Deron Williams' phone was flooded with calls and notifications once his boxing match against former NFL running back Frank Gore was announced last week.
Among the first to reach out was Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul. Williams once challenged Paul for the label as the NBA's top point guard in his heyday, but the rivals-turned-friends are now supportive.
At 36, Paul continues to compete at a high level, currently leading the league in steals and assists. While Williams, 37, is long retired and looking to scratch his lifelong combat itch. His professional boxing debut is Dec. 18, a Saturday.
"It's very impressive," Williams said of Paul. "A little jealous that he's still out there doing his thing. I actually just talked to him last week. Once they announced the fight, he called me right away. He's trying to come down to the fight and he couldn't get front-row tickets. I said, 'If CP3 can't get front rows, that means they're going like hot cakes.'"
So, why is Williams entering the ring? Especially after witnessing former NBA guard Nate Robinson suffer a second-round knockout loss to YouTube sensation Jake Paul on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. exhibition bout in 2020. What makes him any different?
"I watched it. I'm not Nate Robinson. I think I have a little more experience than Nate. I've been training stand-up and boxing for 8-10 years," Williams said. "I've sparred against high-level UFC guys that are bigger than me, that are my size and that are smaller than me, so, I think I'm a little more prepared than Nate was for that fight. And I don't think anybody really respected Jake Paul at the time as a fighter, but obviously things are changing."
Williams is a part-owner in the highly regarded Fortis MMA gym in Dallas. He also wrestled as a kid and started training for an MMA exhibition bout before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so he views this an offer he couldn't resist against Gore -- who is third in NFL career rushing.
"I've been an underdog all my life. I've been raised in a one-bedroom apartment with 12 people, and I overcame that, so I'm OK with that," said Gore, a five-time Pro Bowl running back. "I've been an underdog when I blew out my knees, saying I won't make it to the NFL. I overcame that. They said I'd be in the NFL for three years, but 16 years later, I'm third on the NFL all-time rushing list, so me hearing 'underdog,' I'm cool with it. That's what gives me that drive I've got today in life."
The former pro athletes faced off during a news conference Tuesday at Edison Ballroom in New York City. They'll participate in a four-round professional bout, with a 215-pound limit, on the undercard of Paul versus Tommy Fury at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
Williams has a clear height advantage at 6-foot-3, while Gore stands 5-9. The idea of fighting has been on the back of both of their minds for some time as they developed a passion for fighting. They both claim money isn't the motivating factor.
"It's a good thing I'm different. I'm built different," Williams said. "Most people, they fear something and they're scared of something and they don't do it. I'm kind of the opposite. I like to face my fears and kind of attack life that way. I'm scared of sharks, but I like to swim with them. I don't know. Go figure."