February 15, 2013

KO Digest Spotlight on Boxing's Up and Comers - Ricardo Williams Jr.

Ricardo Williams Jr snaps the jab on SHO
By Terry Strawson - Born on June 25, 1981 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ricardo Williams Jr. was an Olympic Silver medalist in 2000, an inmate at FCI Ashland in 2005, and over the course of 2012, he looked to reestablish himself as a genuine prospect in boxing.

Williams Jr. began boxing at the age of seven, and he went on to compete close to 400 times as an amateur. He is a southpaw with footwork both sharp and conservative. His hand speed is noticeably superior to most. His composure and ring intellect allowed him to comprise an impressive resume culminating with the Silver in Sydney 2000. In the semi-final of that tournament, a 19 year old Williams squared off against Diogenes Luna of Cuba in what proved to be a thrilling contest.

"The day before the fight, the coach was trying to get me to watch the kid," Williams Jr. said referring to Luna, "But I had seen him fight and I knew he was a straight up slugger so I was telling myself 'I'm just going to box this guy and I'm going to stop him on points' and I really didn't think much of him. But I could tell from the first 30 seconds of the fight that, you know, I probably should have studied him," chuckled Williams Jr., "Because he wasn't allowing me to box at all. He was in my chest in the whole night." 

Williams in 2000
The fight was fought at a frenetic pace set by Luna, and the unrelenting Cuban - who went on to win the World Amateurs in 2001- was ahead on points in the early going. In the second half of the fight Williams Jr. fought back.  Luna was slowing after what had been a ridiculously high output and Williams Jr. was now finding more openings for his rapid-fire combinations. He went on to win 42-41 in one of the most competitive and entertaining amateur contests in recent memory.

The final against Muhammed Abdullaev was not meant to be, and despite many believing that the less than perfect scoring system employed at such events could have cost Williams Jr., he is at peace with how things developed. "I think they missed a few points," he said, "But if you go back and look at the Luna fight, they missed a couple points there too, from me and from him also, so you got to take the bitter with the sweet."

"I think the Luna fight was one of those fights that could have gone either way so I just look at it like the decision went my way that day but it went the other way [in the final], so you know, you got to take the bitter with the sweet," Williams preached.

A philosophical outlook reserved for those, like Williams Jr., who have endured both the bitterness of disappointment and the sweetness of success during their time inside the ring and out. His reward for a fantastic showing at the games was a professional contract from Lou DiBella that came with an unprecedented signing bonus worth 1.4 million dollars.

Along with the hefty bonus, Williams banked his first victory against Anthony Simpkins (5-0-1) and rattled off a further six against solid opposition before a fight with former IBF Champion Terron Millett (27-3-1). The Millett fight was the co-main event of Tapia/Barrera in 2002, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Millett, who knocked out Vince Phillips to gain the IBF light welterweight title just three years earlier, had only lost to Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah and the late Arturo Gatti. "That was a guy we trained for. I had seen him fight Zab Judah and I knew he was real strong because I had seen him land a shot on Zab and he knocked Zab down and Zab was really hurt. So I knew I couldn't slip up," said Williams Jr.

Where Judah had gotten reckless, the younger Williams Jr. had not. Williams outboxed Millett from the beginning and cruised to a comfortable and lop-sided decision victory. "I just looked at a lot of things Zab did because me and Zab, you know, we have a similar style, so me and my father watched the tape and seen how he adapted to what Zab did and pretty much got our gameplan from that fight right there."

It was a successful night for Williams Jr., and he had passed a big test very early into a career that seemed to be blossoming beautifully and heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, trouble was already brewing and following a couple of lack luster performances including losses against journeymen hardly worth a mention, Williams Jr. was in trouble.

"Around the Millett fight I was already messing around in the street, and the money that was coming from the street really brings the problems with training because you see all the money from the street and you think 'what am I running for? I got championship money already," Williams Jr. explained.

Williams Jr. was sentenced to three years at the Federal Correctional Institution at Ashland, Kentucky, on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He served just over two and a half years. "I went in there with the wrong attitude like I had something to prove, but there was a lot of guys in there who had been in there for 20 or 30 years who pulled me to the side and said 'Eh look, you don't wanna be coming in here with three years and leaving after thirty."

Upon his release from FCI Ashland Williams Jr. signed with Gary Shaw Productions and dispatched of Sebastian Hamel (9-13-1) in the first round of the scheduled six. The deal with Gary Shaw, and co-promoter Antonio Leonard, never amounted to much according to Williams Jr. and shortly after he signed with Goossen Tutor Promotions and a move to Houston, TX beckoned.

After putting together a respectable run of 9-0 since his release Ricardo Williams Jr. was slated to challenge Carson Jones (32-8-2) for his USBA welterweight title. Williams Jr. started brightly, showcasing the snappy jab and elusiveness that we'd become accustomed to but he was caught flush by Jones and ultimately succumbed.

Although he demonstrated the courage and bravery we take for granted from men in his position he was unable to defend himself properly against another barrage from Jones. Veteran referee Steve Smoger intervened as he slumped to the canvas again. "That was a fight that I was absolutely destroying the guy and just got caught with a lucky punch. At the end of the day it was a weight I probably shouldn't have been at."

After the fight; Williams Jr., now trained by Derwin Richards and Edward Jackson, decided to drop down to 140 lbs and campaign at the weight he had began his career. "I think I weighed in for the fight at 146 and we had to do a second weigh-in the next day and I came in with all my clothes on and weighed like 149 and then he came in at around 156 damn near naked" laughed Williams Jr.

His next outing, which was eventually agreed upon at 143lbs, was yet another chance at redemption and the challenge was provided in the form of a tough and capable Anthony Lenk (14-1). It was a non-televised bout on the undercard of Andre Ward and Chad Dawson at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. He looked sharp from the opening bell, but he was forced to exchange a little more than he may have wished. Lenk, who is based in Las Vegas, was on the offensive from the jump and charged forward effectively throughout.

Only 31, Williams looks to make up lost time
"I knew from watching him that he could box a bit. I knew he didn’t have a real big punch but I knew he could box. But I just really felt in my heart that he didn’t have the experience to come away with the win against me. That was my first fight since the Carson Jones fight and I think my timing was a little bit off but I was just happy to come away with the win."

At the final bell Williams Jr. was on the right side of a majority decision and, although the fight was close, it was certainly the correct call. It was my first time seeing Williams Jr. in the flesh and despite his reservations about his performance he had definitely made a believer out of me.

That fight positioned him for a showdown against the unbeaten Luis Ramos Jr. (23-0) on December 8th of last year. Ramos, a prospect held in high regard by Golden Boy Promotions, was a slight favorite heading into the bout and there was an edge to the action immediately. Williams Jr. was down in the second round after an awkward exchange but by the fifth round Ramos had cuts over both eyes and the action was brought to a halt.

The fight ended somewhat controversially as one or both of the cuts appeared to be caused by accidental head-butts but Williams Jr. felt at least one was caused by a punch and is at ease with the official decision.

"If you look at the first head-butt we clashed heads but after that I threw a hook and he grabs his eye, so you know, but the second head-butt may be what caused the cut," Williams Jr. explained. "I was very happy [with the performance] because each fight I know I’m getting stronger and each next time around I am going to look better than before." The victory against Luis Ramos, although controversial, had put Williams Jr. back into contention amongst the front-runners of the 140lb division.

As our interview concluded I coaxed Ricardo into commenting on the likes of Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson and so on but the Cincinnati native maintained the class he has shown in the second half of his career. "I take my hat off to everybody and respect everybody in the 140lb division and whoever gives me the best opportunity to provide for my family I’m ready to get it on. When that time comes I’m going to win."

Williams Jr., at a young 31, still has plenty to offer the sport and indeed his family. In a division as healthy as light welterweight Williams certainly has his work cut out but his credentials are comparable to those atop the 140 lb limit. His Manager James Prince, who has been of paramount importance according to Williams Jr., is currently working alongside Promoter Dan Goossen on a potential ring return in March.

"I think he's earned the right to a big fight," Goossen told KO Digest.  

If 2013 is not the year that Williams Jr is granted a shot at a title, it should certainly be the year in which he positions himself. "I'd like to see some type of title elimination or at least get him up in the top 2 or 3 in the world, and have that progress into a world title shot," Goossen said.

"He's only had one loss since 2004. He took a few years off, came back in 2008 and since then he's had twelve victories with the one loss coming when we took a gamble in a title elimination bout at 147. We're back down to where he should be and, from that standpoint, he definitely deserves it," Goossen continued.

A refocused and resurgent Ricardo Williams Jr, once again, has a prosperous boxing career seemingly headed in the right direction.

Overall Rating: B

Written by Terry Strawson - exclusively for KO Digest