Paul Williams and veteran Kermit Cintron lock horns on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, in a fight with considerable implications for the junior middleweight division. The winner might be in line for a rematch with red-hot Sergio Martinez in the future.
As it is, Williams-Cintron should be a corker, since Williams is rarely anything but action hero material, and Cintron has the kind of sledgehammer power that can change the course of a fight in a nanosecond. Williams, 38-1 (27), is coming off of a spectacular brawl with Sergio Martinez, scoring a Velveeta-thin decision over the Argentine in a close bout that was a firefight from bell to bell. Against Martinez, Williams suffered a knockdown, took punches that a Koni shock absorber might have struggled with, and bled freely from a cut above his left eye, but he never stopped charging and hailing punches.
For his part, Cintron, 32-2-1 (28), demolished Juliano Ramos in a forgettable tune-up last October in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Before that, Cintron scored a mild upset when he outboxed hyped Alfredo Angulo over 12 rounds on HBO. Somehow, the far more experienced Cintron was a 3 to 1 underdog going into that bout, but he moved well, picked his shots, and fought through exhaustion in the late rounds to earn the decision.
It was a nice win for Cintron, 30, who has been written off and downplayed several times over the years simply because he has never had a lifetime VIP pass to HBO banquets. Cintron never got to face junior lightweights or policemen on “The Heart and Soul” of boxing; the closest he has come to a freebie on the free spending network was when he faced Walter Matthysse, 26-1, at the time. It took Williams 10 rounds to stop Matthysse in 2006. Cintron, a welterweight banger with either hand, crushed him in two rounds a year later.
His last three opponents on HBO have been Alfred Angulo, Sergio Martinez, and Antonio Margarito. By facing Williams on Saturday night, Cintron will bring the combined record of his last five HBO opponents to 158-8-2. That, folks, is what a prizefighter is. Because he has never been on the HBO gravy train, Cintron has had to take risks and maximize his earning potential by regularly entering the ring as an underdog. He does not always win–nor does he always look good–but his track record, losses and lucky draws included – -is more impressive than the pristine ledgers of folks who routinely duck between the ropes against forty-somethings, journeymen, or “Asterisk Specials–” good fighters coming off of long layoffs or fighting out of their natural weight classes. For some reason, fighters get more respect these days for steamrolling policemen and Cosme Rivera than for facing legitimate competition regularly.
And Williams, 28, is as legitimate as it gets in the junior middleweight division right now. Williams comes out at the sound of the bell, throws punches with abandon, and usually outworks and works over his opponents. When he presses behind his jab, Williams can be an especially difficult proposition. With an absurd wingspan of 82” inches, Williams is the boxing equivalent of a condor with gloves on. His physical advantages make spatial ability that much more important for his opponent. Misjudging distance against Williams can be a painful error. Cintron boxed well from the perimeter against Angulo, popping his jab, hooking off of it, and throwing neat straight rights down the middle, but, compared to Williams, Angulo resembles a man who fights with one arm in a sling. If Angulo is a snowfall, then Williams is a blizzard. Williams, Augusta, Georgia, never stops throwing punches in combination and he has the kind of indefatigability that can shred nerves in the ring. There is very little time to think or breathe when Paul Williams is pursuing you. In addition, Williams is a southpaw, and this might make his barrages all the more difficult to handle.
Cintron has faced only one quality southpaw in his career–Sergio Martinez–and he did not fare particularly well against “Maravilla.” In fact, Cintron was knocked out by Martinez, but referee Frank Santore Jr. inexplicably changed his mind after counting “10” and allowed the fight to resume after a delay. To top it all off, Cintron was awarded an undeserving draw after Santore Jr. randomly docked a point from Martinez in the last round. Cintron, Houston, Texas, looked woeful against Martinez, but Williams is not the tricky southpaw type. Instead, Williams is a whirlwind puncher who looks to lay as much leather on his opponent as possible. For Cintron, who looked shaky under pressure against Antonio Margarito, and, at times, against Jesse Feliciano and David Estrada, it remains to be seen whether or not a cutie is preferable to a high-volume puncher like Williams. Probably not.
In the end, unless his power comes into play, Cintron does not seem to have the tools to handle a peak Williams. It seems unlikely that he will be able to adjust to the hellish pace Williams sets and go blow-for-blow the way Antonio Margarito did, nor does he have the footwork or quickness to keep “The Punisher” at bay from the outside. Although Williams looked shaky a few times against Margarito and was dropped by Martinez early, it looks like his ability to take punishment is not an issue. Barring a chin short-circuit on the part of Williams or a stoppage via cuts, Williams ought to be able to wear down Cintron for a TKO in the late rounds.
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