A crossroads war is all set to begin Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA., when Kermit “The Killer” Cintron, 32-2-1 (28), takes on Paul “The Punisher” Williams, 38-1 (27), in a 154-pound fight that has it all: bad blood (both men have tried to square off in the ring twice before, to no avail, yet have trashed each other publicly, time and again) and an excellent style match-up. Cintron is a puncher-boxer who has nice size for a junior middleweight at 5’11” but is dwarfed by Williams’ 6’1” height and 82” reach), and contrasting stances (Cintron is a right-handed power-puncher to Williams southpaw volume-puncher). But beyond what the fight means for the junior middleweight division, the fight is a chance for Cintron to finally beat an elite opponent and show the world he is not just an underdog with a big punch, but an elite level fighter deserving of respect.
After suffering the second defeat of his career in a rematch Antonio Margarito in April 2008, many in the industry felt Kermit’s time was over. He’d gotten to the pinnacle of the sport by winning a belt, but couldn’t defeat Margarito. To many experts, the book was written: give Cintron pressure and he’ll fold like a chair. If he won, a fight with Miguel Cotto- which could have catapulted Cintron to new heights in stardom- was lost. Soon after, Cintron mutually dissolved his relationship with Main Events Promotions and moved on from friend and trainer Emanuel Steward. Not long after, he hooked up with trainer Ronnie Shields and then with promoter Lou Di Bella. It was with this new team that Cintron began rebuilding.
“My confidence comes from training really hard for this fight, having the proper team behind me,” said Cintron. “I feel really great. I haven’t had any injuries for this whole camp. So it’s been a perfect camp and I am in great shape for it.”
The Williams fight will mark the team’s fifth fight together, yet presents their biggest opportunity together.
“Right now I am in a great position in my career,” Cintron told me his week at the final press conference. “A win will open the doors wider than they are now.”
If Williams and Cintron have one thing in common, it’s current middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Both men have fought him and both men have struggled with him. While Cintron got a controversial draw with Martinez, many felt Williams got a gift decision in their “Fight of the Year” candidate contest. A win for either sets the table for a lucrative rematch with the champ. However, looking at both men at the presser, it’s clear they only have eyes for each other.
With a shaved head and goatee, Cintron looked ready for war, yet calm and as confident as ever.
“I just like the look better,” Cintron laughed about the newly-shaved head. “I’m feeling great and I have been feeling really positive about this fight.”
“War” was the word of the day, however, despite how relaxed and joking around Cintron was.
“I’m going to try and break his ribs, his jaw. I‘m going to try and kill him,” said Williams as Cintron looked on, calmly.
“I keep myself quiet when it comes to that,” said Cintron of the trash talking. “I am going to give it all; I prepped myself very well for this fight and I am ready to go.”
In Williams, Cintron has a fighter in front of him that is all kinds of problems to deal with. Carlos Quintana, who beat Williams for the very first time, was subsequently knocked out in one round in the rematch. Winky Wright, a southpaw defensive specialist, couldn’t deal with Williams. And Martinez, as good as he is and as close that fight was, had his problems with “The Punisher.” So what will Cintron do differently?
“I think that people don’t know how to fight him,” said Cintron. “They have the wrong game plan. I think we have the perfect game plan for him on the inside. They don’t put the pressure. They just try to box him and step around. They don’t put their foot in there and push him back and go to the body.”
When you see Kermit fight, it’s easy to fall in love with his straight right hand. That seems to be his money punch. But if you look closely, you’ll see that his uppercut is actually even more dangerous than that cross. In fact, Kermit says it is how he got his nickname.
“One of my biggest punches is my uppercut,” said Cintron. “People don’t realize that. That was like my bread and butter in the amateurs. That’s why they started calling me “The Killer” in the amateurs, because every time I threw it, I knocked people out with the uppercut.”
But can he land it on a giant like Williams?
“For sure,” said Cintron. “I see Paul doesn’t fight his height. He always comes down to your height. So that’s where I get more interested to see if he can take my power. We’ll be throwing that [the uppercut] in as well.”
When he was a 147-pounder, Cintron was known as a devastating one-punch knockout artist. Now, at 154, even with a win over coveted prospect Alfredo Angulo, Cintron is more of a heavy-handed boxer. It’s a progression he is comfortable with. Gone are the expectations of the fans to be a knockout guy every time out. This older, more mature version of Cintron is as comfortable with himself as I have ever seen him in the five years I have covered him. He chalks that up to lessons learned over the years.
“For one, preparing yourself really good for a fight,” Cintron explained. “Just being smart and being yourself which is the most important thing. Before, I worried about what people said in the media. What fans were saying or you go to the forums and people are talking stupid. You worry about all that stuff. You want to make them proud and stuff like that. But I don’t worry about that anymore. The last couple fights I have been myself and it’s paid off.”
So now it comes down to Saturday night. To some, its win or go home for Cintron. He’d tend to disagree, as much as he wants the win. All the sacrifices of a tough life and career come down to this. But for Cintron, that doesn’t equal pressure to succeed. It means comfort in who he is, knowing he can pass through adversity. And it equals confidence going into the biggest fight of his career.
“I’ve been sacrificing my whole life,” he said. “Every since my parents passed away. I’ve been sacrificing my whole life. This ain’t nothing to me. I’m just going to go in there and do what I do best. I’m not in desperation mode to win the fight. I do want to win Saturday night. I’m going in there and make sure I come out victorious.”
Whether it is by boxing or punching, Cintron feels he has the answers to the puzzle that is Paul Williams. Saturday night, after two failed attempts in four years to make this fight, the fans finally get to see if he is right.
“I think that it’s a little bit of both,” said Cintron of the keys to victory. “ I’m definitely going to show my power, but I am going to show the skills that I have too. Again just being myself in the fight. It’s going to be a good night for me. Right now, I’m just going to take it one round at a time and take it from there.”