has a way of beating you down with sharp, accumulative, heavy blows and I think
he's going to be the violent scientist of his era."
trainer Stephen "Breadman" Edwards on his fighter, Julian Williams
the James Shuler Boxing Gym (known as Shuler's) in a non-descript corner
of West Philadelphia, fighter and trainer are supremely focused on
preparing for their next match, a September 22nd PBC headlining gig against
Argentine Luciano Cuello. Much work is to be done. There are three
rounds of pad work, six rounds of sparring, three rounds of hitting the double
end bag and a variety of strength and conditioning exercises before the day would
be complete. (Edwards and Williams allow me to observe the session and
both provide interviews afterward.)
Also at the gym is a PBC video crew, which is there to
tape promotional pieces for Williams'
upcoming bout. If Williams, also known as
"J-Rock," enjoys that the camera crew is spotlighting
him, it isn't readily apparent from his demeanor. He is all
business throughout the session.
the last 18 months, the Philadelphia junior middleweight has quickly
become one of the ascendant names in the 154-lb. division. Aligned with
powerful boxing advisor Al Haymon, Williams, now 20-0-1 with 12 knockouts, is
on the cusp of a title shot. Although Williams will be a decided favorite
against Cuello (35-3, 17 KOs), the Argentine has been in tough, losing
close decisions to Willie Nelson and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and
only having been stopped by Saul "Canelo" Alvarez.
has been Williams' coach since J-Rock’s second professional bout and
it has been his job to take the West Philly kid with the impressive raw
tools and turn him into a more polished and refined product. Throughout
the training session, Edwards focuses on specific aspects of positioning,
angles and movement. The trainer knows that his fighter is
supposed to beat Cuello but as a student of the sport, he
also understands that Cuello is the type of opponent who could spring an
upset if Williams is unprepared or unfocused.
Cuello, Edwards said, "He's very steady, He's hard to stop. He's only been
stopped once in 38 fights and he was stopped on his feet. I expect a guy with a
lot of experience, a physically strong guy...I'm not going to allow Julian to
slip up. Now people have lost to worse guys than Cuello. He's supposed to win
the fight, obviously. But he's no one that we can take likely."
(a fighter who watches a lot of tape of his opponents) echoed much of his
trainer's scouting report of Cuello. "I know he's a solid guy," he
said. "He's a tough guy. I'm sure he'll be giving 110% percent and
we're expecting a tough fight."
mood changes throughout the various points of the day. There are light moments
where Edwards and Williams exchange in-jokes and razz on each other as well as
the other fighters who are working out at the gym. A pin drop
could be heard as Edwards was instructing Williams on movement and punch
sequencing during the pad work. Instructions are shouted from trainer to
fighter during Williams' sparring with impressive Philly amateur Isaiah
Wise. After the sparring, Williams and Edwards compete with
each other on a movement and coordination drill. All throughout the day,
despite the changes in activities and intensity, there is a
palpable sense of respect and affection between the two.
though many of the top fighters at junior middleweight are
also aligned with Al Haymon, Williams hasn't been able to secure
a matchup with any of them. Potential bouts against bigger names
have fallen through. Despite ample television exposure, Williams remains on the outside of the division's top rung. However, he reveals no outward sign
of malice or anger regarding the state of his career.
don't usually think about where I am in my career," he said. "I'm
just thinking about the next guy. In reality, I have to get that first before I
can look at anyone else. If I sit back and analyze where I'm at, I think I'm
knocking on the door. But I'd just like to focus on the next guy."
bigger fights falling through, Edwards hasn't seen any negative fallout from
his boxer. "Marvin Hagler didn't get a title shot until he had
50 fights," said Edwards. "He's [Julian's] not in that
position. Sure, he's a little overlooked and a little overdue but he's not at a
point where he's losing motivation. He's getting paid well to fight so I shouldn't
have to motivate him at this point. He's self-motivated as far as I’m
Wise, the sparring partner, Williams has his hands full in the first
round. (Edwards brings in Wise each camp.)
Wise applies effective pressure and has some success with
punches from untraditional angles. In the second and third rounds,
Williams turns the tide with some blistering left hook-right hand combinations.
His large offensive arsenal is also starting to have an effect in breaking
down Wise's defense. In the latter rounds of sparring, Williams uses his
jab very effectively at points to control range. He also features a
very sharp counter right uppercut.
Wise gives him good work throughout. Edwards calls out more than once
for Williams to increase his punch activity. He wants Williams to use his jab
more consistently. In addition, Edwards implores Williams to spin out of
corners with more precision. He's trying to get Williams to move in
a more compact motion so that he can be in a better position to land
the end of the six rounds, Williams has clearly gotten the better of
the action but Wise was successful in pushing him. The two fighters
embrace after the final bell and Edwards congratulates Wise and
his trainer for giving his fighter good work. Later on, Edwards talks
about how well Williams did during the sparring session and he specifically
highlights his fighter's punch variety.
call him Mr. Do-It-All," said Edwards, "because he knocks guys out
with body shots. He knocks guys out with left hooks. He knocks guys
out with right hands. He can win a fight any kind of way. You know a lot of
guys can't do that. It's a gift. Some guys can only win a fight one way.
He's comfortable fighting in any kind of way."
pleased as Edwards is after the sparring, when he moves Williams to the double
end bag, he makes the fighter repeat several exercises until he gets it
right. Edwards barely raises his voice during this part of the
session. He consistently stresses movement and footwork. When
Williams does something that Edwards doesn't like, the trainer corrects
him with soft instruction, as a supportive teacher would. Edwards
isn't a fire-and-brimstone type.
the session, Williams conducts an interview with the PBC crew and goes
through several poses and camera set-ups for their promotional material.
(Interestingly, the PBC guys spray Williams down to get just the right
"look" of perspiration.)
of the opponent, Williams is thrilled to be fighting much closer
to home. Although Bethlehem is 70 miles from Philadelphia,
this is Williams' first bout in Pennsylvania since 2011.
is understated when talking about himself or his career. He gives thoughtful
answers and he's not one to disparage potential opponents or use the media
to settle scores. Despite any frustrations that he might have with
bigger opportunities falling through, Williams declines to say anything
negative about the other fighters in the division.
watch all of them – Andrade, Lara, the Charlos – I think it's a pretty stacked
division," Williams said. "I'm looking forward to tangling with those
guys. Whoever comes out of this division on top is probably going to be a Hall
of Famer or pretty close to that...and very rich. I'm happy to be right in the
middle of it."
Williams' inability to land bigger names in the division clearly bothered
Edwards. "Guys know who they want to fight and who they don't want to
fight," he said. "There are certain champions who everyone wants
to go after and there are certain champions that nobody wants to fight. So it's
not a coincidence that there's always an excuse when it comes down to
fighting him. 'Oh, what does he bring to the table?' And then a guy fights
somebody else who brings less to the table.”
Edwards wasn't done on the topic. Later, he said, "There are a lot of guys
who always have an excuse when it comes to fighting him. And they act like he's
high risk/low reward and everybody acts like they're a superstar. There are
only four superstars in this era: Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Canelo
Alvarez and Miguel Cotto...Everybody else is pretty much in the same
points out that these past slights have affected Williams, despite his calm
demeanor outside the ring. In fact, he has been impressed with how
Williams has used these setbacks as positives.
now, he's fighting the best of his career,” Edwards said, "because he
has a chip on his shoulder, because he's overlooked...I like the fact that he
stays mean. He stays motivated. He stays nasty. He's going to have to
have that Marvin Hagler attitude in this era. So if they want to keep overlooking
him, I kind of like it a little bit because it makes him meaner. It hurts his
feelings. And he fights better as a kid that nobody appreciates...
years from now, people are going to talk about how many careers he ruined. I'm
telling you. He's rolling. In the gym today, that was nothing. He's rolling
guys...He can really take something off of a guy's career. That's why people
don't want to fight him."
two make an interesting pair. Williams remains humble and even-keeled
outside of the ring while Edwards is gregarious, passionate and has a bit of swagger.
For whatever disappointments about the fight game that are hidden by
Williams, these slights are immediately apparent in Edwards' defense of his
boxer. The trainer is not just Williams' teacher but also
his protector and surrogate.
In the ring, Williams' reticence vanishes. He's knocked out 8 of his last
11 opponents (not counting a no-decision because of a cut) and his power shots are on point. He's out to do damage.
The affability he exudes outside of the ring dissipates like morning fog once he gets into the squared circle. He knows his time
is coming soon. And everyone in the gym has the same feeling.
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, SN Boxing on Facebook