It’s been two years since the last time welterweight/current junior middleweight titleholder Paul Williams,, 38-1 (27), and former welterweight titleholder-turned-junior middleweight contender Kermit “The Killer” Cintron, 32-2-1 (28), decided it was time to get it on. That ill-fated fight, set for February of 2008 on the beautiful island of St. Lucia would ultimately fall by the wayside when Cintron injured his right hand for the second time in a tune-up against Jesse Feliciano on the undercard of Ricardo Mayorga/Fernando Vargas in July 2007. That being the second such setback for the match-up, both camps ultimately went their separate ways and suffered various ups and downs.
Cintron would rematch the only man to beat him, Antonio Margarito, lasting one round longer but losing via KO in the sixth.
At the time, Cintron would concede that Margarito simply had his number. But now that “The Tijuana Tornado” was caught attempting to use illegal inserts in his hand wraps prior to his January 2009 bout with Shane Mosley, Cintron’s take on those two fights has changed. Margarito and then-trainer, Javier Capetillo, had their licenses revoked with the stipulation that Margarito could reapply in one year. He has yet to do so and has, instead, agreed to fight in Mexico later this year. When asked about the situation, Cintron was blunt in his reply.
“To me, I think it is bullsh*t. But it is what it is,” he told a round table of media. “You guys saw the documentary of Luis Resto and [Billy Collins Jr.]. Where he [Resto] got banned from the sport for cheating? I believe they should have done the same thing with Margarito, but it is what it is.”
When Margarito was caught cheating, his whole career was called into question. Everyone one he had ever knocked out (21 men under Capetillo) now has to question for the rest of their lives whether or not they were victims of his tainted wraps. Cintron is no exception and considers the losses null and void.
“Yeah. I can say that,” he answered when asked if he felt as if he was undefeated. “I mean, at that time, you don’t think that he’s cheating. But after you see what happens it’s like “Goddamn, I fought him f**king twice.’ That’s going to be on my mind. That question’s going to be in my mind. Personally, I think he did. I think he had sh*t in his gloves, yeah.”
Following the loss to Margarito, Cintron began to reevaluate his life and career. His resilient spirit forged, both by the tragedy of the sudden loss of his parents by the time he was 13 and his experiences in the up-and-down world of boxing, guided his decisions. Cintron decided to rebuild. He fired friend and trainer Emanuel Steward and went in search of someone who could give him the personal focus he craved. That search took him to Houston’s Savannah’s Gym where he took up with trainer Ronnie Shields.
“I think what helps is the type of trainer that Ronnie is,” explained Cintron of their chemistry. “He’s there with you as soon as you step in the gym. From there ‘til you’re done. He even walks you out to your car. That’s how it is between you: one on one from the beginning until then end of training. And that’s the difference. And that’s what I like about him. He gives you 110% of your time. It’s you from nine o’clock to 11:30, 12:00. Whatever time it is that you’re with him, he’s there with you, too.”
They started off together in Cintron’s last welterweight fight by decisioning Lovemore N’Dou in November of ’08. Then came a move up to junior middleweight in February 2009 for a shot at an interim title belt against fellow Lou DiBella-promoted Sergio Martinez, a crafty Argentinean southpaw whose sole loss, at the time, came at the hands of Antonio Margarito. It was a rough and controversial fight for Cintron. Martinez gave him fits with both his movement and speed. Cintron had his moments, but suffered what many felt was a knockout loss when he was dropped in the seventh round by a hard cross Cintron mistakenly thought was a head butt. He rose at the ten-count and, for a moment, it seemed the fight was over until the ref resumed the action, following a long pause. Despite the knockdown and seemingly outboxing Cintron down the stretch, the fight ended in a draw and left many fans criticizing Cintron, but he took it in stride and chalked it up to being one of those fights.
“That was a really, really weird fight,” he said. “But again, I only had two weeks of training for that fight. I wasn’t prepared like I will be for this fight. And it is what it is. Judges had it draw and you can’t argue.”
There was a measure of redemption last year when Williams squared off with Martinez and earned himself a disputed win over the tough Argentinean in a close, hotly contested bout many, including Cintron, felt could go either way.
Martinez is an underrated fighter, you know? He’s a really good fighter. He’s real slick and a hard fighter to fight,” said Cintron. “[Williams-Martinez] was a hard fight. I wasn’t shocked at all how it went. I was really shocked by the decision. I thought [Martinez] pulled it off in the end, but I felt Paul Williams pulled it off too, you know? Those two last rounds were for those judges to decide who won the fight.”
Cintron bounced right back in May 2009 when he gave his most complete performance yet against junior middle weight contender Alfredo Angulo. Many critics had Cintron pegged as mere cannon fodder that night and he made them eat their words by out-boxing, out-punching, and out-working Angulo over 12 rounds. The fight should have brought more accolades, money, fame, title shots and network dates. Instead, Cintron won an off-TV bout, against little-known Juliano Ramos, while he waited for an opportunity, like a fight with Paul Williams.
“That really was frustrating,” Cintron confessed. “The [Angulo] fight was lose and give up, hang up the gloves or win and you’ll be back on top again. HBO is going to give you dates. Showtime is going to give you dates. And that wasn’t the case. I demonstrated in that fight that I could box. Demonstrated that I could punch. I did hurt him a couple times in that fight. Like I said, I gave it 110% in the fight and came out of there with a unanimous decision and my best performance and still I didn’t get the dates I was supposed to get. It was frustrating, but again, you just have to take it one step at a time.”
If there is a plus to the waiting, tough fights, and times, it’s that Cintron has had a chance to get comfortable with his new trainer and style.
“It took me about two fights,” Cintron explained about the new surroundings and training habits. “Just like boxing more, giving more angles, more movement whereas, before, I was more square, coming forward, trying to box, but really not sure. I’m a lot more comfortable now.”
If there is a knock on his new style, it’s that Cintron has moved away from the aggressive power-puncher he once was at welterweight and has become more the boxer/puncher. But he chalks it up to the new style and learning its nuances.
“I still have the power,” he said. “I really haven’t shown it too much in the fights because, at the time, I was still getting comfortable with it. Whereas now, I’ve been doing great with this type of style. I think my power’s going to show May 8.”
At age 30 and with two KO losses on his record, some might write Cintron off as a fighter about to hit the other side of the hill, so to speak. He doesn’t see it that way at all. In fact, to him, this is only the beginning.
“To me, I honestly feel like this is the beginning of my career,” he explained. “I didn’t have that many amateur fights. I had 27 fights, so I was pretty much just learning as I go. This is the beginning of my career and I am feeling really comfortable with the type of style that Ronnie has taught me.”
If there is a fighter prepared to handle a southpaw fighter, it’s Kermit Cintron. Besides the fight with Martinez, Cintron spent years in the stable of Manny Steward sparring young Andy Lee, a lanky middleweight southpaw whose gym wars with Cintron were a trial by fire. What that time left Cintron with is the removal of the sense of mystery many fighters have when facing their lefty brethren.
“You have those slick type of southpaws like Martinez,” Cintron explained when asked to compare other southpaws to Williams. “Andy Lee, who I sparred with a bunch of times, he’s not that type. He’s a southpaw who comes forward, doesn’t really give you that look of always moving around or whatever. [Williams] just comes straight forward and he’s easy to be hit. I’m not going to have a problem with him. [Williams] throws his combinations, it’s not just one or two punches. He’ll throw three-to-four-to-five punch combinations. That’s one thing that he does very well. But then again, he does get hit a lot.”
I’ve interviewed Cintron a bunch of times. More than I can recall, off the top of my head. However, we have only met three times in person, for interviews. Out of all those times, both on the phone or in person, this was the most relaxed and confident I have seen him. Shy by nature, Cintron was warm and friendly, self-deprecating and honest in his answers. It seemed as if he had finally hit a place of inner peace and was now benefiting from the comfort of that. Nothing made that more clear to me than his answer to the question of whether or not he was the underdog in this fight.
“I’m always the underdog. Always. Always the underdog, no matter what fight it is,” he said with an immediate laugh and a ready smile. The answer and role didn’t seem to bother him in the least. It was as if he preferred it this way. “To me, I just go and give it 110%. I always want to come out of there victorious. And that’s my plan: To come out of there with a knockout or by decision. As long as I come out victorious."