OXON HILL, Md. — Julian “J Rock” Williams was one of boxing’s fastest-rising contenders when he received a mandatory shot against then-junior middleweight world titleholder Jermall Charlo in December 2016.
They engaged in a rancorous buildup to the fight, trading nasty words, and when they finally met inside the ring at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, it could not have been more disastrous for Williams as Charlo knocked him down three times in a crushing fifth-round knockout victory.
As disappointed as Williams was with the way the fight went, he did not do what many fighters do after such a rough loss, especially the first of their career. In other words, Williams did not disappear into an extended layoff and he didn’t make excuses.
“I had to [get over the loss]. It happened. I can’t dwell on it,” Williams told ESPN. “If I sit around and mope around and be depressed, nobody gives a s—. It’s like, OK, who’s next up?”
So, Williams took a little time off and was back in the ring six months later, knocking out Joshua Conley in the seventh round for the first of four wins in a row to position himself for another mandatory title shot, this time against unified titleholder Jarrett Hurd, the clear No. 1 fighter in the 154-pound weight class.
Hurd and Williams came face to face at a news conference at the MGM National Harbor on Sunday night, just before the start of that evening’s Lamont Peterson-Sergey Lipinets card, to kick off the promotion for their fight. It is scheduled to headline a Premier Boxing Champion card on May 11 (Fox and Fox Deportes, 8 p.m. ET) at the EagleBank Arena in nearby Fairfax, Virginia, which is just a short drive from Hurd’s hometown of Accokeek, Maryland.
“I know ‘J Rock,’ and he’s dangerous. He’s coming with a game plan. I’m not sure exactly what game plan they’re going to use, but I know they’re coming with some game plan.”
Williams did not take an easy road back to this title opportunity. During his four-fight comeback from the defeat, he outpointed always-tough former world titlist Ishe Smith and then outpointed Nathaniel Gallimore in a title elimination fight last April on the undercard of Hurd’s unification victory over Erislandy Lara in the 2018 fight of the year.
Even with a title shot locked up, Williams stayed active with a second-round knockout of Francisco Javier Castro on Dec. 1 on the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury card.
Williams is something of a throwback fighter in this day of record protection and inactivity by the boxing’s top contenders and titleholders.
He said he didn’t dwell on his loss even if he felt like many in the media did.
“I think in boxing, I think certain people, media got a lot to do with [dwelling on defeats],” he said. “I think boxers get ruined a little bit when they take losses. Some of the greatest fighters ever took losses. Joe Louis got knocked out before he won the [heavyweight] title. He wins the title and goes on to reign for [11-plus] years. I don’t got to go back that far. Tony Harrison gets knocked out twice, comes back and wins the [junior middleweight] title. Badou Jack, one of the best fighters between 168 and 175 in the last few years, [lost and came back]. I can go on and on.
“I think people put too much emphasis on a loss and they put too much emphasis on a win. One bad loss and a guy wasn’t s—. And then one good win and a guy’s pound-for-pound. I think a lot of that’s got to do with media. People want to blame Floyd Mayweather [for that attitude], but all he did was be great his whole career.”
Hurd, who knocked out Harrison to win a vacant belt in 2017, has made three defenses, including picking up another belt with his classic win over Lara, after which he had left shoulder surgery. Hurd returned from the injury to stop Jason Welborn in four rounds on the Wilder-Fury card.
Hurd said he has watched Williams’ loss to Charlo but by no means is counting him out because of it.
“I know ‘J Rock,’ and he’s dangerous. He’s coming with a game plan,” Hurd said. “I’m not sure exactly what game plan they’re going to use, but I know they’re coming with some game plan. I watched the fight with Charlo, and Charlo was a bigger puncher and he landed some great shots and he was able to get him out of there. But Julian Williams was in that fight, man. He was landing great shots on Charlo also. It was kind of back-and-forth action.”
If Hurd defeats Williams and Jermell Charlo (Jermall’s twin brother) defeats Harrison to regain a title in a rematch being planned for this summer, a Hurd-Charlo unification fight is likely for the fall. It was sidetracked when Harrison upset Charlo by controversial decision on Dec. 22.
If Hurd (23-0, 16 KOs), 28, has his way, he will go through Williams and Charlo will defeat Harrison and then they can get it on in the unification fight many have looked forward to.
Williams (26-1-1, 16 KOs), 28, of Philadelphia, said whatever Hurd has planned is not his worry. He said that he does not feel disrespected because Hurd might be looking ahead and that wrecking Hurd’s plans is nothing he has given thought to.
“My motivation is those two belts he has around his waist,” Williams said. “I don’t care about what’s going on with Charlo and Harrison. That’s got nothing to do with Julian Williams.”