keep him in the gym and therefore away from adding layers of fat, was overly optimistic. (I thought 245 was reasonable, I really did.)

Dan Goossen, Arreola’s promoter, asked Arreola not to curse so he wouldn’t be suspended again, making a justifiable mockery of the WBC suddenly turning Puritan about blue language following Arreola’s expletive-laden post-fight interview in September. Arreola pulled his baseball cap down over his face sheepishly, but the language restriction didn’t last long. Arreola waxed at the mic about how “sad” he was that Kelly Pavlik bailed out of the fight with Williams, because he’s a boxing fan and thought that would be a good scrap. But when that opened up a slot for him, Arreola said, “I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’” BANNED.

He talked up Minto, nicknamed “The Beast”: “There’s a reason they call him a beast. He a beast.” He said with a kind of aching sincerity, “I hate losing. I don’t want to lose again.” And he kindly did translation duties when Martinez and his trainer spoke. Minto won the award for most restrained speaker, calling Arreola his “stiffest test to date” (I should say so) and adding “Kid’s a warrior. I’m the same way” (true nuff).

Dan Goossen and Lou DiBella

Since Goossen, the main promoter of the fight, had quipped about Arreola’s cursing, he was obliged to do so about DiBella’s, as it is legendary. And DiBella played it for laughs. “First of all, I’d like to thank you for fucking attending,” he began. DiBella seemed to be friends with everyone in the room, greeting Williams with a three-part handshake/hug/pat and trading fist bumps with Williams when Goossen mocked DiBella for being bald. (Williams and DiBella had swapped looks, and Williams removed his baseball cap to display unity via his own shaven skull.) DiBella said he understood why Williams was so feared. “This is a guy capable of beating anyone from ’47 to ’68,” he said. But in Martinez, “He’s going to have a guy in front of him Saturday who’s not afraid.” Martinez is the best junior middleweight in the world, DiBella said. “Quintana laid out a game plan, to the extent there can be a game plan for this animal,” he said, and Martinez is “stronger, bigger, faster.”

As the MC for most of the event, Goossen’s remarks were by necessity all over the place, but he naturally mixed in some promoter chatter for his two men. He talked up Williams for reversing course when Pavlik dropped out and preparing to fight Martinez, a left-handed slickster to Pavlik’s right-handed puncher: “These are the things that the great fighters do. They jump out and say, ‘Screw it.’” The Quintana loss, Goossen said, made Williams what he was: “No one’s ever going to catch Paul Williams again where he’s not taking control from the moment the bell rings. Also, he insisted Williams is a true welterweight. To those who are still skeptical of this giant condor man making weight, I can only point you to the continued insistence of Williams and his team that he can make 147 with no problem. And Goossen offered some sour grapes toward Klitschko in the Arreola bout, by way of praising Arreola: “When Arreola is in a fight, it’s going to be a fight. I like our heavyweight champions to stand there and fight. I’m not a big fan of running and hitting.”

George Peterson and Gabriel Sarmiento

Mr. Peterson, as most everyone called him, had an answer to DiBella talking about the Quintana “game plan;” after all, Williams knocked out Quintana in one round in their second meeting: “In the rematch, he must have omitted that.” Williams, Peterson said, has “five months of frustration built up,” and felt sorry that this nice young man, Martinez, had to be the recipient of Williams taking all that out on him. “I don’t expect it to last very long,” he said, since Martinez had predicted a knockout win. “Everyone who said they were going to stop [Williams], got stopped. So I like to hear that.” Williams is an “A” fighter, Peterson said, and Martinez had fought “D- and E fighters.” Peterson is a championship trash talker, bordering on arrogance. (DiBella’s response to Peterson’s remarks: “I love you George, but I really love to see that overconfidence.” He also defended past Martinez opponents Alex Bunema as a “C” fighter and Kermit Cintron as an “A-, B+” fighter.)

Martinez’ trainer, Sarmiento, came off restrained by contrast, although it may have just been that his remarks were in Spanish. He said Martinez was in “a different planet of speed,” according to Arreola. Sounds like something was lost in translation there.

Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez

Williams kept his remarks short at the mic, but he made them count. “Come Saturday we’re going to have a pig roast, and I’m gonna stick an apple in his mouth,” he said. Martinez is faster? “That don’t mean nothing to me. When you’re taking heat and I’m taking heat, I live for that.” In an earlier interview with a few reporters, Williams elaborated a bit, saying that Martinez had looked good against other opponents because “They let him do what he wanted to do. If he going to be doing something, I’m going to be do something.”

He touched on his reputation as a feared fighter, saying he enjoyed other people saying it about him on one level, but on another “It don’t make me feel good ‘cuz it stops me from eating.” I’m not sure whether to make a joke here about him being skinny or observe that his fur coat and jewels don’t make him seem exactly poor, but it was just an expression so I’m going to leave it alone. I wasn’t aware of this, but the WBO gave Williams a plaque for being the most feared fighter at some point. I didn’t get to ask whether they made him pay a sanctioning fee for it.

Martinez has his own frustrations, according to Arreola’s translation; he believes the Cintron draw was a fluke — it was — and wants to show the whole world what he can do. He believes he will be able to knock out Williams. He’s dedicating the fight to Vernon Forrest, who was killed this year – a nice display of sportsmanship, considering how hard Martinez went at Forrest verbally in a failed bid to get him in the ring.

Ken Condon, Caesar’s

Condon said there were a bit more than 300 tickets left for the show in a ballroom that seats 3,000. For a late-notice change, one where Caesar’s was a day or two from giving up on the show altogether, Condon said that was a good number. I’m not as convinced. Tomorrow I’ve got to get in some questions about why the hell Williams isn’t a big attraction. Got to. For now, Philly fight night awaits…

(Most of the gang, with Prof. Anthony Cucchiara at the podium, talking about the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive, which sounds interesting but didn’t make the cut in this mammoth post. Photo credit: Tim Starks)

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.