Sitting in a wheelchair surrounded by children and teenagers at the Pound 4 Pound Gym in Las Vegas on Wednesday, former champion Paul “The Punisher” Williams grinned when asked a question by a young, aspiring boxer.
"You said that it's OK," 6-year-old Famous Johnson said in a high-pitched voice. "To lose, I mean. You said that it's OK to lose?"
Williams answered without hesitation: "Yes, it's OK to lose," he said. "As long as you go back and you learn from your mistakes."
Williams, 33, knows all too well about bouncing back after a loss. The two-division world champion lost his ability to compete in the ring when he was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident on May 27, 2012, but he hasn’t lost his zest for life.
Williams has remained active after his accident, not only hunting and fishing, but also returning to workouts in the gym that include modified boxing and calisthenics.
"I never thought that May 27 was going to be my last day [being able to walk], but when it came, I thank God that I had something to fall back on," said Williams, who received the Bill Crawford Award for courage in overcoming adversity from the Boxing Writers Association of America last May.
"I tell kids that even if they don't make it in boxing, that they need to have something else to fall back on, so they have to stay in school and graduate. After I got hurt, nothing changed in my attitude or the way that I see life. I just kept smiling."
Williams, who retired with a record of 41-2 with 27 knockouts, met with the youngsters in Las Vegas at the request of Pound 4 Pound Gym owners Richard Barrientes Sr. and Jr.
"A lot of people hit me up on my fan page and ask me if I can come to their gym. I want to keep them hopeful. I want to give them some motivation and keep them fired up," Williams said.
"Of course, I'm going to sign autographs and talk to the kids to give them hope. I never thought that I'd be an inspiration to so many kids, but people always tell me that I'm a motivator for them, even from a wheelchair."
- Beyond the ring