East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Paul Williams speaks during the press conference announcing his upcoming fight against Kelly Pavlik. (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)
MARIETTA, Ga. -- Paul Williams, the always exciting, ever-smiling boxer known as "The Punisher," and long considered one of the most avoided fighters in the sport, faces the toughest battle of his life after being paralyzed from the waist down during a motorcycle crash in Marietta on Sunday morning.
The 30 year old was supposed attend his brother's wedding that afternoon.
Marietta Police spokesman David Baldwin said Williams was driving his modified sport motorcycle on South Marietta Parkway near Atlanta Road "at a high rate of speed" when he didn't make it around a curve and crashed into an embankment.
His trainer and manager George Peterson is at Williams' bedside and said the boxer severed his spinal cord after falling on his back and head when he was thrown from his motorcycle after swerving to avoid an oncoming car.
"From the waist down, he has absolutely no movement," Peterson told the Associated Press. "He's in very good spirits, though. He still believes he's going to fight again."
However, doctors have said Williams will not walk again. He is listed in serious but stable condition and will undergo surgery on Thursday to stabilize his upper body.
Williams currently lives in Grovetown, Georgia and has ties to the Atlanta area. He trained at Atlanta Art of Boxing in midtown where owner Johnny Gant said he and others in the boxing community are devastated.
"I was ringside with his team in 2008 when he won the Welterweight World Championship. He had a lot of good fights ahead of him," said Gant.
Former teammate Calvin Shakir believes if anyone can defy the odds it is Williams.
"In boxing you have to have a big heart and a lot of determination. You've got to believe in yourself. Paul has all of those things and I wish him a speedy and full recovery," said Shakir.
Williams (41-2, 27 KOs) was scheduled to fight undefeated Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez for the WBC light middleweight title on Sept. 15 in Las Vegas, but that event has been canceled, Peterson said.
Williams' accident is the second tragedy in the boxing world during the holiday weekend, the traditional kickoff of summer. Former five-time world champion Johnny Tapia, who suffered through a brutal upbringing, and later from drug addiction and depression throughout his career, was found dead in his home at the age of 45 on Sunday night.
"It's amazing how things turn on the blink of an eye, and it makes boxing so much less important and life that much more important," Williams' promoter Dan Goossen said.
Peterson said he believes Williams, from Aiken, S.C., will make a statement after his surgery on Wednesday, "because he's that kind of person," he said. "He's 100 percent coherent and still has the will to want to get back on the motorcycle."
He said he hopes, along with Williams, that the fighter's career isn't over. "I want to think along with him, 'cause I've seen him do things in his boxing career that shouldn't have happened," Peterson said.
The crash happened when Williams tried to avoid another car in the next lane that was negotiating a curve, and had to maneuver to avoid an oncoming car.
"You can be wearing goalie equipment on those motorcycles and it's not going to protect you, with what I see these riders of these motorcycles do," Goossen said. "On the freeways they're going as fast if not faster than a car and they're up on your side before you know it, and if you neglect to see them, in a split second they can be right in your (line of fire)."
Goossen said this is probably the worst thing he's had to deal with during his many years in the sport.
"As it relates to physical injury to one of our fighters, it's devastating, it's shocking, it's going to be something hard to me to deal with," Goossen said. "I think of Paul as always smiling, always happy, tall, lean, bad-ass out there. He was able to switch that kindness and happiness into being one of the most exciting fighters in the last 10 years."
Williams has won world titles as a welterweight and junior middleweight, and his 6-foot-2 height and freakishly long arms made him one of the toughest fighters to face, and many fighters refused to face him.
He suffered the toughest loss of his career in a rematch with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in November 2010, when Martinez caught Williams with a powerful left hand and knocked Williams out cold. It was the most devastating knockouts in years, and was USA TODAY's and the boxing writers' knockout of the year for 2010.
Williams had defeated Martinez by majority decision 11 months earlier in a middleweight non-title fight.
Williams' last fight was a unanimous decision victory against Nobuhiro Ishida in February of this year.
Goossen said the outpouring of support for his longtime fighter has been amazing.
"I'm astounded by the emails and the tweets and the texts and calls that I've received in the last few hours," he said.
"It's astonishing how many people have been hit by this. It really is in the prime of his life. We were looking forward to his countenance in 2012 resurrecting itself to great statures, but right now the most important thing is taking care of these unfortunate circumstances."
Oscar De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Alvarez, tweeted, "To Paul williams.On behalf of my family and I, stay strong my friend hang on to the love of your family, our hearts and prayers are with u."
Pawel Wolak, a Polish fighter now living in the U.S., tweeted: "If Paul Williams doesnt walk again I know he will be even a bigger champion outside of the ring as he was inside. He will motivate others."
"I'll wait until after the surgery, and right now his words of encouragement have to come from within," Goossen said. "From what I've been told by George, he's very strong right now and knows what happened, he's alert, and preparing for surgery."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)