Former two-time world champion Paul Williams, who’s pro career came to a sudden and tragic end when he was paralyzed from the waist down after a motorcycle accident in May 2012, is back in boxing as a trainer.
The popular Williams will work the corner of once-beaten Justin DeLoach (13-1, 7 KOs) when DeLoach faces undefeated super welterweight and local favorite Dillon Cook (16-0, 6 KOs) in the opening eight-round bout of what is now a ShoBox: The New Generation quadrupleheader on Friday, March 25, live on SHOWTIME (10:30 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast) from Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla.
DeLoach is the first boxer to be trained by Williams, the former 154-pound southpaw who has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident.
“I guess I was being selfish at first,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to deal with the fight game. I wanted to be the one fighting. But that changed.”
Williams was reluctant to train fighters for a long time. It was George Peterson, who managed and trained Williams from the time the boxer was a skinny kid with little amateur experience until his career ended, that helped persuade “The Punisher” to return to the ring. Williams trains his pupil at a private gym in his hometown of Aiken, S.C.
“You know me, I really didn’t want to do this,’’ Williams said. “But finally after three or four years of George practically begging me to try and do it, this opportunity came along and I decided to give it a shot.
“Everything is about timing. I started thinking about it, George kept asking me and messing with me about it, one thing led to another, and I finally said I’d take a stab at it.
Williams, who is enjoying his new job description, admits there are some pre-fight jitters.
“I’m scared all over again, like this is my first fight. Now, I have to think about everything that Mr. Pete was thinking about when I was fighting. I have to try and teach Justin what I knew how to do.
“George and I accomplished a lot. He made me a world champion; before that, no one knew who he or I was. We were just a couple of guys from Aiken, S.C. We gave fans fights to remember.
“I was the fighter the press labeled as ‘Most feared in boxing.’ But that’s over for me now. I’m jumping into a whole new thing. It’s been an adjustment but I’m glad I’m doing it.’’
In his role as a trainer, Williams’ mindset has changed drastically from his fighting days. “Look, I always feel good,’’ he said. “What’s happened has happened. It is what it is. This is my first time stepping back into the world. I love boxing.
“What I don’t want to see is a fighter getting hurt. This is a hard sport. I know when I was in there I was always going for broke. But I want Justin, all fighters actually, to come out of the ring the same way they came in. Win or lose, I don’t want to see anybody get hurt.’’
On DeLoach, Williams said, “He’s a good fighter and now he’s in the spotlight. I want to do my best in the training world to get him at his peak. I hope he does his best. I’d love to one-up George with Justin.’’
Becoming the best takes strenuous work on a daily basis, and Williams was no stranger to putting in the hours.
“I never took a shortcut,’’ he said. “You take shortcuts, you know what’ll happen. I took the long road home when I was fighting and fans, fighters, everybody knew what to expect when I stepped in the ring.
“Justin isn’t like this, but one thing I know is that fighters think they’re slick. Well, you can’t pull anything over me. I’ve been there, seen it all.’’
And, as always, he’ll have George Peterson by his side.
“I’m just helping Paul,’’ said Peterson, who will serve as Williams’ assistant trainer. “So far, he’s doing great.”
It will be the ShoBox and 2016 debuts — and toughest fight to date — for both DeLoach and Cook.
DeLoach was a top amateur, competing in the USA Boxing National Championships in 2012. He won a National Silver Golden Gloves title when he was 13.
The 22-year-old DeLoach, of Augusta, Ga., has won three in a row since suffering his lone loss to Cesar Villa on Feb. 6, 2015. That was before he started training with Williams.
“This has been a total blessing, and I say that every day,” DeLoach said. “Thank God. He’s the one who brought the two of us together, that’s the main thing. Paul loves it, just to be back. I think he was scared at first, his reputation was at stake and so was mine.
“But he’s been so helpful – just in the mental side of things. I was already a good boxer but he’s taken me to another level mentally. He’s been pushing me, criticizing me, giving me instructions and picking my brain.”
DeLoach and Williams grew up just 30 minutes down the road from each other.
“Me and Paul, we’ve known each other our whole lives,’’ DeLoach said. “I’m from Augusta, Ga., and he was right across in Aiken. We knew each other when I was coming up as an amateur. He came to my last pro fight that was in San Antonio. When I saw him, I got so excited. We started to talk and I said something like, ‘Hey, Paul, wouldn’t it be cool if we got together?’
“Once I came home, we started working together and he’s been training me since. I think we’re going on about three months now. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to work with one of my favorite fighters.”
In his last outing, DeLoach won a shutout four-round decision over Santos Benavides last Dec. 12. DeLoach, a pro since March 2013, fought six times that year and four times each in 2014 and 2015.
“I’m really looking forward to fighting for the first time for him,” DeLoach said. “I’ve gone crazy waiting for my break and an opportunity like this to fight on SHOWTIME. I know it’s not easy fighting in your opponent’s backyard, but with Paul, George Peterson and me and my skills, we are confident it will be a good fight.’’
Cook, 25, is from Seneca, Mo., which is located about 20 minutes from Buffalo Run Casino where he has fought six times. A top amateur, he won six Golden Gloves titles, a Junior Golden Gloves National title, a Heartland title and four regional Silver Gloves titles. He is popular at Buffalo Run and will be making his premium network television debut against easily his most dangerous assignment as a pro. Cook’s brother, Jesse, a welterweight with a record of 15-1-1, will box on the non-televised portion of the event.
Dillon Cook turned pro in August 2012, fought twice that year, seven times in 2013, four times in 2014 and three times last year. Five of his last seven took place at Buffalo Run, including two out of three in 2015. He’s coming off a lopsided eight-round decision over Rahman Yusubov last Nov. 14.
“I couldn’t be more excited about making my ShoBox debut, right at home, at the Buffalo Run Casino,” Cook said. “This is a huge opportunity for me, and I plan on putting on a spectacular showing, for all my fans there that night and everyone watching on TV.”