At one point during junior middleweight Paul Williams' controversial majority decision win against Erislandy Lara last July in Atlantic City, N.J., HBO's commentators began to opine that maybe Williams should consider retirement.
That's how dire the situation seemed for Williams. He certainly didn't look like the guy who had spent years on the pound-for-pound list or the guy who had earned a reputation as one of boxing's most avoided fighters.
Instead, Lara was taking Williams to school, nailing him with one flush left hand after another. It was hard not to wonder how much Williams had left, especially considering that in his previous bout, in November 2010, he had been knocked out cold in the second round -- the consensus knockout of the year -- challenging middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.
Williams got the decision against Lara, but it caused more uproar than any decision of 2011. It was so controversial that New Jersey State Athletic Control Board commissioner Aaron Davis suspended the three judges who worked the fight, an unprecedented move.
Now Williams (40-2, 27 KOs) is set to return, hoping to put the stench of that fight behind him. He will face Japan's Nobuhiro Ishida (24-6-2, 9 KOs) on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT) at the American Bank Center Arena in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"I am happy to be getting back in the ring and honored to be fighting on Showtime and I know 2012 is going to be a good year for me," Williams said. "Just like in the gym, sometimes you have good days and sometimes bad days. I had a couple of bad days against Martinez and Lara, but I am much more focused now and I intend to show everyone."
In the co-feature, light heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) of Tallahassee, Fla., will make his fourth defense, against former titleholder Gabriel Campillo (21-3-1, 8 KOs) of Spain. Also, for the first time, Showtime will air other bouts from the undercard -- including heavyweight contender Cristobal Arreola (34-2, 29 KOs) against Eric Molina (18-1, 14 KOs) -- on the Showtime Extreme platform beginning at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Williams, 30, of Aiken, S.C., said he quickly put the fight with Lara behind him and returned to the gym about two weeks later.
"A fight is a fight," Williams said, "and after that Lara fight, I would have liked to have been coming off a big knockout and got right back to the gym and stuff. But for me it was same old, same old. Like clockwork."
By then, Williams had heard that the judges from the fight -- Hilton Whitaker (115-114), Don Givens (116-114) and Al Bennett (114-114) -- had been indefinitely suspended.
Williams, who said he believed he won the fight, is usually pretty laid-back. But he did not hide his displeasure about the suspensions.
"I thought that was bullcrap," he said. "It's not like the judges were off by more than one point. It was one point. Why would they want to make a big deal about that? I thought that was bullcrap."
Ishida caused a stir himself last April, when he was supposed to be fodder for powerful James Kirkland when they met on the Erik Morales-Marcos Maidana undercard. However, Ishida, 36, pulled the upset of the year when he dropped Kirkland three times en route to a first-round knockout.
Ishida, 36, knows this is another huge opportunity for him.
"I'm coming with every intention to win, but I'm not underestimating my opponent," Ishida said through a translator. "I respect him, but I fight for the welfare of my family. Obviously, after winning this fight, I'm looking for a shot at the world title. I'm really excited to fight in the United States again, so I will put it all on the line against Paul Williams."
Said Williams: "I know Ishida is a hungry fighter, and a hungry fighter is a most dangerous fighter. Lara fought over his head against me, and I am going to try not to let it happen again with Ishida. I am looking to get some belts in 2012 at 154 and 160 pounds.
"I'm going to show my fans that I'm not done. They will always try and write you off, but I will show them that I'm not done. Every time I get into the ring, I try and make a statement."
Dan Goossen, Williams' promoter, believes it's unfair that many have pronounced Williams finished after back-to-back struggles.
He compared Williams to junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto, who suffered rough knockout losses (though not back-to-back) to Antonio Margarito in their first fight and then to Manny Pacquiao.
"It's really a shame that [it takes only] two losses in our sport and people are writing you off," Goossen said. "Media, the experts, all these people think that you're through. Cotto, as we know, suffered two losses to Pacquiao and Margarito and, obviously, he has shown that he isn't through.
"I have the same impression after the Sergio Martinez and Lara fights for Paul. I heard the broadcasters halfway through the Lara fight say that Williams should retire. But I didn't see a fighter against Martinez or Lara who I thought was through. I saw a fighter that's ready to go out there and prove himself to these naysayers that he's still 'The Punisher.' He's a three-division fighter, the same as Cotto was. He's got two losses, as Cotto does, and he will be back as strong as Cotto after [Saturday]."
Since the 2009 loss to Pacquiao, Cotto moved up to junior middleweight, has won three fights in a row (including taking revenge against Margarito) and claimed another title, setting himself up for a May 5 megafight against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Goossen said he hopes to get a major fight for Williams after he wins Saturday, including a third fight with Martinez, who lost a controversial decision to Williams in a nontitle fight the first time they met.
"We feel that Paul is still at the top of his game. You might have some arguments from people, but Saturday night will alleviate those arguments," Goossen said. "To me, there's a score to settle with Martinez, and that would certainly be at the top of the list. But I don't see people rushing into fight him, regardless. Paul is a tough man to get into the ring with. As far as I'm concerned, Floyd, Cotto, Martinez, all of them are viable."
A rematch with Lara isn't on the list, however.
"I have no reason to fight him again," Williams said. "He didn't get any fame and glory for winning that fight. All he got is me having a bad night. That's about it. If he had gone out and gotten a title, then I would definitely like to fight him again."
Cleverly gets American exposure
Light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly (23-0, 11 KOs), who will make his third defense Feb. 25 at home in Cardiff, Wales, against American Tommy Karpency (21-2-1, 14 KOs), can be seen by viewers in the United States.
Premium cable network Epix picked up American rights to the bout and will broadcast it live (4:30 p.m. ET, also available on EpixHD.com) as part of a doubleheader that will also feature live coverage of heavyweight titleholder Alexander Povetkin defending against cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck from Stuttgart, Germany.
Cleverly, who turns 25 on Friday, celebrated with a taste of the boxing-glove-shaped cake he was presented with.
"My weight is spot-on and my training is going great, so I couldn't help but have a slice of cake," Cleverly said. "But all other partying and celebrating are on hold until after [the fight] and I've knocked out Karpency. For my birthday meal, I'm looking forward to tucking into a plate of boiled chicken and rice with a bit of veg and a protein shake to wash it down with.
"Going through the sacrifices makes it all worthwhile in the end when I'm the winner, so I'm just concentrating on making sure that I win in style."
Stieglitz-Kessler on track
Sauerland Event promoter Chris Meyer told ESPN.com that plans are still moving forward for the April 14 fight between super middleweight titlist Robert Stieglitz and former titleholder Mikkel Kessler (44-2, 33 KOs).
The fighters were scheduled to meet Nov. 5 on Showtime in Kessler's hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark, but Kessler suffered a right hand injury and the fight was postponed. Because Kessler was sidelined for so long, Stieglitz (41-2, 23 KOs) took an interim fight and defended his belt with a lopsided decision against Henry Weber on Jan. 14.
"Kessler and Stieglitz are in training," Meyer said. "Kessler will have last checks on his hand next week before he will start using it [and] sparring ahead of April 14."
Showtime still has an obligation to put on the bout on the rescheduled date.
Meyer also said that former middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (33-3, 27 KOs) will return March 31 in Kiel, Germany.
Abraham is trying to rebuild his career after losing his final three bouts in the Super Six World Boxing Classic. He returned on the same Jan. 14 card as Stieglitz-Weber and looked shaky in a fifth-round knockout of Pablo Natalio Farias.
Also on the card with Abraham, Meyer said, will be Alexander Dimitrenko (32-1, 21 KOs) facing Kubrat Pulev (15-0, 7 KOs) for the vacant European heavyweight title. Sauerland Event won a purse bid for the bout.
Maidana versus Dulorme?
Junior welterweight titlist Marcos Maidana of Argentina was preparing for his welterweight debut on Feb. 25 (HBO) in St. Louis against former junior welterweight titlist Devon Alexander (22-1, 13 KOs).
Welterweight prospect Thomas Dulorme of Puerto Rico was getting ready for his fight with Aris Ambriz (16-2-1, 8 KOs) on "ShoBox: The New Generation" (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/PT) on Friday at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, Calif.
And because they were both getting ready at the same time, Dulorme (13-0, 10 KOs) welcomed Maidana (21-2, 28 KOs) to his gym in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and they trained together. They even did some sparring, going six rounds together.
"The experience was very good," Dulorme said. "Maidana and his team treated us very well. The sparring was very good for me, as 'El Chino' is an excellent boxer and world champion. Sparring with someone who has this type of experience helps me improve my craft. With him, you cannot divert because he hits very hard."
Maidana also found the session useful for his preparation: "I had the opportunity to spar with Dulorme and I can say he is a great fighter," he said. "He is very fast and has all the talent to be a great world champion. He will go very far."
Maidana and Dulorme got along so well that after they had sparred together, they continued to train with each other.
"Both our teams got along very well, and if Maidana still gives me the opportunity to continue training with him, I will always go," Dulorme said.
Maidana has trained for his recent title bouts in Puerto Rico, where he works with his conditioning coach, Pensa Garcia.
Friday's co-feature pits Puerto Rican junior middleweight prospect Jonathan Gonzalez (14-0, 13 KOs) against former middleweight title challenger Billy Lyell (24-10, 5 KOs).
• Heavyweight Seth Mitchell (24-0-1, 18 KOs), the top American heavyweight prospect, will open the HBO telecast headlined by the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson light heavyweight championship rematch on April 28 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. Mitchell, 29, whose fans from Brandywine, Md., could easily make the approximately two-hour drive to the fight, will be on HBO for his second consecutive fight. On Dec. 10 on the undercard of the Lamont Peterson-Amir Khan junior welterweight title fight, Mitchell scored an impressive second-round knockout of Timur Ibragimov, a former Olympian who had never been stopped as a pro. One possible opponent for Mitchell is Philadelphia's Chazz Witherspoon (30-2, 22 KOs), who has won four in a row since he was stopped in the ninth round by Tony Thompson in December 2009.
• The camps of super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute and former titleholder Carl Froch continue to talk about a spring fight even though the money might not be there to satisfy both sides now that American networks Showtime and HBO have turned it down. Without significant money from U.S. television, the fight probably won't happen. Whatever happens, Matchroom Sport promoter Eddie Hearn, who promotes Froch, said Froch will fight anyway. "[We're] quite happy to sit back and watch it all play out," Hearn said. "Carl is preparing for May regardless."
• Junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto will continue to be trained by Pedro Diaz in preparation for his May 5 defense against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Before his December win against Antonio Margarito, Cotto parted ways with Emanuel Steward after two fights together and brought in Diaz, known best for his work with the powerhouse Cuban amateur program. They worked well together, and Cotto looked sharp in his 10th-round TKO of Margarito. According to Gaby Peñagaricano, Cotto's attorney, Cotto and Diaz will open training camp in Puerto Rico before moving to Orlando, Fla., for the bulk of the camp.
• Lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco (26-2-1, 19 KOs) will make his first defense in his home country of Mexico against countryman Miguel Roman (37-9, 28 KOs) on March 17, according to promoter Gary Shaw. DeMarco won a vacant 135-pound belt via dramatic 11th-round knockout of Jorge Linares in October on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson light heavyweight title fight. DeMarco was way behind when he rallied for the stoppage win. The sanctioning organization overseeing the fight later ordered a rematch but allowed DeMarco the opportunity to take one interim fight. So if he defeats Roman, DeMarco will next be obligated to face Linares (31-2, 20 KOs) again.
• Heavyweight contender Robert Helenius had surgery on his right shoulder in January, and he is expected to return to action in the fall. "He will be out at least until summer. We expect him to return in September," Sauerland Event's Meyer said. Finland's Helenius (17-0, 11 KOs) won the vacant European title in December in Helsinki, Finland on a highly controversial split decision against England's Dereck Chisora. Helenius, 28, was supposed to make a defense March 31, but the shoulder had been giving him problems for some time and the decision was made to vacate the belt and have surgery.
• In September 2009, Jorge Arce fought to a debatable split draw against ex-flyweight titlist Lorenzo Parra (31-3-1, 18 KOs) of Venezuela in a junior featherweight title eliminator. Arce was lucky to escape with the draw. Two fights later, Arce (59-6-2, 45 KOs) got a shot at a 122-pound title and scored a major upset by stopping Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in the 12th round in May 2011. He made one defense and then gave up his title and dropped down to bantamweight, where he took a unanimous decision from Angky Angkota to win a vacant belt in November. Now, with a fight looming against Nonito Donaire -- who claimed the junior featherweight belt Arce vacated by outpointing Vazquez on Feb. 4 -- Arce is taking on Parra in a nontitle rematch. They will meet Saturday night in Mexicali, Mexico. Parra has fought only once since the draw with Arce, getting stopped in the eighth round by Anselmo Moreno in a bantamweight title bout. Arce has a lot to lose (the money fight with Donaire) and little to gain by facing Parra again, but he's still going through with it. "Our focus is on Parra right now," Arce said. "We have to win beyond any doubts and then we can start thinking about Donaire. But first we have to win this fight."
• Junior featherweight Fernando Montiel (46-4-2, 36 KOs) of Mexico saw his career nosedive in 2011 when he went 2-2, including being on the wrong end of a second-round knockout loss to Nonito Donaire, which was the ESPN.com knockout of the year and cost Montiel two bantamweight titles. Montiel, a three-division titlist, won two fights after that but then got knocked down and lost a decision to Victor Terrazas in November. Montiel will try to get back in the win column March 3 against Indonesia's Angky Angota (25-6, 14 KOs), who is coming off a decision loss to Jorge Arce in a bout for a vacant bantamweight title. "I'm encouraged, eager, and last year was tough for me, but I want to prove that I'm still a force," Montiel said. "I've left the bad stuff behind me, and the best satisfaction that I can give myself is to rise back up. We want to enter this fight in the best shape possible. I sparred with a lot of guys who've been to my gym. I feel renewed. I've been working hard and now that I have a fight, we are going to press the accelerator."
• Featherweight titlist Chris John (46-0-2, 22 KOs), who has held his title since 2003 -- making him the longest-reigning active titleholder in boxing -- had come to the United States for back-to-back defenses against Rocky Juarez in 2009 with the intention of fighting in America more regularly. But since then, he has remained in more familiar territory, fighting twice in his native Indonesia and once in Australia. For his 16th title defense, John will fight April 28 at a casino in Singapore against Shoji Kimura (24-4-2, 9 KOs), Sampson Lewkowicz, John's adviser, said. Kimura is a former junior featherweight title challenger from Japan. Although Kimura's résumé is slight, he is coming off a decision win against former junior featherweight titlist Ryol Li Lee on Jan. 14.
• When last seen, Jan Zaveck was putting up a competitive fight against Andre Berto in September, but wound up losing his welterweight title when the bout was stopped after the fifth round because of Zaveck's busted-up right eye. Now Zaveck, 35, is set to return. The only fighter from Slovenia to win a world title, Zaveck (31-2, 18 KOs) will fight in his home country March 24 against Bethuel Uushona (25-1-1, 8 KOs), 29, of Namibia. "I'm really fired up for this fight. It's a tough test on the way back to the world title," Zaveck said at the recent press conference to announce the bout. "He's significantly younger than me and very, very hungry to get even closer to the top. But I will prove to all boxing fans that I am clearly pursuing my goal to become world champion again. It's nice to box again in my own country."
• Main Events announced that it has signed junior lightweight prospect Jerry Belmontes (15-0, 5 KOs) of Corpus Christi, Texas. The 2008 U.S. Olympic trials semifinalist had been with Top Rank before being released. "Everyone in the boxing world knows Main Events," Belmontes said. "They are a big company that can get me where I need to be in the rankings and into a world title fight. That's what I want. Fighting is what I do." Said Main Events' chief Kathy Duva of Belmontes: "He is skilled and exciting, he has a large local fan following in Corpus and he has the potential to become a world champion. We are delighted to add Jerry to the Main Events roster and expect great things from him going forward. We are also excited to return to Corpus Christi, where Main Events has promoted many fights in the past. Corpus has always been one of my favorite cities." Duva said Belmontes' first fight with Main Events would be in May on Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo Tecate."
• Heavyweight Tyson Fury, looking for a major fight, vacated his British and Commonwealth titles. However, the move upset Frank Maloney, promoter of David Price, a 2008 British Olympic super heavyweight bronze medalist, who is the mandatory challenger for the Commonwealth title. "'Chicken' Fury was going to get the biggest pay of his career to date and has let himself, his fans, his traveling community and, most of all, the boxing world down," Maloney said. Hennessy dismissed Maloney's bluster. "We have a great schedule in place for Tyson on [British] Channel 5, and I'm not prepared to have that affected by other promoters, purse bids and titles," he said. "Fury versus Price was a quality fight and, in my opinion, it should go out to the widest possible audience. That's why I offered David Price 100,000 pounds to fight Tyson Fury on Channel 5, which unfortunately was rejected by his promoter."
• Trainer Robert Garcia, who trains Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios, younger brother Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia, Antonio Margarito and Kelly Pavlik, has taken on junior welterweight Chris Algieri (13-0, 6 KOs), who will move his base from Huntington, N.Y., to Garcia's gym in Oxnard, Calif. "Robert Garcia is one of the best trainers in boxing, and I'm thrilled that we'll be working together," Algieri said. "He's got a stable of elite fighters, and I'm looking to fit in with his program. Keith Trimble and Tim Lane will remain in my corner, and Garcia will be taking over as the lead. I'll be coming to California with the goal to perfect my craft as a prizefighter and take my career to the next level." Said Garcia: "I made some phone calls, and everyone says Algieri is a good fighter that has a big following, so I'm happy to help him. There's going to be a lot of good work with our guys and it's going to be a great training camp. We are excited to have him here."
• European middleweight champion Grzegorz Proksa has an opponent now for his title defense March 17 in Sheffield, England on the undercard of the Kell Brook-Matthew Hatton welterweight fight. Proksa (26-0, 19 KOs), who knocked out former world titleholder Sebastian Sylvester in the third round in October to claim the vacant European belt, will face Kerry Hope (16-3, 1 KO) of Wales, promoter Matchroom Sport announced.
"I went over every option available to me in terms of the fights that were on the table. I weighed each one of them, looking at the pros and the cons, and at the end of the day, this is the one that made the most sense all the way across the board. I want everyone to know that, as champion, it has always been up to me what fight to take next. I was not persuaded by any of the controversy or anything else. I just can't wait to fight. I told Khan after the press conference when I won that if it was up to me, I would fight him on Sunday, but I had to get with my team to look at every option. I just want to be clear that I never said I wouldn't fight him, but I wanted to take a look at everything that was out there before I made a decision. I'm happy with the terms of the fight. It's at a neutral site, and when I beat him this time, he won't have anything to complain about."
-- Unified junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson, on granting former titleholder Amir Khan a rematch on May 19 (HBO) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas
"It's clear I wasn't happy with what went on in the previous fight [on Dec. 10], but that takes nothing away from how Lamont Peterson fought. He showed tremendous heart that night, but now I have the chance to prove once and for all that I'm the very best in the division. I'm going to take care of business inside the ring, and this fight is going to be just as exciting as the last one. The only difference is going to be in the outcome." -- Khan, on his rematch with Peterson
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at danrafaelespn.