This guy — he’s amazing. I’m sure there will be some people who look at middleweight Paul Williams’ thoroughly easy defeat of Winky Wright Saturday night and think that Wright, 10 years older than Williams at age 37, was over the hill, he was rusty and the win proves nothing.
I would advise them to consider the following: Nobody has ever done that to Wright, for years before his long layoff one of the two or three finest boxers in the land. No one beats Wright cleanly, let alone 11 rounds to one on two scorecards and 12 rounds to none on the third. Nobody makes Wright miss that much. Nobody hits Wright that much. And plenty of smart figures in boxing thought it would be Wright who dominated Williams, not the other way around.
It was a wonderful night to be a boxing fan. All on HBO back-to-back, we had a riveting documentary, “Thrilla in Manila;” we had the start of Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7, which, if Ali-Frazier III had you feeling nostalgic, quickly jolted you back into place — into the realization that great fighters still roam this big rock; we had a rare, almost extinct “enjoyable heavyweight performance” courtesy Chris Arreola; and we had a remarkable showing by Williams.
First, a word on the documentaries, then the fight-by-fight breakdown.
I couldn’t take my eyes off “Thrilla in Manila.” It started in a way that bothered me — comparing cockfighting to boxing. They’re not the same, as I’ve written before. I had some other problems with the documentary. It never fully explained why Muhammad Ali went from grateful beneficiary of Joe Frazier’s help to labeling him as an Uncle Tom. The doc showed a clip of Ali complaining that Frazier refused to call him anything other than Cassius Clay, but it wasn’t clear why it didn’t bother Ali when he was getting helped. I didn’t like them dressing the old Frazier up in a boxing robe, which struck me as an attempt to make Frazier a sadder figure than he was. But it got very interesting, and the second half of the documentary had me on the edge of my seat even though I knew the outcome and many of the details. I didn’t know some other details, like, for instance, the fact that Ali’s “Viet Cong” line was fed to him by a Nation of Islam flunkie. I laughed at Imelda Marcos’ blissful ignorance of the offensiveness of the shoes in her closet during an interview for the documentary. I hadn’t realized that Ali wanted his gloves cut off before the 15th round. Most importantly, the fight showed why boxing matters so much to so many. It is the ultimate competitive drama, and it’s not been performed at the level of Ali-Frazier III save for a handful of fights. I recommend it, especially for those who don’t know how horribly Ali treated Frazier, something that’s always galled me about a man who is otherwise one of my all-time favorites, and that of many.
But, as I said, for all the documentary’s nostalgia, watching Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7, the “reality” series HBO is using to promote the May 2 junior welterweight championship fight between Manny and Ricky, made me recognize that there’s plenty of drama and gravity in this era, too. The vice president of the Philippines attends the christening of Manny’s daughter. Ricky is nearly as beloved in England. If you think of the recent star fighters of late, some of whom have fought each other and some of whom have not — Pacquiao, Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., etc. — and you look at all the high-level, competitive drama they’ve given us so far, don’t you wish you had a fast-forward button to see what happens next? And, as usual, the documentary’s revelations of the human moments in the fighters’ lives are gratifying. Is there a stranger twosome in boxing than Hatton and Floyd Mayweather, Sr.? Mayweather simply had no clue what to do about Hatton messing around with him by dropping trow to reveal a thong. Hilarity. Just don’t forget, everyone: This is not a true documentary, but a product of the promoters — I’m pretty sure that cab driver in the Philippines didn’t happen to have “Paint It Black” on his radio. Although it is an awfully glitzy, mouth-waterining one. If only May 2 was tomorrow.
CHRIS ARREOLA – JAMEEL MCCLINE
At first, I was lamenting that any casual fan who got sucked in by the two documentaries was re-introduced to live boxing by two giant tubs of goo, Chris Arreola and Jameel McCline. But, shortly thereafter, when Arreola began to land some eye-catching combos and McCline put up some momentary resistance to add a touch of doubt to the outcome, my lament lessened slightly. At heavyweight, anything approaching bang for one’s buck is a precious commodity these days.
Had I know McCline had retired temporarily and taken the fight on relatively short notice — I saw no such reporting to that effect — I don’t think I would have picked him to survive to the final bell. He was as goo-bellied as Arreola if not more. And yeah, maybe it’s time we abandon the focus on Arreola’s gut. He’s obviously decided he is not going to train hard enough to get below 250, and he is what he is at this point: a hard-hitting heavyweight with some underrated skills who is going to fight with a permanent spare tire handicap.
So, I liked this against McCline: Arreola was aggressive, but not reckless. He was accurate, landing 50 percent or more of his punches in rounds where punch stats were given. He was tagging McCline with big shots that drew “ooos,” especially his overhand right. And when, in the 3rd, McCline started catching Arreola with the left hook and staggered him a little, Arreola turned around in the 4th and made a good adjustment to block that punch. He put McCline, normally a durable heavyweight, down with a left uppercut/overhand right combo. McCline probably could have gotten up. He didn’t look like he wanted to. He was there for a payday, and after Arreola adjusted to McCline’s one shot of winning, McCline decided he didn’t want to bother.
Funny afterward that, when asked about Arreola’s chance against one of the heavyweight-dominating Klitschko brothers, McCline declined to commit but ultimately answered, “Is he blazin’? No.” I think Arreola should consider fighting a top-10 heavyweight, but not a Klitschko. As much as the HBO broadcast team (including Wladimir’s trainer Emmanuel Steward) tried to sell the notion of Arreola’s chances against the Klitschkos, I don’t see it. Notably, when Arreola in the post-fight interview tried to get the crowd to answer whether he was ready for a big step-up, no one cheered this time. I’ll say it again: Arreola is what he is, a lazy but exciting heavyweight, and that ain’t an all bad thing. My kingdom for more exciting American heavyweights, preferably unflawed, but fine if not.
PAUL WILLIAMS – WINKY WRIGHT
Once again I’ve got to give myself another pretty good grade on my predictions, as I expected Williams to get a little trouble from Wright early only to go on to a wide decision win. Of the first six rounds, I marked four “close,” with the important factor being whether Williams landed enough quality shots plus grazing shots to Wright’s less frequent quality shots. I gave Wright the 6th, and that was the only one in the round.
Williams, as I expected — and, to be fair, others expected, too — outworked Wright. To say the least. He broke the 1,000-punch mark for the fight, and while in the 5th his rate began to slow, in the 8th he was back to full speed. That’s the round Wright trainer Dan Birmingham told Wright he’d had a “good round,” and Birmingham is a good trainer, but he’s always telling Wright how good he’s doing instead of what he needs to do better. By the 10th, though, Birmingham was speaking the truth, telling Wright he needed a knockout to win. It wasn’t going to happen for a few reasons. First, Wright is no puncher, even if he was the man with more experience at middleweight compared to the weight-hopping Williams. Second, Williams doesn’t mind getting hit very much, and takes punches exceedingly well. Third, Williams had hit him so much by the 10th round that he’d taken a lot of steam out of Wright.
Each fight, Williams improves, and against Wright, his defense went up another notch. I honestly haven’t seen Wright miss so much, ever. It still needs work. Williams gets touched enough that a hard-punching big man could someday put that chin to serious test. I think he should settle in at junior middleweight for that reason. Williams, honestly, still does plenty wrong. The thing is, per my “flaws are overrated” speech, he does so much well and so differently than anyone else that he more than compensates for his mistakes.
I’ve made no bones about my Williams boosterism, but I simply don’t think you can diminish Williams much for this win. Wright didn’t act like he was there to cash a check, in my opinion. Nor did the HBO broa
dcast team, with Steward saying that Wright fought one of his most “determined” fights ever. Wright says he will keep fighting, and I think he should. I feel about Wright the way I always have — that he’s a really good fighter who doesn’t do it for me but isn’t as boring as he’s portrayed — but I think he would be competitive with, and probably beat, most top-10 middleweights. He shouldn’t screw around with sitting on his ass, though. The layoff didn’t hurt him significantly that I could tell, but the older he gets, the more likely it is to cause him trouble. He should take the next fight offered to him, even if he has to fight cheap.
Williams, meanwhile, vaults into my pound-for-pound top 5. He’s really fun to watch, and, as I’ve said in the last couple days, it’s a shame his career has been managed the way it has. I hope he made some fans off this performance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people find something to nitpick, and if other boxers hoping to avoid him took note of the small number of fans in attendance in the poorly-chosen Las Vegas location. I’ll keep playing my instrument on the bandwagon, regardless.