It wasn’t so long ago, in the span of human history, that Paul Williams was the optimal opponent from a competitive standpoint for Floyd Mayweather, Jr. or Manny Pacquiao, if the two wouldn’t fight each other. But it seems like much, much longer ago. Some things stay the same: Mayweather and Pacquiao still haven’t fought one another. Some things change: Williams is nearly at the nadir of his career, having spent his last two fights on the ugly, splayed, eyes-wide-open end of the 2010 Knockout of the Year and on the winning, but undeserving, end of the 2011 Robbery of the Year.
It has come to this: Saturday on Showtime, Williams is facing Nobuhiro Ishida, a man who has one total impressive (likely, fluky) win to his whole career and who has lost to multiple people who have lost to Anthony Mundine… and some boxing types are predicting an Ishida victory.
As match-ups go, the selling point being, basically, that, doesn’t speak much of the fight itself. It’s not that Williams and Ishida don’t deserve more chances to make good. Usually, when a fighter pulls off an upset like the one Ishida got over James Kirkland, he’s championed as someone who deserves to be back on one of the two big networks. Instead, HBO vetoed the Williams-Ishida match-up last summer amid voluminous public outrage and Ishida’s next fight was an off-TV number in Mexico against an opponent making his professional debut. Williams, too, should have some positive vibes left. He’s been in nothing but exciting fights his whole career, has taken on any opponent put before him and isn’t so far removed from his status as the #3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world that his chances of rebounding should be dismissed entirely.
But as matchmaking decisions in the new Showtime regime under Stephen Espinoza go, this one wasn’t the right call. Better that Williams and Ishida do something meaningful in fights on, say, ESPN2, or on a Showtime undercard, before getting a headlining gig there — enough to convince us that they were deserving of such a spot. The only hope here is that Showtime didn’t pay much money for this. Because there are very few scenarios where this one doesn’t end up sad.
If Williams blows Ishida out of the water because it turns out he’s got some magic left in that lanky frame of his and Ishida proves to us that the Kirkland upset was a fluke, nobody’ll be too wowed. The percentage of people predicting an Ishida victory is pretty small, and a lot of people would walk away from this saying, “See, told you it was a mismatch.” If Williams struggles with Ishida, even in a win, it’ll be sad to see Williams reduced to that state. About the only outcome that will really redeem this one is if Williams looks revived and Ishida looks real and they deliver a classic. That’s not the bet I’d make.
There’s nothing I’ve seen of Ishida to convince me that he’s real. The Kirkland who Ishida fought was a version of Kirkland who was without his longtime trainer Ann Wolfe, and when they were reunited, Kirkland withstood an assault from the very hard-hitting Alfredo Angulo. Ishida has a nice right cross and a decent counter left, but he only has nine knockouts in his 24 wins (including over that guy making his professional debut) and in short, he’s no Angulo in the power department. Watching him fight in other bouts and in sparring, he tries to use his height — 6’1″ — to keep the distance with the jab, but he paws with it and doesn’t fire it often enough and gets countered easily when he tosses it out there. He’s reasonably fast, but I don’t think he’ll be faster than Williams.
He is fairly sturdy; he’s only been down once that I can find. Alas, it was against the miraculously-named Crazy Kim, one of the two men — alongside Rigoberto Alvarez — who have been defeated by Mundine, but also defeated Ishida. Both losses were close, at least, and the loss to Kim was back in 2004, compared to the 2010 loss to Rigoberto. I don’t know about you guys, but if I got defeated by anyone with the first names “Crazy” and “Rigoberto,” I’d begin to ask myself if I was living in a cartoon, as opposed to being a professional boxer IRL. Anyhow, at least those two losses were close. It’s not that Ishida sucks; it’s just that there’s no evidence that he’s a world-class fighter or close to it, other than the Kirkland win, which has a considerable asterisk. Did I mention that Ishida was 36-years-old? Cuz he is.
Williams very well could be 36 in ring years, as his no-defense style has led him to take a ton of punishment. For most of his career, he’s dished more of it out than the other guy. With his insanely long arms (82-inch reach), conventional wisdom is that he should be jabbing from the outside, but instead he just flings those noodles around constantly. It’s led to some mighty impressive punch stats, a few big knockouts and a lot of flummoxed looks on the faces of excellent boxers. He’s not just a volume puncher, though — he’s athletic, from the standpoint of his speed and stamina, and while his size and power advantage was more pronounced at welterweight, even at junior middleweight, he’s shown solid-to-excellent pop.
What’s troubling about Williams, and trainer George Peterson, is that they keep saying they have never done anything wrong and they’re not going to change now. The closest thing Peterson has said to thinking anything needs to be fixed is an acknowledgement that the pair has worked in the gym on getting out of the way of left hands, except Williams hasn’t been able to implement it in the ring. Clearly. The man’s face is a magnet for lefts, which is why Williams’ promoter was so determined to match him with a right-handed fighter this time around. It’s ironic, because Williams is a lefty himself. And while he and his team have dismissed the Martinez KO as a “lucky punch” and have been in total denial about deserving the loss to Erislandy Lara and why the fight went the way it did, at least Williams confessed recently that he was a little gun-shy against Lara coming off the Martinez KO.
If only gun-shyness was the only problem. I’m worried that Williams is past his expiration date. You can’t get hit that often and that hard and that flush, and get knocked out like Martinez knocked him out, without some damage accumulating that saps you as a boxer. Still, he should have enough left for Ishida. Again, don’t think Ishida sucks. Just don’t think he’s in the class of even a shopworn Williams. If I’m wrong, then either Ishida is far better than I think he is, or Williams is in more desperate condition than I imagine. I’ll say Williams wins by wide unanimous decision.
I hate shitting on this fight the way I am, because I’m terribly fond of Williams; I love his fighting style and his personality and have championed him for years. I root for him. I root for a good fight. On paper, I don’t like the way this one looks.