FOUR YEARS ago, welterweight Paul Williams owned the rarest title in boxing: Most Avoided Fighter. At 6'2" and 147 pounds, the Punisher, as he was called, towered over his opponents and beat them back with an onslaught of punches that often exceeded 100 per round. The style powered Williams to a 33--0 record—and kept most of the big names from coming near him. "We went after Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, all of the champions," says Williams's trainer, George Peterson. "We couldn't get any fights."
In May 2012 Williams finally reeled in a big one: rising star Sa√∫l Alvarez, whom Williams signed to fight that fall. But on May 27 Williams was riding his motorcycle in Marietta, Ga., when it crashed into an embankment, catapulting him into the air and sending him crashing down on his head. The impact badly bruised Williams's spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Boxers are not known for long-term planning, but Williams was an exception. In 2007, Peterson told him he needed to start preparing for his future, and suggested real estate. Starting with his '07 win over Antonio Margarito, Williams took most of the money he made for each fight and invested in property. He now owns eight apartment buildings, five houses and a salon, spread through South Carolina and Georgia. His days are spent being driven around to check on his properties. "He's not the Punisher anymore," says Peterson. "He's the Landlord."
Williams says he was never depressed over his accident. He admits he hasn't been diligent with his physical therapy, preferring to "drive around and live my life." He says friends often ask why he smiles so much. "If I didn't have my smile, people would think I'm hurting," says Williams. "Then I'd have two problems instead of one."
He's determined to walk again, however, for one reason: his fiancée, Shucinda Robinson. The couple live together in Augusta with their three kids. He hasn't set a wedding date yet, because he wants to stand opposite her at the altar and dance with her at the reception. "I want that for her," he says. "Me, I can't complain about anything."
KEVIN LILES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
LOOKING AHEAD Williams's various properties, for which he paid cash, together generate around $8,000 per month.