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Julian Williams: The Modern Philly Great


Boxing, not unlike life, one setback, and things just seem different. Philadelphia’s Julian “J-Rock” Williams was viewed as one of the most promising 154 lbers in the world, but after a knockout loss to Jermall Charlo in 2016, it seemed as though his story might be one of “what-if” rather than the preordained story of glory.

On Saturday, May 11th, 30 minutes away from IBF and WBA junior middleweight world champion Jarrett Hurd’s hometown, Williams put on a career-defining performance handing out a one-sided masterclass performance to win the world title, live on FOX.

Williams pushed back Hurd, who was thought to be the bigger man, as well as dropped him in the second round for good measure. Williams won at least nine rounds and beat Hurd in every aspect of the fight from tactically to mentally, Williams tried to break Hurd, but a gallant Hurd proved a worthy champion fighting back hard in the championship rounds.

An emotional Williams took the microphone afterward, but it was a cascade of emotions.


Williams was a highly touted amateur boxer starting at the age of thirteen-years-old amassing a record of (according to Wikipedia) 77-10 in eighty-seven amateur bouts, yet with that record never won a national tournament.

Williams not unlike most boxers came to the sport out of frustration and anger management as a teenager. Williams had a tough hand to start as Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports recounted a story in which Williams was living in a shelter of a bottom floor of a hotel, while the other young fighters had a home to go back to.

“He’d just competed in the national Silver Gloves boxing tournament, and one of his coaches had a car full of kids he was bringing home. The car would make stops in various Philadelphia neighborhoods, and the coach would watch as the young boxers would climb out of the car and bound into their homes.

Williams was the final kid in the car as his coach drove down Roosevelt Boulevard.

“Let me out here,” Williams told his coach. But his coach glanced around and saw no home for Williams to go to.

“What is your address?” the coach asked. Williams was reluctant to say, and again asked to be left off where they were. The truth was, there was no home. He was living in a shelter in the bottom floor of an old hotel, and he was too embarrassed to admit that.

From Kevin Iole’s 2016 story on Julian Williams – link

Williams story is not unlike many in which drug addiction and lack of resources saw their family in shambles. Their house was taken away as well as Williams put into Foster Care. Williams father got incarnated, and so the brief time living with him, was over as he tried to live with his mother, again, but drug addiction made the environment unruly for a young child.

Williams made a tough decision that rather than live with his sister, who was moving to North Carolina, he’d be homeless in Philadelphia to pursue a dream.

Williams mother died in 2013, just three years after Williams had turned professional.

We could continue on about Williams story, but it is unfair since I am generalizing and giving CliffNotes to something that shouldn’t be glossed over. I know some readers don’t like context to fighter’s backgrounds, and/or their history, but their human and despite being some of the physically toughest people in the world, their extremely vulnerable as well the uniqueness of the fighter’s plight is often overlooked for fantasy matchmaking on Instagram accounts.

Williams despite being a media favorite amongst popular pundits has been a life-long underdog, and this was never an exception in boxing. In the biggest fight of his career against Jarmall Charlo, it appeared that the moment might have gotten to him as he was brutally knocked out by Jermall Charlo in 2016.

The silence thickened. No one said anything, publicly, but the tea leaves were being read. 

It felt as though a good majority of boxing narrative constructors felt Williams had come-and-gone with that fight, whether fair or unfair.

For me, I truly can say I was unsure one direction or another, but being able to see Julian Williams, interact with him, and see the character of the individual he is, and how invested his coach Steve Edwards is in him, I genuinely wanted him to get the most out of his boxing experience. Williams loves boxing, unlike few boxers I have met. In fact, he will watch a club show to pass time on Friday night rather than do other things, which is rare, especially in a fighter.

I remember sitting next to him when he watched Jarrett Hurd fight Austin Trout and hearing him essentially saying that he hoped he could fight Hurd. It is little moments like that, that become special memories when you have obtained all the things in life your pride or desire wished for, and harkening back on someone knowing they can beat someone and then doing it, is a memory that can’t have a price on it.

Williams is a fighter, who has been drug-tested for the majority of his career, working with SNAC System and Victor Conte, often putting himself in positions that might be less advantageous in order to push for a clean sport or fairness in terms of competition when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. As with most people who put themselves on such a platform, he has been met with mixed results but has continued to push for VADA testing for his fights.

Williams is the face of modern-Philly boxing, a person who emerged from circumstances, daunting and overwhelming, to become a world champion and a dignified role model. Williams is a story of overcoming, whether it was obstacles life threw at him or obstacles in the ring, Williams accomplished his goal.

Now the young man, who is home-owner and landlord, is also one more thing, a unified world champion, something that very few people can say in this very short life of ours.

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Lukie Ketelle

Lukie Ketelle