Stephen ‘Breadman’ Edwards on Julian ‘J Rock’ Williams’ return
At this time, last year, Julian Williams was preparing for his bout against Jermall Charlo, then the defending IBF junior middleweight titlist. Back then, Williams was undefeated and a highly regarded young contender. He was so well thought of that many pundits believed he would take the title from Charlo on Showtime.
But on the night of December 10, at the Galen Center on the campus of USC, in Los Angeles, Charlo stopped Williams in five rounds. What was thought to be a coronation was instead a beheading.
Sometimes its not so much if you lose but how you lose. The loss raised many questions about the young man from Philadelphia, who, until that point, had seemed to be almost flawless in his technique and poise. The manner in which he lost evoked curiosity about his overall upside in the sport.
It’s one thing to lose a close decision but when you don’t react well to punches and hit the canvas a couple of times the way Williams did, the perceptions of you change drastically. It’s the fickle nature of the sport and those who follow it.
Williams rebounded on June 30 by stopping Joshua Conley in seven rounds and, tonight, from the Cosmopolitan at Las Vegas, he faces Ishe Smith in a classic crossroads bout. The question remains: Just where is Williams mentally, a year later?
“J Rock” hasn’t done much media leading into this contest (which will be broadcast on Bounce TV) but his always outspoken trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards tells UCNLive.com, “I think he’s very focused. I really, really do. There’s been little things that he’s done to let me know that he’s focused. We’ve always went away to Victor Conte’s, as you know – but we’ve never did a month out there. So to make that kind of sacrifice to be away from a small child – and I have three kids and (Williams) has a daughter – to be away from your family for as long as we were, I mean, even though we weren’t sleeping on the floor out there, it is still a helluva sacrifice to be out there away from your family to train, when you can just train in Philly.”
Edwards says his fighter didn’t even need prompting to shut off his phone or stay off social media prior to this pivotal contest. A year ago, he was the darling of pundits and fans alike; now, he’s a bit of a question mark. All because of one fateful night.
In looking back, Breadman – who is both keen observer of the sport and a boxing historian – says, “Honestly, the fight, from his perspective, is obviously anyone can micro-manage it and look back and say, ‘You could done this or that or the other’ but you could look at the tape of Ray Robinson and see a mistake that he made. (Williams) has the attitude of a good cornerback – that’s the way I could put it.”
In other words, he has a short memory. Regardless of what has happened previously, it’s onto the next play.
“He hasn’t been gun-shy. I’ve even let him spar without headgear, his first couple of days back, and he was fine,” said Edwards. Williams also was a sparring partner for unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin over the summer, as he prepared for Saul Alvarez in Big Bear, California. This was after he got Williams feet wet against Conley but Edwards admits, “This fight here will be a lot more telling.”
A couple of years ago, Williams engaged in some social media sparring with Smith, which got a tad heated. It’s not clear if the bad blood is still there. Edwards recalls that, last year, during a fight week, in Las Vegas, both boxers were conversing and ”nobody had to call security.”
Regardless, this fight is a pivotal one for both. The winner remains in the hunt; the loser faces a rather uncertain future.
So just what does Edwards expect from Smith?
“He’s a guy that, sometimes, he’ll try to make a fight out of it, the way he did with Vanes (Martirosyan) and then, sometimes, he can stink the joint out. I think with it being in his hometown and I think with him being at the stage of his career that he is at now, he’ll try to make a fight out of it and put some pressure on Julian,” he opined. “He’s at a point right now (in which) he doesn’t want to lose to another contender, so I think he’ll make a fight out of it.”
Edwards points out that there had to be a reason why Smith specifically called for this match-up. Williams, who is the younger, fresher fighter, has to be considered the favorite but he is also facing Smith in his hometown on a card promoted by Mayweather Promotions (which handles Smith). He admits this is a ”road game” for them.
But with a victory, they’re are back in the mix for a title shot in 2018.
“One-hundred percent and not saying we’ll get the title shot right away because, if there’s anything I can tweak in our approach – I don’t want to be off another nine-and-a-half, 10 months going into a fight like that,” said Edwards, who is still bothered by the long layoff they had coming into the Charlo fight last year. “I definitely think we’ll be back in the picture because Ishe Smith is usually a barometer for the top guys.
“So I think (Williams)’ll be back in the picture but I don’t want to look past (Smith), though, because I believe it’s going to be a tough fight. I believe Ishe Smith is a capable veteran and that he saw something in Julian and asked for this fight. So we have to make sure that whatever he saw in him does not come to fruition that night of the fight.”