Paul Williams asserted his claim to a major belt with a unanimous decision over former middlweight champ Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright in a non-title bout between the two Americans on Saturday.
Williams pounded at Wright’s famed defensive posture from the opening bell at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, relentlessly breaking down the former champion, who was returning to the ring after a 21-month absence.
With so many punches to block, Wright didn’t have time to land enough scoring blows against his taller, longer opponent. Williams barely appeared tired by the closing bell, chasing Wright up to the final seconds.
“I felt like I did in the first round in the 12th,” Williams said. “That was because of my hard training and running seven miles a day. It helped my breathing ... I expected Winky to throw big shots and he did. We went 12 hard rounds. I anticipated that it was going to be a tough fight. I would have loved to knock him out.”
Judges Jerry Roth and Robert Hoyle favored Williams 119-109, while Adalaide Byrd gave every round to Williams, 120-108.
Williams threw a 1,086 punches, connecting with 23 percent, while Wright managed just 511. Nearly two-thirds of Williams’ punches were power shots, taking an inexorable toll on the 37-year-old Wright.
In his first fight since losing a decision to Bernard Hopkins in the same ring in July 2007, Wright still had strong defenses — but they weren’t enough. For every counterpunching shot landed by Wright, Williams replied with elaborate combinations, forcing Wright to retreat again.
Wright’s left eye swelled nearly shut by the 11th round, making his corner’s pleas for a knockout seem ambitious.
“I just couldn’t get my punches off,” Wright said. “He was very tall and awkward with really long arms. He would throw a lot of punches, and they were coming from all different directions, and I didn’t know how to dodge them. I had a long layoff, but I felt this was a great fight.”
Wright hadn’t been in the ring since his disappointing non-title loss to Hopkins, whose technical skill was more than Wright could handle.
Wright spent the next year welcoming his son’s birth and hitting the casinos on fight nights and didn’t seem eager to fight again — an opinion underscored by rumors he had rejected several bouts on financial grounds.
Wright insists he never considered quitting, but couldn’t get a fight from Kelly Pavlik, Jermain Taylor or the other big names around his weight. He finally agreed to take on Williams in a fight that should pay both men more than US$1 million.
The 27-year-old Williams hasn’t had the luxury of being so choosy. His 6-foot-1 frame — which appears much rangier in the ring — and an ability to slide among weight classes without losing power make him an unpleasant matchup for welterweights, middleweights or anybody in between, leaving him relegated to second-tier showcases and undercard fights until Wright accepted this bout.
Williams has lost just once, in a decision to Carlos Quintana in February last year, and he avenged it with a first-round knockout of Quintana four months later.
■ARREOLA V MCCLINE
AP, LAS VEGAS
Chris Arreola stopped Jameel McCline in the fourth round, passing the biggest test in the top American heavyweight prospect’s unbeaten career on Saturday.
Arreola (27-0, 24 KOs), the 28-year-old brawler who hopes to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage, finished impressively against his most accomplished opponent to date on the undercard of Wright’s middleweight loss to Williams.