LAS VEGAS (AP) " If Paul Williams thought the world's top boxers were scared of him before, just wait until they see the holes he punched in Winky Wright's once-impenetrable defense.
Williams worked Wright like a heavy bag with hundreds of relentless blows, earning an emphatic victory by unanimous decision Saturday night in a meeting of two much-avoided middleweights.
In his first main-event bout in boxing's capital city, Williams (37-1, 27 KOs) pounded at Wright's famed defensive posture from the opening bell. The Augusta, Ga., native was simply masterful, systematically breaking down the former champion in Wright's return from a 21-month ring absence.
With so many punches to block, Wright (51-5-1) simply didn't have time to land enough scoring blows against his much taller, longer opponent. Williams barely appeared tired by the closing bell, chasing Wright around the ring up to the final seconds while anticipating what his biggest win yet will do for his blossoming career.
"I felt like I did in the first round in the 12th," Williams said. "That was because of my hard training, and running seven miles a day. It helped my breathing."
His dominant performance should leave any future opponents a bit short of breath. Although Williams considers himself a 147-pound welterweight, he had no problem moving up to 160 " and he'll fight anywhere in between.
The Mandalay Bay Events Center was half-full, but those fans now understand why Williams might be the sport's most intriguing talent. Williams threw 104 punches in the first round and 106 in the 12th, rarely taking a break in between.
Judges Jerry Roth and Robert Hoyle favored Williams 119-109, while Adalaide Byrd gave every round to Williams, 120-108. The Associated Press had Williams winning 118-111.
Williams threw an astonishing 1,086 punches, connecting with 23 percent, while Wright managed just 511. Nearly two-thirds of Williams' punches were power shots, gradually taking an inexorable toll on Wright.
Just in case any fight fans wondered why none of the world's top welterweights or middleweights are interested in fighting Williams, the biggest reason loomed large against Wright: Williams' 6-foot-1 frame " which appears much rangier in the ring " gives him automatic leverage on nearly anybody in his weight classes, putting him in an elevated position for every exchange.
"I just couldn't get my punches off," Wright said. "He was very tall and awkward with really long arms. He would throw a lot of punches, and they were coming from all different directions, and I didn't know how to dodge them. I had a long layoff, but I felt this was a great fight."
In his first fight since losing a decision to Bernard Hopkins in the same ring in July 2007, Wright still had the strong defenses that made him one of the sport's least pleasant opponents for a decade " but they weren't enough. For every counterpunching shot landed by Wright, Williams constantly replied with elaborate combinations, forcing Wright to retreat again.
Wright's left eye swelled nearly shut by the 11th round, making his corner's pleas for a knockout pretty much pointless.
Wright hadn't been in the ring since his disappointing 170-pound loss to Hopkins, whose technical wizardry was more than Wright could handle. While Wright spent the next year welcoming his son's birth and hitting the casinos on fight nights, he didn't seem particularly eager to fight again " an opinion underscored by rumors he had rejected several possible bouts on financial terms.
Wright insists he never considered quitting, but couldn't get a significant fight from Kelly Pavlik, Jermain Taylor or the other big names around his weight. He finally agreed to take on Williams in an HBO fight that should pay both men more than $1 million.
"This is definitely not my last fight," Wright said. "I'm definitely coming back. I had a long layoff, and I'm definitely not going to wait that long again. He threw a lot of punches, but it was a great fight."
Williams hasn't had the luxury of being choosy: His almost freakish ability to move among classes without losing power makes him an unpleasant matchup at 147, 154 and 160 pounds. That's why he's been relegated to second-tier showcases at Indian casinos and undercard fights until Wright accepted this bout.
Williams has lost just once, in a decision to Carlos Quintana in February 2008, and he avenged it with a first-round knockout of Quintana four months later.
"This has to put him right up there with the pound-for-pound best today," said Williams' promoter, Dan Goossen, who has been frustrated by the top welterweights' unwillingness to take on his prize prospect. "I mean, he's a (welterweight), and there was no ring rust on Winky. Winky looked tremendous and took some great shots, and came back with some of his own."
Since both fighters are used to rejection, each praised the other for accepting the bout in the weeks leading up to it. They embraced at Friday's weigh-in, both spoke reverently of each other afterward.
"I expected Winky to throw big shots, and he did," Williams said. "We went 12 hard rounds. I anticipated that it was going to be a tough fight."