Williams on the rise
John A. MacDonald
Each year, a handful of fighters enter the professional ranks amidst much fanfare as each punch is televised live and greeted with a cacophony of hyperbole. This extravagance is reserved for two kinds of prospects; amateur standouts and those who can single-handedly sell hundreds of tickets to their army of supporters.
Liam Williams was not one of the chosen few. Instead, he quietly learnt his craft on the small hall circuit in his native Wales and on the non-televised portions of the undercards of his more illustrious stable-mates within Queensberry Promotions. Despite the inauspicious beginning to his career, in 2014 he displayed that he may have the talent to reach the upper echelons of the sport.
“To be honest, I think it’s a more a business than it is a sport,” Williams, 12-0 (7 KOs), told Boxing Monthly very matter-of-factly over the phone from his Clydach Vale home. Indeed, the 23-year-old displays a maturity beyond his years as he accepts the political aspects of boxing.
“I’ve always had the potential but I didn’t get a lot of TV coverage and that’s why casual boxing fans didn’t know who I was,” he said. “Now that I’m being given the opportunity I’m grabbing it with both hands and making people realise that I’m a really good prospect.”
Despite his low-key beginnings as a professional, Williams had a successful amateur career winning 44 out of 49 contests; including Welsh and British titles at a variety of age groups. While many are drawn to boxing as a means of achieving stability in their lives, this wasn’t the case for Williams. His motivation was simply: “It’s cool to go to the boxing gym.”
“My old amateur coach, Ivor Bartlett, only lived down the street from me and I kept asking him and my old man to take me to the boxing gym [Rhondda ABC]. I went there when I was nine-years-old, Ivor used to take me every day and I’ve never looked back,” Williams reflected.
The partnership between Williams and Bartlett lasted almost a decade until his final few months as an amateur when he boxed under the guidance of Vince Cleverly. Nathan Cleverly – at the time on the verge of becoming WBO light heavyweight champion – had presented Williams with an award for Welsh Amateur Boxer of the Year. Afterwards, Vince invited him to train with him and Nathan.
The working relationship was short-lived. Williams deciding to part company with his Cleverly in favour of Gary Lockett, who had been his manager since Williams entered the paid ranks. The split was somewhat acrimonious.
“It was a number of things, we had a bit of a falling out and he didn’t take it too well that I was going to Gary and that was that,” Williams said.
Williams believes that the success he has had since justifies his decision as he credits Lockett with making him a better boxer. As a fighter, Lockett amassed a very credible 30-2 (21 KOs) ledger which included winning the WBU middleweight title and an unsuccessful challenge for the WBC and WBO belts held by the then formidable Kelly Pavlik. This experience has helped forge a close bond between Lockett and his young protégé.
“To be honest with you, when I was with Vince I used to go in to the ring with no game-plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was boxing like a headless chicken really,” said Williams. “Now with Gary, he talks you through everything. You know he’s been there and done it himself so you can put your trust in him because he knows what it takes.
“We get on really well. Even when I’m not in the gym, I speak to him every day on the phone. We meet up and just go for a coffee and talk boxing. He’s a great guy. I’ve just been for a run with him this morning. When you’re not training for a fight it’s harder to stay motivated with nothing coming up so Gary just texts me to go for a run then go for a coffee. We just really enjoy each other’s company. Well I enjoy his anyway, I hope he enjoys mine,” he laughed.
Under the tutelage of Lockett, Williams was able to drop down to the light-middleweight division and finally be in a position to give up his day job as a roofer to become a full-time fighter. This reaped rewards - as Williams said: “Lifting tiles up and down ladders all day isn’t easy.” With these changes in place all he needed was an opportunity to showcase his talent. The chance arrived on the undercard of gym-mate Enzo Maccarinelli’s WBA light heavyweight title challenge against Jurgen Braehmer in Rostock, Germany.
Williams caught the eye of Queensberry Promotions’ matchmaker Jason McClory, who was in attendance. McClory had selected Yuri Pompillio for Williams, having witnessed him take Sheffield puncher Adam Etches the distance a few months previously. Williams succeeded where Etches had failed by obliging the referee to stop the contest in the final round of the eight scheduled, despite fighting the majority of the contest with a broken hand.
“I broke my [right] hand in the second round. It was quite painful, I had to go another six rounds with a broken hand. I slipped the jab, threw a right uppercut and caught him straight on the elbow,” he said. “I knew straight away it was broken. I just grabbed hold of him and didn’t let go for a couple of seconds because I was in really bad pain. I got back to the corner and told Gary about it and he just said ‘so what? Just get on with it.’ That’s what I did and I got a good win, finishing him in the eighth round. I was really happy with that.
“Jason McClory was the one who was over there. He was really happy with my performance. He said: ‘On the back of that we’ll get you some good fights.’”
McClory stuck to his word about getting Williams meaningful fights and pitted him against former Commonwealth welterweight title challenger, Ronnie Heffron, just three months later. It was a fight that both Williams and Lockett jumped at despite the perception of many that Heffron would start as favourite. Their confidence was proven to be well founded as Heffron’s corner retired their man after six torrid rounds.
“They [Queensberry Promotions] realised I was a title contender and offered us the Heffron fight and Gary didn’t have to think about it for a minute, he just said: ‘Yeah.’ They asked: ‘Do you not need time to think about it?’ Gary said: ‘No, definitely not.’ They were quite shocked at that because they thought I wouldn’t take that fight,” Williams recalled.
“I knew I had too much for Heffron from the start. A lot of people were saying: ‘Who’s this guy?’ and not giving me a chance. More than anything I was just really happy to get that win because it’s opened a lot of doors for me.”
Doors did indeed open for him on the back of the Heffron win which was televised live on Boxnation. After a routine victory over Stephan Horvarth in October, he was offered the chance to face Michael Lomax for the Commonwealth light-middleweight title three and a half weeks late.
“I was in the house eating Chinese and Gary called me and said: ‘Stop eating whatever you are eating.’ I was like: ‘Why? What’s up?’ then he told me: ‘You’re boxing in 3 weeks.’ I was like: ‘Fuck!’ Luckily enough I hadn’t gotten too out of shape and overweight,” Williams candidly told BM.
Having instantly resumed his diet with his normal diligence, Williams made the 154lbs limit with ease and dispatched of the veteran Lomax inside the first round. Every right hand that landed hurt his rival and forced referee Marcus McDonnell to step in. While winning your first title as a professional is always a proud moment, Williams hasn’t gotten carried away with his celebrations as he realises that there are tougher challenges than Michael Lomax and more lucrative rewards than the Commonwealth on the road ahead.
“It was my best experience in boxing so far but I’m not too proud of it really because I don’t feel that the Commonwealth is all I’m going to win, I’ve got a lot more to prove. I know there are bigger tests and bigger titles to come so it doesn’t excite me as much as it probably should have. I’ve still got a hell of a lot to learn.”