'J Rock' Williams on the rise

Posted: June 20, 2014

ONE DAY early last decade, an inquisitive 12-year-old questioned a man running through the streets of his West Philadelphia neighborhood. The man was running because he was a boxer, he explained, and not long after the kid tagged along during a trip to a local gym.

"That's all she wrote," the kid, now soon-to-be title contender Julian "J Rock" Williams, said on a recent afternoon. "I've been in boxing ever since."

Williams, 24, is considered one of the top prospects in the highly competitive junior middleweight division but is also swiftly outgrowing that very label. Undefeated in 18 professional fights, five in the last year, the Overbook High product expects to fight for a belt by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2015. His trainer, Stephen "Breadman" Edwards, says a championship fight or title eliminator bout within the next year is realistic.

"By three difficult publications, he's been voted one of the top 10 prospects in the world," Edwards said. "But since the [Michael] Medina fight I don't consider him to be a prospect anymore."

The Medina bout signified the latest in a string of impressive victories for Williams (16-0-1). A month ago Tuesday, in Montreal on the undercard of Adonis Stevenson's title defense against Andrzej Fonfara, Williams earned his 10th pro knockout, dropping Medina, a 27-year-old from Los Angeles, just less than 2 minutes into the eighth round.

Williams, advised by the powerful Al Haymon but not attached to a promoter, could be back in the ring as soon as August, perhaps at Brooklyn's Barclays Center and perhaps on an undercard for light welterweight champion and Juniata Park native Danny Garcia. Regardless of his next opponent, Williams is already in the midst of a training camp.

Williams, who trains out of James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym in West Philly and resides in Lansdowne, doesn't attempt to veil his long-term goals. He wants to become an undisputed champion and eventually own the 154-pound weight class. But while ambitious, he also keeps himself in the moment.

"I think this whole thing's just a big process, you know?" he said. "Right now, I may be the hottest prospect in the country. I may be the hottest prospect in the world. But it's still a process.

"I never want to look to far down the road and say, 'Oh, I want to fight Canelo [Alvarez]. I want to fight this.' I've got to get past the guy that's in front of me. I've got to get past the guy that I'm going to be fighting in August before I can even think about Canelo or [Erislandy] Lara or anybody else."

Back when he first stepped foot in a gym, Williams was drawn to boxing for its contact. He played football as a kid and said he'd become aggravated when teammates didn't want to win as badly as him. In school, he never shied from confrontation. Boxing became a perfect fit.

"I probably been kicked out of every elementary school I ever been in" he said, estimating he attended probably 10 different grade schools in the area. "Seriously. That's not a joke."

Channeling his aggression into the ring, Williams put together an impressive amateur career, tallying a 77-10 record. He made his pro debut on March 7, 2010, on a Garcia card at the then-named South Philly Arena. It didn't last beyond the first minute.

Edwards, who Williams had met years earlier, was in attendance that night. A former boxer, Edwards had been looking to get back into the game. By Williams' next fight 5 months later, the two were working together.

Although Edwards hadn't previously trained fighters, it didn't take long for him to earn his student's trust. Before their first fight, Edwards taught Williams a move that would allow him to sneak a left hook on his opponent. Williams then knocked out Dean Peters Jr. in 24 seconds.

"I still think he's reached maybe only 75 percent of his potential," said Edwards, 38, and, like Williams, a West Philly native. "There are still things that he can do to better himself. I think his upside is really, really high."

Williams prides himself on his versatility. The words "Mr. Do It All" are stitched into the back of the red robe he wears into the ring. Edwards, who emphasizes regimented physical fitness and nutrition, tailors training camps with pad routines aimed at stymieing the combinations the upcoming opponent likes to throw. But Williams doesn't necessarily live by a particular style of fighting.

"When I go into a fight, I don't say, 'Well, I need to do this or that to win' because six or seven times out of 10 the fight doesn't go how you plan it to go," he said. "The best fighters in the world are the fighters who can adapt. Think about it: Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, those guys can adapt. I think I'm that kind of fighter, where I can adapt to any style and just get the job done."

Signing with Haymon 2 years ago has helped boost Williams' career. Almost all his recent fights have been televised and he's fought all over the country. As the wins continue to pile up, the opportunities grow.

"He's not really a secret anymore," Edwards said. "The secret's kind of getting let out of the bag."

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