Boxers live with the reality that at any second they could face a life threatening injury. It is a consequence every fighter learns to accept and it is this unique mindset that will hopefully help Paul Williams recover from the horrific injuries he sustained on Sunday night.
It may not have been an injury sustained in the ring, but the motorbike accident that has severely injured Williams’ spine has cruelly brought a dramatic end to his career. Thankfully his injuries were not fatal, but the former champion now has to set his sights on a brand new goal.
While he will no longer be challenging for world titles, he now faces the task of battling to walk again. Doctors have informed Williams that the damage sustained to his spine will make it difficult to walk, let alone fight again, but have fighters ever been willing to simply lie down and accept defeat?
Williams has always had the ability to bounce back from disappointment, as he proved when he suffered his first professional defeat. Having lost a 12 round decision to Carlos Quintana, ‘The Punisher’ was back in ring less than four months later against the same man that would have occupied his thoughts and haunted his dreams everyday since his surprise loss.
The rematch lasted just 2 minutes 15 seconds as a brutal left-hand from Williams exploded on the chin of the WBO welterweight champion, and he crumpled to the canvas, with the referee instantly waving off proceedings.
Williams does not have anyone to exact revenge on this time around, but he is equally determined to prove people wrong. Rather than critics, it is the doctors that the 30-year-old hopes to defy as he revealed in his first interview just three days after the accident.
"They [Doctors] told me there's a very slight chance of walking, because the spine was, like, crushed, or whatever," Williams told 11Alive News. "I should be able to sit up on my own. But as far as me walking, and all that, it's all on me. I'm going to be walking. I know that. That's how I feel."
You hope and pray that Williams will be able to follow in the footsteps of another heroic boxer whose career was cut tragically short. Britain’s Michael Watson was left paralysed after suffering a blood clot and spending four days in a coma. He was told that it was unlikely that he would ever walk again. He was just 26-years-old.
Yet Watson showed a fighting spirit that would see him make a miraculous recovery. It was six whole years before he took his first tentative steps, but since that moment he has continued to battle and in 2003 was even able to complete the London marathon in six days, two hours and 27 minutes.
Perhaps Watson will be able to act as an inspiration, much in the same way that he was himself inspired by the visit of another boxer battling against adversity. Muhammad Ali made a personal visit to London to see Watson, and it was the visit of the living legend that helped spark Watson’s recovery.
“My breakthrough was when Muhammad Ali came. I knew it was him, big time, and he was so humorous,” Watson revealed to the Guardian. "He said, 'You're a fine-looking young man.' Ali was real close and said: 'But you ain't as good looking as meeeeee …' I laughed and it was the first happy sound I'd made in months. It was like breaking a rock. From there I escalated. I was a big problem for the nurses – chatting them up."
Williams has every reason to feel bitter that his career was brought to a halt at such a young age. He was scheduled to meet Mexican sensation Saul Alvarez in September in a contest that could have once propelled him to the upper echelons of the junior-middleweight division. However, he has once again shown his class, as he did on many occasions both inside and outside the ring, by continuing to be positive.
"If I can't walk, then, oh well. 'Hakuna Matata,' [no worries]. I'll be on a boat fishing," said the fighter who will leave the sport with a record of 41-2 with 27 KO’s.
There was no question that Williams was a warrior inside the ring and I hope that the same spirit can be summoned in his battle to walk again. I also feel it is fitting for Sergio Martinez, the man who twice shared a ring with Williams, to have the final words.
"When you are in the ring with a real champion, you know it, and Paul Williams was a very great champion, in every sense of the word.”