When last seen, Paul Williams was on the wrong end of the 2010 knockout of the year in November, a devastating overhand left from middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in the second round. Now Williams, a former welterweight titlist and long considered one of the pound-for-pound elite in boxing, will try to pick up the pieces.
Williams, who is returning to the junior middleweight division, will face Japan's Nobuhiro Ishida in the headline bout of a July 9 edition of HBO's "Boxing After Dark" at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., both camps told ESPN.com.
"We've made a deal with Golden Boy for Ishida," Dan Goossen, Williams' promoter, said.
Goossen said the fight will take place at a maximum weight of 155 pounds. It has not been signed yet, but both camps have agreed to a deal.
"We have a verbal agreement with Ishida and we are just waiting for the signed contract to come back," said Eric Gomez of Golden Boy Promotions, which co-promotes Ishida with Canelo Promotions. "Ishida agreed to the fight. Everybody involved has agreed to the fight. We're looking forward to it."
Ishida (23-6-2, 8 KOs), 35, gained notoriety on April 9 when he scored perhaps the biggest upset so far of 2011, knocking out comeback contender James Kirkland (in his third fight since being released from prison) in the first round of a middleweight bout on the Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales HBO PPV undercard.
"We figured since this young man stopped Kirkland, he was hot since Kirkland was hot," said George Peterson, Williams' trainer. "We said, 'Hey, we'll fight him.' "
Ishida, a former interim junior middleweight titlist, was selected to face Kirkland mainly because he was not known for his punching power. But he scored three knockdowns against Kirkland before the fight was stopped after just 1 minute, 52 seconds.
"We are just anxious to get Paul back in the ring and to do it against someone who just had a spectacular first-round knockout over a highly respected fighter in James Kirkland. That adds intrigue to Paul's first fight back from the Martinez fight," Goossen said.
Goossen said he believes Williams will be able to regain his stature as one of the top fighters in the sport.
"My experience has told me not to have any concerns," Goossen said. "I have seen a lot of great fighters -- Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko -- be on the bad end of a great punch and come back and be dominant world champions. I've got no reason to think that Paul Williams won't follow in those same footsteps."
HBO accepted Ishida as the opponent after the Williams camp turned down a number of proposed opponents, including former titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk and former title challenger Deandre Latimore.
Peterson said the 29-year-old Williams (39-2, 27 KOs) has been in the gym training for the past three weeks. Peterson said he has not yet seen Ishida fight, but would review tape of him in the coming days now that the fight has been agreed to.
"It's going to be Ishida, no doubt about that, so that is who we are preparing for," Peterson said. "But I haven't seen him yet. I don't know the type of fighter he is, but we just want to fight. I heard he knocked Kirkland down three times. I thought Kirkland was a little tougher than the way it seems that fight went, but you never know when you get clocked. A lot of times you don't recover. So I will take a look at the tape in the next couple of days. But we are looking forward to fighting. All Paul wants to do is fight."
There are always question marks about a fighter coming back from a knockout, especially one as severe as the one Williams suffered against Martinez.
"The big question is going to be Paul Williams," Gomez said. "How is he? Ishida has never been knocked out. He's not a big puncher even though he looked like one against Kirkland. When a guy is coming off a really bad knockout, are they the same? I think we'll know in the first couple of rounds. If Ishida lands a big punch we will know. We don't know what Williams has left in the tank. It's not just the Martinez fight either. Williams has been fighting tough fights since the (Antonio) Margarito fight (in 2007). How much more does he have in the tank?
"Goossen and Team Williams are doing the right thing by getting a guy that doesn't have a high knockout ratio. But I did the same thing with Kirkland and we guessed wrong. We put Ishida in with Kirkland and, surprisingly, he knocked out Kirkland. You would figure Paul Williams should win. He's always had a good chin and throws so many punches. But what does he have left? We'll see what happens. Ishida has nothing to lose and will probably go for broke again."
Peterson said despite the knockout to Martinez, Williams is in a positive frame of mind.
"We can't hang our heads in sorrow and cry over a loss," Peterson said. "Paul is like, 'If I take a loss, I take a loss.' Like (in his first career loss to Carlos Quintana), he said he had a bad night with Martinez. Paul just said, 'Hey, I had a bad night. I got caught.' "
If all goes well against Ishida, Peterson said Williams is aiming for a third fight with Martinez. Williams scored a majority decision win in their first bout, a nontitle fight in December 2009 that was so action-packed that it was one of the leading candidates for fight of the year.
"Paul had some time off, some needed time off," Peterson said. "We are to a point where we realize that it's going to be a struggle getting back and getting the recognition after the devastating loss. But Paul will be back and will want Martinez again, no doubt about it. After this one, he wants to fight Martinez for a third time. He is not ducking anyone.
"When I tell people we want to fight Martinez for a third time people say you do? Why not? The guy is in the fighting business. This is his occupation. Guys who shy away from a challenge, we don't consider them fighters. They are hustlers, pick pocketers."
In the probable co-feature, junior featherweight titlist Akifumi Shimoda (23-2-1, 10 KOs), 26, of Japan would make his American debut in a mandatory defense against 23-year-old rising contender Rico Ramos (19-0, 10 KOs). Ramos, of Los Angeles, is also promoted by Goossen and, like Williams, is managed by Al Haymon. Shimoda would be making the first defense of the 122-pound title he won by outpointing Ryol Li Lee in January.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.