Kelly Pavlik can't seem to get any respect, despite spending two years reigning over the middleweight division. Paul Williams gets so much that nobody is willing to step in the ring with him.

Good thing they have each other.

The humble pride of Youngstown, Ohio, will defend his WBO and WBC titles against Williams on Dec. 5 at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in a fight originally scheduled for October before a stubborn staph infection on Pavlik's left hand flared up.

It took two operations, but Pavlik said Tuesday that his hand is feeling better.

It's his pride that is still bruised.

"I still have a lot to prove," Pavlik said in a meeting room at the New York Giants' practice facility, where the fight was officially announced. "Even after the Williams fight, a dominant performance, there still would be a lot to prove."

Pavlik (35-1, 31 KOs) is routinely lampooned for sticking with hometown trainer Jack Loew, rather than finding someone with a bigger reputation, and for refusing to leave Youngstown for camp. Two underwhelming title defenses, against Marco Antonio Rubio and Gary Lockett, left many fans unsatisfied, and Pavlik was beaten soundly by Bernard Hopkins.

The unassuming 27-year-old champion is generous to a fault, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He chats with fans and answers questions with candid honesty.

Then he turns around to find himself defending everything he's accomplished.

"Critics come in boxing all the time, no matter what you do," Pavlik said, leaning forward and sounding exasperated. "If I go in there and dominate Williams, people will probably say he's a welterweight, blown-up junior middleweight, blown-up middleweight."

Pavlik's father and co-manager, Mike Pavlik, acknowledged it's been a bumpy title tenure for his son. The lofty and sometimes unreasonable expectations seem to weigh heavily on Pavlik, who would much rather toss darts with friends than sling bravado at news conferences.

"It's been a rollercoaster ride, it's been peaks and valleys. Sometimes the downside is every bit as much as the upside, and people on the outside don't ever see the downside," Mike Pavlik said. "Everything we do, we get criticized. What are you going to do?"

Taking the fight against Williams is certainly a positive step.

The bout came together after months of contentious negotiations, then weathered the postponement caused by Pavlik's staph infection.

Williams (37-1, 27 KOs) was hoping to fight before December and his promoter, Dan Goossen, considered other options. Then he ran into the same problem that has been hampering Williams for the past several years: Nobody wants to fight him.

He may be a natural welterweight, but at 6-foot-2, Williams claims he can fight anybody up to 168 pounds. He's been ducked and dodged by Shane Mosley and all the rest of the big names in the division in which he's most comfortable, leaving him little recourse but to step into the ring with the middleweight king.

"We're coming up out of necessity, but that's part of Paul's attraction to the fans is that he's willing to take anyone on," Goossen said. "You never like to give up any advantages, but Paul just has that extraordinary talent that overcomes any advantages someone may have from a weight position. We're not concerned, but you always like to fight in your own weight division."

Like Pavlik, Williams is a lanky fighter with surprising power in both hands. He's also incredibly versatile, winning WBO belts at 147 and 154 pounds.

Williams was impressive his last time out, winning a stunningly one-sided decision over former junior middleweight champion Winky Wright. Before that, the awkward left-hander beat Antonio Margarito and Verno Phillips, and avenged his only loss to Carlos Quintana by knocking him out in the first round.

"This is going to be a real big fight. A lot of people are asking, 'How are you going to stand up to Pavlik's power?'" Williams said. "I'm going to do what I do best. I'm going to make an exciting fight for the fans, and an exciting fight for me."

Like Pavlik, Williams realizes that this is a critical opportunity. Winning the 160-pound title would give him carte blanche to begin picking opponents, a luxury that he's never had.

"We had the first taste of it with Margarito. We tried to get any other welterweight in the ring, we just couldn't drag any of them in," Goossen said. "This just takes us to the next step right now. A win over Pavlik cements his position in the middleweight division."