ATLANTIC CITY - Former welterweight and junior-middleweight champion Paul Williams officially gained his 40th career victory at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom on Saturday night.
Whether he actually earned the win, however, is the subject of a hot debate within the boxing community.
Williams' 12-round majority decision over former Cuban amateur standout Erislandy Lara was greeted with a chorus of boos from the sparse crowd of 2,176.
HBO announcers Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr. agreed with the fans, as did most ringside observers.
But not judges Al Bennett, Don Givens and Hilton Whitaker II. Bennett (114-114) scored it a draw while Givens (116-114) and Whitaker (115-114) gave Williams a slight edge.
The Press favored Lara by a 116-114 margin.
Former boxing judge Harold Lederman, who scores bouts for HBO on an unofficial basis, had Lara ahead 117-111.
"It was a good fight," Lara said through an interpreter Saturday night. "I don't know what the judges just saw. I definitely want a rematch."
Some outraged boxing fans demanded an investigation into the fight.
Aaron Davis, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, said in a phone interview Sunday that he had been bombarded with texts and voice mails from disgruntled and angry fans.
Davis said he intended to speak with Bennett, Givens and Whitaker today at the Control Board offices in Trenton but had no plans to declare the fight a no-contest or to discipline the judges.
"I'm not saying the judges did a great job, but for me to overrule their decision I would have to find that there was some sort of criminal intent or people were totally incompetent and I certainly don't think that was the case here," said Davis, who watched the fight at ringside and also viewed a TV replay Sunday morning.
"People are always looking for controversy in boxing. But it's such a subjective sport that people aren't always going to agree on the outcomes of fights.
"I personally thought a draw would have been a good score for the fight."
The judges apparently favored Williams' aggressiveness over Lara's accuracy. Statistics compiled by CompuBox showed that Williams threw almost twice as many punches (1,047 to 530) but only connected on 200 compared to Lara's 224.
The biggest difference was in power punches.
Lara connected on 178-of-363 (49 percent) while Williams was just 161-of-766 (21 percent).
"I thought it was a very close fight," Harrah's Entertainment consultant Ken Condon said Sunday in a phone interview. "Lara landed some big left hands, but Paul just kept coming at him. I really thought the fight could have gone either way."
The bout marked the second time in Atlantic City that Williams got the benefit of a controversial decision. On Dec. 5, 2009, he gained a 12-round majority decision over Sergio Martinez in the same arena as Saturday's fight.
The dispute in that fight centered around the scorecard of judge Pierre Benoist, who favored Williams 119-110. Judges Lynn Carter (115-113 Williams) and Julie Lederman (114-114) had it much closer.
"I want to talk to (Bennett, Givens and Whitaker) to see what they were looking at and why they scored the fight the way they did," Davis said. "I did the same thing after the first Williams-Martinez fight. My main concern is that our commission maintain its integrity because without integrity, you have nothing."
Williams' reputation as an elite fighter also took a hit on Saturday, leading to an uncertain future.
Given the controversial outcome, a rematch with Lara (15-1, 10 KOs) is certainly a possibility. But Williams (40-2, 27 KOs) is more interested in settling a score with Martinez. Saturday's fight was Williams' first since the 29-year-old resident of Aiken, S.C., suffered a brutal, second-round knockout against Martinez at Boardwalk Hall last Nov. 20.
There is also a slim chance that Williams could retire. He did not look sharp against Lara and absorbed more punishment than usual. He received stitches to close a cut above his left eye after the bout and also had a bloody nose and lower lip.
"I definitely want Martinez," Williams said. "I think the fans want to see it."
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