By Lyle Fitzsimmons
When Carl Williams climbed the ring steps to face a prime, unbeaten Mike Tyson in July of 1989, I don’t recall a lot of people yelling that “The Truth” would put an end to what had been nearly a three-year heavyweight reign of menace.
In fact, I probably was the only one.
I’d just as soon chalk it up to the ignorance of youth, but back then, as best pal Rob Moody and I settled into his living room to catch the match on HBO, I wasn’t at all shy in explaining to my host why the chiseled 6-foot-4 challenger would do what 36 others had failed to accomplish.
He was a head taller than his pint-sized foe. He had a left jab that could burst a melon. And he had legs that could carry him through 45 minutes of hard combat, which he’d proven against a guy – albeit a declining Larry Holmes – I considered far superior to those I’d seen Tyson monotonously vanquish.
This was no terrified creampuff, I insisted. Iron Mike was in for a schooling.
Toward that end, the 93 seconds between bells that night were decidedly unfulfilling.
And even though there was some controversy over whether referee Randy Neumann gave Williams enough of a chance after he rose dull-eyed from a thudding left hook, I’d have had to stop Rob from laughing before I could have made much of a case for a rematch.
Regardless, it was actually the fight with Holmes four years earlier that steered me toward ill-advised prognostication with Mr. Williams, who, at age 25 and with just 16 nondescript bouts under his belt, pushed a 47-0 incumbent as close to the brink as anyone had in seven years of trying.
Holmes was my dad’s champ. He was the establishment. Williams was nobody.
And as a rebellious 16-year-old wannabe myself, I loved him for it.
These days, the idea of a 15-round heavyweight fight on free TV seems as dated as the New York Jets in a Super Bowl. But I recalled nearly every detail of the NBC broadcast from back then as I punched it up on You Tube Monday – right after I heard Williams had succumbed to cancer at age 53.
It was such a good fight that I almost forgot why I was watching.
The anonymous challenger, whose only name win had come over James Tillis, was nearly every bit the great Holmes’ equal. And though two scorecards gave it to Larry by lopsided 11-4 counts, the remaining 8-7 tally was more indicative of what actually occurred, and perhaps still too generous to a battered champion – whose left eye was badly swollen and whose post-fight tone was that of a guy clearly surprised by what he’d encountered.
Holmes lost both his unbeaten streak and his title to Michael Spinks in his very next bout. And, ironically, Tyson also lost his next fight after Williams, to Buster Douglas in Tokyo.
But somehow, the Holmes loss turned out to be “The Truth’s” best night.
He was 6-1 between that pair of title shots – the loss coming in two rounds to ex-champ Mike Weaver – and won just eight of 15 fights afterward, including a split decision to a still-relevant Tim Witherspoon and stoppages at the hands of bombers Tommy Morrison and Frank Bruno.
On the eve of an era where everyone’s a champ, Williams’s only career bling was a USBA belt.
“To me, he was a fighter who came along at the wrong time – right in between Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson,” said Randy Gordon, former editor-in-chief at The Ring and ex-chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. “I have no doubt that if Williams were fighting today he'd be the one guy capable of upsetting the Klitschko brothers, and certainly capable of teaching the rest of the division how a heavyweight should use his jab.”
And if nothing else, he’d apparently be useful in terrorizing us media types.
“Carl Williams was a joy to work with in every way, until the week before the fight,” Gordon said. “Then he became another person. He even called his scowling alter-ego Carlos. In the week before the fight, the usual Carl Williams smile and jovial demeanor was replaced by a sneer and a keep-away-from-me attitude. I used to tell matchmaker Ron Katz, ‘I'm glad you have to deal with him on a day-to-day basis the week of the fight and not me.’”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA/WBO super bantamweight/junior featherweight titles, New York, N.Y.
Guillermo Rigondeaux (WBA champion) vs. Nonito Donaire (WBO champion)
Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KO): Third title defense; Second fight in New York (1-0)
Donaire (31-1, 20 KO): Fourth title defense; Second fight in New York (1-0)
Fitzbitz says: “The impression is that the Cuban is the bigger man. He’s not, but that wasn’t why I liked him anyway. There’s a clinic to be put on, and he’ll be the one teaching it.” Rigondeaux by decision
IBO featherweight title –Jakarta, Indonesia
Daud Yordan (champion) vs. Simpiwe Vetyeka (No. 28 contender)
Yordan (30-2, 23 KO): Second title defense; Twenty-third fight in Indonesia (22-1)
Vetyeka (24-2, 14 KO): Second title fight (1-0); Held IBO title at 118 (2009, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “The challenger, at some point on his career timeline, may have been a better fighter. But whenever that was, it’s long gone now, especially in this champion’s backyard.” Yordan by decision
WBA featherweight title – Jakarta, Indonesia
Chris John (champion) vs. Satoshi Hosono (No. 6 contender)
John (48-0-2, 22 KO): Seventeenth title defense; Ninth title defense in Indonesia
Hosono (23-2, 17 KO): Third title fight (0-2); First fight outside Japan
Fitzbitz says: “Go ahead, try to remember a time when John wasn’t the WBA’s top man at 126 pounds. Here’s a hint: It’s been since almost nine years. And the run won’t end here.” John by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: 2-3
2013 picks record: 14-12 (53.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 477-164 (74.4 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.