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April 21, 2014

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Boxing:

Feared, respected and often avoided

Image

STEVE MARCUS / LAS VEGAS SUN file

Bernard Hopkins, left, and Winky Wright exchange blows during their light heavyweight fight in July 2007 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. It was the last professional fight for Wright, who returns to the ring April 11 to face Paul Williams.

If You Go

  • Who: Winky Wright vs. Paul Williams
  • When: April 11
  • Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center
  • Tickets: $50 to $300, mandalaybay.com
  • TV: HBO

Boxing promoter Richard Schaeffer slipped into hyperbole when discussing the April 11 middleweight fight between Winky Wright and Paul Williams, describing them as the most feared fighters not in the sport but “on the planet.”

Dan Goossen, who promotes Williams, picked up on the “feared fighters” theme. Like a slightly twisted version of ringside commentator Niccolo Machiavelli, he delved into an analysis of whether it is better to be feared than ... avoided.

“Avoided and feared can sometimes be intertwined,” Goossen said. “They go hand-in-hand.”

This much is certain: Virtually no one wants to fight either of these guys. If they were not fighting each other in the HBO-televised bout at Mandalay Bay, they might well not be fighting at all.

Goossen called Wright, a former three-time world champion with nine successful title defenses, the “most avoided” boxer he has seen — meaning more potential opponents have ducked Wright than any other fighter.

Williams, who has struggled to no avail to land a big-name opponent, has given Wright a run for that distinction in recent years, Goossen said.

Both men are so feared-slash-avoided, in essence, because other prominent boxers think they have too much to lose by fighting them.

Wright and Williams are both left-handed fighters with unique styles. Wright, known for his superb defense, is a master of the technical aspects of boxing. His slippery style often succeeds in making opponents look silly. Williams, 6-foot-1 with an 82-inch reach, is tall and lanky for a fighter who is comfortable competing anywhere from welterweight to middleweight (and perhaps beyond). He has shown an ability to be elusive in the ring while managing to throw a lot of punches, epitomizing the classic offense-as-the-best-defense tactic.

Schaeffer and Goossen are correct in that each man has plenty to lose in taking on such a risky fight. But each has something to gain as well.

For Williams, age 27 and hungry, it’s an opportunity to score a victory against a recognized former world champ, a man who once regularly appeared atop listings of the best in boxing, pound-for-pound.

Williams (36-1, 27 knockouts) beat Antonio Margarito for the WBO welterweight title two years ago but failed in an effort to land a rematch. Since then, Williams’ opponents read more like a “who’s he?” than a “who’s who.” He lost a decision to Carlos Quintana in his lone professional defeat, came back to stop Quintana by first-round technical knockout, then beat Andy Kolle and Verno Phillips.

Goossen said most of the stars in the loaded welterweight division want no part of Williams, although he plans to take another shot at securing a deal for a megafight with Shane Mosley if Williams gets past Wright.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity Winky’s giving me,” Williams said. “I’m tired of calling out guys, asking for the biggest fights. Anytime I say I want big fights with these guys, it never happens. I’m not calling out any more guys. If they want me, they have to call me.”

For Wright, 37, it’s a chance to enter the ring against one of the sport’s leading fighters after a layoff of nearly two years. Wright last fought in July 2007, losing to Bernard Hopkins at Mandalay Bay. He fought twice in 2006, beating Ike Quartey and ending up with a draw against Jermain Taylor. The scoring in the Taylor fight infuriated Wright, who remains adamant he should have been declared the winner.

Wright dismissed suggestions he should have taken a tuneup fight to readjust after the prolonged absence.

“Coming off a long layoff, we could have done what the rest of the fighters do, take an easier fight, get back and get a win,” Wright (51-4-1, 25 KOs) said. “But we want to fight the best. When I fight, I want to fight somebody who’s credible and somebody who also has a chance of beating me.

“I like to fight the fights where there’s a chance I’m not going to win. Paul brings that kind of excitement to the fight.”

Williams expects Wright to show up in top form despite the layoff. Keep in mind, Williams said, that Sugar Ray Leonard came back after a hiatus of nearly three years and beat Marvin Hagler.

“You can’t plan for that ring rust stuff,” said Williams, a minus 180 betting favorite. “He’s been going to the gym, sparring. The way I look at it, he’s been going to a training camp for two years. I’m not going to look at it like he’s rusty.”

Heavyweight contender Chris Arreola fights Jameel McCline in a featured undercard bout on the April 11 show at the Events Center.

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