Quarantine Classics: Paul Williams Vs Antonio Margarito

When most people think of the names “Paul Williams” and “Antonio Margarito” they don’t necessarily associate them with one another, but instead with a host of bizarre, thrilling and controversial moments from their respective careers.

Williams suffered a major upset loss to Carlos Quintana right after he stepped in the ring for the first time since Margarito; there was the infamous Kermit Cintron fight where Cintron very possibly jumped out of the ring on purpose (see “The Best Way to Make an Unsatisfying Paul Williams Fight Might Be for His Opponent to Go Flying out of the Ring”); the instant classic victory over Sergio Martinez; the instant classic knockout loss against Sergio Martinez; the blatant robbery victory over Erislandy Lara; and the motorcycle accident that ended his career just as he was about to get a huge payday against Canelo Alvarez.

Not long after meeting Williams, Margarito won an instant classic against Miguel Cotto; saw the win tarnished immediately in his next bout by the revelations of his loaded gloves; got knocked out in the very same fight by Shane Mosley; convinced a Texas commission to license him despite his ban in California for a Manny Pacquiao fight, where he suffered what should’ve been a career-ending eye injury; got stopped in a rematch versus Cotto; and then fought a few more times when he shouldn’t have.

Aside from their shared chaotic futures, before they met that 2007 evening in Carson, Calif., they had another few things in common: Both were mammoth welterweights, both liked throwing a slot machine jackpot number of punches and both had spent time already (and would again later) being avoided by the bigger names.

One last warm-up note before diving into the doozy of a fight itself: Although HBO’s commentators announced this fight was the one Margarito chose instead of a showdown with Cotto that would come to fruition that very next year — despite losing to Williams! who got no such prize! — that’s not exactly true. Margarito clearly preferred to fight Cotto, even agreed to do so as opposed to Williams, and it’s obvious why: It was between a Mexico-Puerto Rico showdown worth a lot of money with a decent chance of winning, or a lower-dollar match-up with a guy who’s a goddam Lord of the Rings mountain troll and a southpaw to boot. That Margarito ended up taking the Williams fight instead is a tribute to boxers trying to keep their alphabet straps even when they have a chance of winning another one (Cotto had the WBA belt), and Margarito prized a meaningless WBO belt enough to not drop it and take the more lucrative event, so much so that the courts got involved. Margarito still got a career high purse, but the Cotto purse would definitely have paid him more. So much for “belts are good for the fighters,” again.

At any rate, we got a seriously interesting fight out of all that maneuvering, even if the more momentous news of the night was Arturo Gatti concluding his legendary career following a loss to Alfonso Gomez.

A beaming Williams began the fight confidently, burying the slow-starting Margarito in sheer punch volume; in the 1st round, he threw 114 to Margarito’s 42. By night’s end, he would’ve landed what was then the second highest punch total ever recorded by a welterweight according to CompuBox: 1,256 to Margarito’s 652 (Margarito had the record before, 1,675). Margarito smiled, as was his wont, but it was pretty clear he wasn’t sure what to make of someone taking his game plan and ratcheting it up by an order of magnitude.

Additionally, it was clear that Williams was faster, more agile and had a wider punch variety in his arsenal. Williams didn’t always throw a conventional punch (and is still responsible for one of the single funniest punches ever thrown in a fight), and had a tendency of tossing out an almost-backhand jab, but he could do it straight when he wanted, and he could modulate his speed and power to cause confusion. Margarito was pretty much all wide-arcing and hard, hard, hard.

The crowd had been chanting “Mek-he-ho” for the Mexican Margarito before the fight, and would again later, but the work Williams put in early had them clapping, cheering, oohing and ahhing as they jumped out of their seats. The other thing the 1st round revealed: Either Margarito wasn’t his listed 5’11” or Williams wasn’t his listed 6’1″ or both. My guess is that Williams was at least 6’3″, and a BoxingScene forum poll figured he was 6’4″.

They warred a bit in the 2nd, trading in an exchange toward the end of the round, and if it wasn’t obvious from him even chasing a Margarito fight in the first place, Williams’ bravery at age 25 was now.

In the 3rd, just when it looked like Margarito might pick up some momentum with some big rights, Williams immediately snatched back control of the round with a left uppercut, overhand left and combination in swift sequence. The 4th was the first round you could maybe give to Margarito, and he may have had an even better argument for the 5th.

The 6th was one of the best rounds. Margarito decided it was microwave time, but Williams decided he wasn’t going to relinquish his command of the battle. Those kinds of contests of the will are compelling theater.

The turning point in Margarito’s favor, methinks, was that Williams received a warning for holding in the 7th. Williams normally did the hilariously dumb Thing Tall Guys Shouldn’t Do, that is, enjoying inside fighting, but this time he was much more judicious and tended to tie up when Margarito got closer. The crowd had started to let him hear it, though. It wasn’t an unjustified warning.

With Margarito in the full throes of his usual Terminator 2 impression and Williams having no option but to shove him back momentarily rather than hold and create space, Williams definitely lost the 7th. The 8th, too, was a lost cause, and Williams had a mouse developing. Still, Williams mustered a good 9th to stifle Margarito’s downhill roll.

The 10th and 11th were all Margarito, and I recall as a Williams fan at the time that had me real nervous-like. I hadn’t previously been on the Margarito bandwagon. He’d lost to a good fighter at a higher weight in Daniel Santos, but Margarito was being hyped as a giant slayer. The fight before, he was lucky to beat Joshua Clottey — a good fighter, but a tier below the division’s elite. But Williams got his ass kicked and his eye cut in the 11th, and was resorting to “get away from me” jabs and I feared my man might succumb to Margarito. However the fight ended, I became convinced that night of Margarito’s excellence.

As it happened, it ended about as well as a Williams fan might have hoped: He came out aggressive and energetic in the 12th and didn’t give Margarito a chance to get to a draw on the cards. The poise never left him, and it shined for him when he needed it most. It was 115-113 twice and 116-112. The latter was the best of the three scorecards.

Margarito didn’t take the loss well. He claimed he was robbed; OK, buddy, you were the only one who thought that. He suggested Williams’ promoter Dan Goossen had somehow influenced the scorecards. Yes, eye roll emoji, we all know how Goossen was so powerful as to sway the judges against the more marketable fighter with industry titan Top Rank in his corner.

Williams took the victory the same way he took to the ring: with an exuberant smile.


(Photo: Williams, right, connects against Antonio Margarito; via)

About Tim Starks

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