- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Former two-time welterweight titlist Paul Williams faces his biggest fight, this one outside of the ring, after he was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident Sunday morning in Atlanta.
George Peterson, Williams' trainer, manager and father figure, said on Monday that Williams' doctors said he would never walk again and that his boxing career is over.
"They're saying he won't walk again or box again," said Peterson, who flew to Atlanta from Washington, D.C., where they were training for Williams' next fight, on Sunday. "Paul is in denial right now. It's been that way with him. You tell him he can't or won't do something, and he wants to prove you different. So whatever the doctors say, he's not listening. But they say that (walking and boxing) is not going to happen."
Just last week Williams had signed for a major fight. He was due to challenge junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Sept. 17 in the main event of a pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Peterson said Williams, who lives about an hour outside of Atlanta, had ridden his motorcycle from his home to Atlanta to attend the Sunday wedding of one of his brothers.
Peterson said that the accident occurred around 8 a.m. as Williams was riding to another brother's home to get ready for the wedding, which took place later in the day.
Peterson said Williams, who was wearing his helmet, rode out of his lane to avoid a car that was moving into his lane, but that another car was coming toward him in the other direction. Peterson said Williams swerved to avoid the oncoming car, wound up riding up a steep embankment and lost control of the motorcycle before flying several feet in the air and landing on his back on the road. Peterson said one of the drivers of the other cars called 911.
Marietta, Ga., police released a statement Tuesday morning saying that Williams was driving too fast for conditions.
Peterson said Williams, 30, is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday to stabilize the portion of his spinal cord that is intact and allows him to move his hands, arms, torso and head.
"The other part of his spinal cord is damaged and has eliminated his lower body movement," Peterson said.
Peterson said he saw Williams at the hospital on Sunday several hours after the accident and that he was not in pain and was telling jokes.
"He's telling jokes and saying if he doesn't box again, he'll do stand-up comedy. He's in good spirits but he is also in denial," Peterson said. "But he's coherent. I had an excellent conversation with him. When I walked in the door (on Sunday) about 5:30 in the afternoon, he said he'd be ready to go back to camp on Monday. I guess I'm in denial, too, because I have seen him overcome so much adversity before and come back. We'll pray about the situation."
Peterson said if Wednesday's surgery goes well, Williams would remain hospitalized for a few weeks before moving to a rehabilitation center.
"Hopefully, there will be no complications and he'll be out in a few weeks," Peterson said. "Paul would want all boxing fans to know that is not suffering and not in any pain. We appreciate their prayers."
Williams (41-2, 27 KOs), who was backed by powerful adviser Al Haymon, was considered one of the top fighters in the world for several years and became a staple on HBO and Showtime. Besides winning a piece of the welterweight title twice, he also is a former interim junior middleweight titlist and owns a majority decision victory in an action-packed nontitle bout against Sergio Martinez, who went on to win the middleweight championship.
Williams outpointed a prime Antonio Margarito to win a welterweight title for the first time in July 2007. In his first defense in February 2008, Williams was stunningly upset by Carlos Quintana, losing the belt via unanimous decision.
In an immediate rematch four months later, Williams avenged the defeat and regained the title in dramatic fashion when he destroyed Quintana in the first round.
Williams would abandon the title and move up in weight because, as his promoter, Dan Goossen, continually preached the media, he was the most avoided fighter in the world and could not entice the best fighters to face him, particularly in the welterweight division, where the 6-foot-1 southpaw enjoyed considerable physical advantages over nearly every other contender.
In 2009, he scored a near-shutout of former undisputed junior middleweight champion and longtime pound-for-pound entrant Winky Wright before moving up to middleweight to face Martinez.
Williams, known for non-stop punching, won the nontitle fight in the all-action slugfest by majority decision in what turned out to be the biggest victory of his career as Martinez later captured the middleweight championship.
He and Williams met in a rematch in November 2010, this time for the 160-pound crown, and Martinez shockingly knocked Williams cold with a single punch in the second round for what was universally declared the knockout of the year.
Williams fought just once in 2011, escaping with a majority decision win last July against junior middleweight contender Erislandy Lara in Atlantic City, N.J. The decision was so controversial that the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board took the unprecedented step of suspending all three judges over their scoring of the fight.
Williams bounced back in February to roll to a shutout decision against Japan's Nobuhiro Ishida, who had scored a first-round upset knockout of hot contender James Kirkland in 2011.
Then last week Williams landed the fight with Alvarez, hoping a convincing win against a relatively untested, but very popular, 21-year-old titleholder would put him back on top again.
"It was something we needed and a fight that Paul wanted," Peterson said. "We were definitely up for it. We knew this was the biggest fight we could get, and we were already preparing for it. We were ready for a big fight."