Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catching up with Thomas Williams, Jr.

Light heavyweight Thomas Williams, Jr. (18-1, 12 KOs) had a very eventful 2014. Winning a shootout against Cornelius White in the Saturday Night Boxing Round of the Year, Williams scored a sensational opening-round knockout but also tasted the canvas for the first time in his career. He followed up that performance with a third-round stoppage over the usually durable Enrique Ornelas.

His biggest test of the year occurred in August against former titleholder Gabriel Campillo. The fight was an IBF eliminator. Williams had success in the early rounds but gut cut in the fourth, which significantly affected his performance. After the fifth round, the doctor stopped the contest, resulting in Williams' only loss of his professional career. Williams rebounded later in the year with a wide decision victory over Michael Gbenga.

In 2015, the 27-year-old Maryland native hopes to land a title shot. Advised by powerful boxing broker Al Haymon, Williams looks forward to getting the big fights that could put him at the top echelon of the 175-lb. division.

In the following interview, Williams, discusses the aftermath of his first defeat, his relationship with Al Haymon, his surprise at the death of Dan Goossen (who was the promoter for a number of his fights) and two potential futures opponents. Please note, a portion of my interview with Williams appeared in the 2014 Saturday Night Boxing Awards article, where he talked extensively about his fight with White – that content won't be repeated here but it's certainly worth checking out.

Interview edited and condensed by Adam Abramowitz

Thomas, thank you for your time today. I know that you were recently in a car accident. Is everything OK?

Yeah, I’m OK. It was a very bad collision. I was coming home from my stepdad’s birthday celebration and a drunk driver ran a red light and hit us. I went to the hospital and got checked out – me and my two daughters and my fiancé – but everything’s cool though. We were lucky to walk away with no injuries. 

Well I’m glad to hear that. That's very good news.

I wanted to talk about the Gabriel Campillo fight. It was an IBF eliminator and a step-up fight as he was a former champion. You were doing really well in the first couple of rounds. What was the game plan for Campillo? 

The game plan for Campillo was to stay inside of his chest. I thought that I was controlling the fight beautifully. I thought I controlled every round [early]. In the second or third round, before the cut, he threw a jab. If you were watching the fight, you could tell that something had happened. I went into a different mode. What happened was when he threw a jab – I don’t know if it was intentional or unintentional – the jab caught me with the thumb in the eye and I went blurry. It’s like you're in a pool and you get out of the pool and you have that cloudiness in your eye. That’s what happened in the third round. It was so cloudy I couldn’t even see out of my left eye.

And then, maybe the fourth round, he cut me. Of course, people would say, “Oh he went into a different fight mode.” Of course you’re going to go into a different fight mode. Same thing with the Cornelius White fight when I got dropped. It went from boxing this guy to a fight now, a brawl. When I got cut, of course it’s a different fight now. Now I'm trying to get away from punches. Hopefully this thing would clear up in a couple of rounds so that I could get back to work. But it never cleared up.
What was going on in the corner between rounds? Between the fourth and the fifth, there was a lot of work being done on the cut. What was the communication between you and your trainer? What advice were you getting?  

My cutman was on the inside. My trainer was on the outside. He still wanted me to stay on his chest and Mike [Rodriguez] was working on the cut and Rob [Paterson], my trainer, asked me if I could see. I was like, no, I can’t see but just clean my eye and I should be good. And if you look back at the fight I kept saying, “Wipe my eye. Wipe my eye. Wipe my eye.” I was hoping that when my eye was wiped up, it would clear up and I could go back to work but it only got worse after that.

After the round, I came back. He [my trainer] asked if I could see. I said "no." I think he then might have grabbed the doctor. And the doctor came to me and said can you see. On instinct, the first thing I said is that I want to fight. And he said, you can’t see. I’m going to stop the fight. And then he told the referee and the referee stopped the fight.  

You’re a big prospect. You’re coming up in the sport. How tough was that first loss for you? What was that first week like when you returned home? 

Oh man. I’m not even going to lie. It’s not even the first week, the first month maybe. I just kind of moped around the house a little bit. With me, I like to represent my family, my mom, my dad. I felt like I let them down. They kept telling me I didn’t let them down but I felt that's what they're supposed to tell me. I actually didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of my fiancé. I didn’t even want to talk to my mom and my dad or my trainer because I felt like I let them down.

I was real tough on myself. When I got home, I saw my daughters. I kind of got away from boxing. I didn’t really think about it as much. My daughters were in the house and that’s all I could really think about. 

I was just joking with fiancé in the room about an hour ago. I said, this past year, 2014, I was a prospect. Next year, I got to get fights. I’m past a prospect now. 

Have you seen the Campillo fight again? If so, what are your thoughts looking back on it? 

Honestly, I never watched it. I don’t want to watch it. I have it right now on my DVR. I have all my fights saved. When I go out of town, I set up a recorder and record it when I’m gone but that’s the one fight that I haven’t watched.  

You returned to the ring at the end of 2014 with a decision victory against Michael Gbenga. How did that fight go in your opinion? 

It went really good. I had seen him fight Badou Jack. I heard about him fighting Phil Jackson [Benson]. Every time this guy got hit with a body shot, he complained that it’s low and this and that. When Badou Jack hit him with a body shot, he just stayed on the ground and they stopped the fight in the third round I think. Badou Jack got the win. 

So when the referee came to me before the fight, I said when I go to the body he’s going to act like it’s low. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a big body puncher. So, the first round I punish him to the body. He goes to the referee and the referee says, “Tommy, you got to keep them up.” And I said, I told you before the fight this guy was going to cry. 

Other than that, I think I dropped him twice [it was once]. I hurt him. He hit me with a nice shot, a right hand in the ninth round, but it didn’t put me down or anything. I followed the plan. I went out there, got my rounds in. I boxed him good. I hurt him. The only thing I didn’t get was the knockout victory.  

What are you working on right now in the gym? I know that every fighter wants to add something to his arsenal or work on improving. What are you focusing on right now?

I was actually in the gym right after the fight. I haven’t been in since the accident but I’ll be back in the gym on Monday. What we’re working on now is just staying sharp because my fights are spread apart – three or four months apart. When we take the time off, it’s hard to get back to that mode. Now we’re going right back to the gym after the fight, just trying to stay sharp. So when we come back, we won't feel like we're starting at 50% or 40%. We’re now at 90% or 100%. 

I know that a lot of people in boxing are interested in Al Haymon and that he’s your advisor. What’s the process like in terms of getting a new fight? How does a new fight get set up? 

I don’t know about everybody else but with me personally…after the fight, Al would call me and say this and that – when are you looking to get back in there. After this last fight, one of the people who work for him called me and asked me when I’m looking to get back in and I said I wanted to take Christmas off and I wanted to get back in in February. Usually, they just call me after the fight.  

Dan Goossen was the promoter for some of your fights. What was your relationship like with him and what did his passing mean to you?  

Ah man. I had a big relationship with Dan Goossen. He wasn’t my [contracted] promoter or anything but he promoted my last five fights. We had a real good relationship. He wanted to take me all the way to the light heavyweight championship. It was sad that we couldn’t do it together.
When I heard about it, I had just seen him in August, when I fought Campillo, and we had a good conversation. We were talking in the lobby for about 30 minutes. And there wasn’t a sign or anything. So when I heard about it, it was pretty much a shock to me. It hurt me. I tried to go back and think, “Did he show me anything?” No, he seemed good. He seemed healthy. He seemed like the same Dan. It definitely hurt me.  

Another thing I wanted to ask you about it the D.C./Maryland boxing scene. I know that there are a number of young, emerging fighters from the area – Gary Russell Jr., Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, the Peterson brothers. Are you guys close with each other? 

I’m pretty much cool with most all of them, probably 80% of the D.C. fighters. I'm real close with the Petersons. I talk with Lamont [Peterson] pretty frequently. I’m cool with Dusty and Gary. But of course there are those who don’t see eye-to-eye with some people. And that‘s just life. That’s not even boxing. That’s life, period. But for the most part, I’m basically cool with everybody. Some people might have problems with me but that’s because they see me on the tube every time they turn it on.
For 2015, what are you hoping to accomplish? If 2015 is a good year, this will happen. What is “this” for you?  

If 2015 is a good year, Thomas Williams will be fighting for a world championship. All it is now is fights. It’s no more building now. When you get to over 15, 16 fights, it’s time to go now. Some guys get a world title before that. I think Rigondeaux fought for a title at 8-0. Lomachenko fought for a title at 1-0. So it’s time to go. There’s no more building me up. 

I know that you’re a big fight fan. Would you like to share any thoughts about the Hopkins-Kovalev fight, two big guns in your division? What did you see in that fight?

Honestly, I was very impressed with Sergey Kovalev. He paced himself because he probably knew that Bernard would be in for the long haul. We didn’t know about Kovalev’s wind because he never went past seven or eight rounds before. He was smart. He dished a little bit here, coasted a little there. I think he saved it all…he closed the show beautifully. He did a number on Bernard in the 12th round.  

If you had a choice about realistic opponents, who are a couple of guys who you would like to fight next? 

Anybody. Anybody in front of me. I’ve always said that. Because if you’re in front of me, I have to beat you so you can get behind me.  

It doesn’t matter. There have been a couple of guys calling me out on the Internet. Blake Caparello. I don’t know much about him. 

Kovalev knocked him out in two rounds last year. 

Yeah, he can get it. I want to fight him. There’s another guy who fought Eleider Alvarez. He's from South Africa, Ryno Liebenberg. I don’t even know these guys but for them to be hitting me up on my twitter page trying to fight me, I must be doing something right. I don’t even know Blake Caparello and he hit me up trying to make a fight. It was between the Ornelas and the Campillo fight. He said why don't you push this other guy to the side. If I don't get the Kovalev fight, let's rock it, me and you.  

They both hit me up. I didn't know them. But after they hit me up, I looked them up. I know that South African guy could take a butt whooping, the one Alvarez beat up. He was beaten to a pulp. His face was all messed up. 

I know that I could give Caparello a boxing lesson. So you can put Blake Caparello and this punching bag [Liebenberg]…you know in all the interviews I do, I never call anybody out, but these two guys have been talking a lot of trash. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter

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