Julian Williams ready to put on a show in first title defense

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Julian Williams celebrates after beating Jarrett Hurd in their welterweight championship bout at EagleBank Arena on May 11, 2019 in Fairfax, Virginia. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Fighters show their championship pedigrees in different ways. For Julian Williams, it came when the emotions were coursing through his body, when the crowd was roaring, when the television announcers were shrieking, when everyone was thinking, “Go finish this guy.”

Williams was challenging Jared Hurd for the IBF-WBA super welterweight title on May 11 in Fairfax, Virginia, in what was Hurd’s home turf. The unbeaten champion was heavily favored to beat Williams, who had been knocked out in the fifth round of a previous title shot by Jermall Charlo.

Few gave Williams much of a chance to defeat Hurd. The bout was a showcase for Hurd, who had scored a series of impressive wins and was beginning to get recognition as one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the sport. But Williams never wavered in his belief that he would win the fight, even considering his first title-fight loss and the fact he’d fight Hurd on the road where it was set up for Hurd to be the hero.

“From the minute we signed the contract, I believed I was going to win that fight,” Williams told Yahoo Sports. “I told everybody I spoke to, if I could be guaranteed a fair referee and two fair judges, I would win it.”

He boxed beautifully in the first round, and then late in the second, the moment arrived. He was pinned in the corner and made Hurd miss several shots, using good head movement. He slid down the ropes and landed a sharp right cross. Hurd didn’t immediately go down, but was off balance and then fell as Williams threw a left that appeared to miss.

The crowd was stunned and Williams coolly walked to the neutral corner to await the referee’s count. A guy who for so long had dreamed of winning the title had his moment at hand: If he could land a couple more clean shots, he’d get Hurd out of there and become the champion.

Williams came out of the corner and had a different strategy. Yes, he threw punches, but he didn’t unload in a crazy, windmill manner to allow Hurd to counter him.

Instinct said to polish him off, but his smarts told him to not abandon his plan.

“I figured he was buzzed rather than really hurt, so it was a matter of me being aware enough of the situation to not shoot my load,” Williams said. “It was the second round, not the 11th. He’s a guy who comes on strong in fights and I knew that I might not have enough left in the tank later when he started to make his rally and I’d shot my load trying to finish him. You’re fighting at this level, you have to be aware and be in control of yourself.”

Few fighters were ever more in command than Williams was in that moment. And it’s why he’s not concerned about looking past Jeison Rosario when they meet on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, Fox) in his first title defense.

Williams knows what it is like to be overlooked and he knows that will fuel Rosario. So he’s treating Rosario as if he’s the toughest opponent he’s faced rather than a guy brought in to lose.

“This is all about perception,” Williams said. “The perception of me in my last fight was, I was a decent journeyman and there was no way I could win in his hometown. But I went out there and I won the fight and now I’m defending the title in my hometown. And there’s that word again: The perception is, this is a fight that I can just show up and get the win. 

“But that’s just because the public doesn’t know who he is. Maybe he’s not a legit Top 10 guy, but he’s right there. On any given night, he can beat any one of the Top 10 guys in the world. If I would disrespect him and not take him seriously, his confidence would build and build. He’d have some success and it would build. But I took him as seriously as I’ve taken any fight because when you’re a champion, when you’re fighting at this level, that’s the only way you can possibly do it.”

So Williams vows that Rosario will see the best of him and that he’s not going to surrender the title he put a lifetime of work in to get by not being ready.

He’s ready to put on a show and begin building a reputation for himself.

“I was chasing one dream for my whole life and when I got it, was a great relief and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I checked that X off, but that wasn’t the end. It was only the beginning. I can’t guarantee a win. Nobody can. All I can guarantee is that I’ll give everything I possibly can [on Saturday] just like I’ve given everything I possibly can in this camp. I’m confident and I’m ready and I am excited to prove that.”

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