- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

LAS VEGAS (AP) - When Paul Williams tells the sad, frustrating story of his last few years in boxing, it’s clear he feels like he’s on the same lonely career path traveled by Winky Wright about 10 years ago.

Almost everybody thinks Williams is one of the most impressive fighters in boxing, and absolutely nobody wants to let him prove it on their skulls. From welterweight to middleweight, the top fighters won’t take his calls.

But it’s tough to blame them. Williams’ 6-foot-1 frame, seemingly effortless ability to switch weight classes without losing power, and a much smaller man’s mobility make him an awful matchup for a champion hoping to keep his belts.

While others move up the boxing ladder to big fights and bigger paydays, Williams (36-1, 27 KOs) has been working his way through second-tier bouts on undercards and at Indian casinos, even after beating Antonio Margarito two years ago.

“I’m tired of calling out guys and asking for the biggest fights,” Williams added, the frustration evident in his tone. “If they want me now, they’re going to have to call me out from now on.”

That’s because when Williams called Wright, somebody finally picked up the phone. Their middleweight matchup happens at Mandalay Bay on Saturday night.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity that Winky’s giving me,” Williams said. “If I wasn’t fighting him, I don’t know if I’d be fighting at all. I know what he’s gone through, because I’ve gone through the same thing.”

Although the 37-year-old Wright (51-4-1, 25 KOs) had multiple reasons for taking a tremendously tough comeback fight, he sympathizes with Williams’ frustration. He fought mostly overseas for several years in his 20s, when he was perceived as a nightmare matchup for any quality 154-pounder with the sense to avoid his defensive prowess and sneaky power.

“Like Paul said, it’s tough when nobody wants to fight you, and you see all these other fighters getting fights,” Wright said. “I know how Paul feels about being avoided. We’ve got two fighters here that are grateful to fight each other. … It’s always frustrating when you can’t get a fight, especially when you see the best fighters in your weight class avoiding you like the plague, avoiding you by any means necessary.”

Rising heavyweight Chris Arreola (26-0, 23 KOs), touted by his promoters as the first Mexican-American with a good shot to become heavyweight champion, will meet Jameel McCline (39-9-3, 23 KOs) in the co-main event of the HBO card.

Wright’s nearly two-year absence from the ring wasn’t entirely because he couldn’t find a fight. After his upset loss to Bernard Hopkins in July 2007, Wright took an extended break to raise his newborn son and enjoy the life of a retired star. He often could be found on the casino floor on the night of a major fight, but he claims he was much more eager to be in the ring.

When Wright finally got serious about continuing his career, he claims nobody wanted a piece of him except Williams.

“I’m glad I’ve got a great opponent,” Wright said. “It’s hard to get up for a fight when you’re fighting a nobody, when there’s a chance you might not win. Paul brings that excitement to the fight. I know he wants the opportunity, and I’m glad to find a young fighter with heart who’s willing to get out here and fight and get what he wants.”

The matchup is intriguing for more than the matchup of two fighters passing each other on their lonely career paths. Wright’s defensive skills, if they haven’t rusted during his absence, will get a brutal test from Williams, who’s likely to pepper him with something like 100 punches per round.

Wright and Williams clearly appreciate each other for the opportunity to headline a Las Vegas card _ Williams’ first main-event fight in boxing’s capital city. At Friday’s weigh-in, they both laughed when lining up eye-to-eye _ or eye-to-chin, given Williams’ height advantage.

They even shared a quick hug. It’s a big change from Wright’s last weigh-in, when Hopkins shoved him in the face and instigated a scuffle that cost him $200,000 in fines, but undeniably sparked interest in the pay-per-view card.

Neither man was up for any such shenanigans. They’ve worked too hard for too long to endanger the rewards they’ll finally get a chance to claim Saturday night.

“If you’re a fighter, that’s what you do,” Wright said. “You’ve got to come in and fight the best, and my whole career I’ve tried to fight the best. I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I didn’t come out and fight another guy who’s been out for two years.”

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