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Welterweight champ Williams to defend title vs. Quintana

Welterweight titleholder Paul Williams isn't getting the unification fight he thought he was going to get, but at least he'll get to fight.

Williams, 26, will make his first defense against Puerto Rico's Carlos Quintana, who has been tapped as a replacement for the injured Kermit Cintron, on Feb. 9 (HBO) at a site to be determined.

"The key was getting Paul back in the ring as soon as possible," promoter Dan Goossen told ESPN.com Thursday after closing a deal this week with Quintana promoter Lou DiBella. "We didn't care who he fought. We all have the same goal -- to get him into the ring no matter who it was against. He wants the biggest fights out there. I know 2008 is going to be a great year for him. It starts with Quintana."

Welterweight Andre Berto, the 2006 ESPN.com prospect of the year, will meet an opponent to be named in the co-feature.

There had been a bit of a tug of war for Berto between Showtime and HBO. Showtime had a three-fight deal on the table, but HBO responded by offering a more lucrative deal that is being finalized. It would commence with the Feb. 9 fight.

Williams (33-0, 24 KOs) outpointed Antonio Margarito in an exciting, close fight July 14 to win a world title and was scheduled to face fellow beltholder Cintron on Feb. 2 in the main event of a "World Championship Boxing" tripleheader that was to also feature heavyweight prospect Cristobal Arreola and super middleweight prospect Andre Ward, the 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist.

However, Cintron suffered a severe ligament injury in his right hand during a Nov. 23 victory against Jesse Feliciano and had to withdraw from the fight with Williams. There were also problems finding suitable opponents for Arreola and Ward.

Cintron's injury left Goossen and HBO looking for a replacement to face Williams, who is a 6-foot-2 southpaw with a strong chin and power, which makes him the sort of fighter few want to face.

They narrowed the field to Quintana, Zab Judah, Luis Collazo and Joshua Clottey. Quintana was the one from the group available and willing to take the fight, which was moved back one week and switched to HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series.

The Feb. 9 date on HBO became available when a proposed bout between unified lightweight titleholder Juan Diaz and interim titlist Michael Katsidis fell apart because of issues between Diaz and Don King, his promoter.

In June 2006, Quintana (24-1, 19 KOs) scored his biggest win when he outpointed Joel "Love Child" Julio in a title elimination bout. In his next fight, Quintana got his title shot but was blown out by Miguel Cotto via a fifth-round knockout in their battle for a vacant belt last December.

Quintana, 31, returned to win a fight in September.

"Quintana was the best available guy for Williams," DiBella told ESPN.com. "We like the fight. The only time he lost, he got drilled by Cotto. Being drilled by Cotto is nothing to be embarrassed by. Carlos is one of the better welterweights in the world and he's a terrific opponent for Paul Williams on 'Boxing After Dark.' The show is an opportunity to see perhaps the two best young welterweights in the world, Williams and Berto, and it's an opportunity for Quintana because if he can pull off an upset, he puts himself in position for a major fight."

Berto (20-0, 17 KOs) doesn't have an opponent yet, but the fighters being discussed are Steve Forbes (33-5, 9 KOs), a former junior lightweight titleholder who starred in the second season of "The Contender," Mexico's Miki Rodriguez (29-2, 23 KOs), who has had only two fights in two years, and South Africa's Isaac Hlatshwayo (27-1, 9 KOs).

"Contender" promoter Jeff Wald told ESPN.com that he has been approached about the match but that he hadn't had a chance yet to talk to Forbes about it.

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.