PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Jimmy Williams always knew he and Christian Lao would cross paths at some point.
As professional boxers from neighboring towns in Connecticut, they've fought on the same card before and have even sparred against one another. They consider each other friends.
Pleasantries aside, Saturday night won't be another run-of-the-mill sparring session when Lao and Williams step foot inside the same ring. This time, the fight counts. No headgear, no boundaries - just a throwback border war with more than state bragging rights on the line.
On Saturday, May 31st, 2014, Lao and Williams will face one another for the Connecticut Junior Middleweight State Title in the six-round co-feature of Classic Entertainment & Sports' pro-am boxing event at Mohegan Sun Arena, a fight several years in the making since Williams turned pro in 2013.
Tickets for the event are priced at $40, $65 and $125 (VIP) and can be purchased by calling 401-724-2253/2254, online at www.cesboxing.com or www.ticketmaster.com , or at the Mohegan Sun Box Office. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
"If I want to be the best in the world, I have to start in Connecticut," said Williams, a New Jersey native who now lives in New Haven. "Once I dominate here, I can move on to bigger and better things. The time is now.
"This is what you live for. To fight the guy next door, with all that pressure on you, it's what you dream of."
This will be an interesting contrast in styles between two fighters moving up in weight to meet at 154 pounds. A former college football player at Southern Connecticut State, Williams (5-0-1, 2 KOs) relies mostly on his power, while Lao (5-2-1, 2 KOs) is more of a finesse fighter who'd prefer to outbox his opponent rather than get into a slugfest in the middle of the ring.
"I'm more of a counterpuncher," Lao admits.
In recent fights, Lao has shown the ability to keep his distance and pick his spots, most notably in his win over fellow Connecticut native Joe Wilson Jr. in November. It's Williams who needs to prove he can handle an elusive opponent with fancy footwork. The last time he fought someone similar to Lao, he wound up with a draw against Atlantic City's Greg Jackson, a frustrating night for Williams, who failed to cut off the ring and impose his will.
"That's something I've worked on for hours and hours in the gym," Williams said. "I know guys want to avoid my power, so they'll try to outbox me. I need to be more physical and learn to trap guys in the corner."
"I move around on my toes, and I'm flashy, but I can mix it up and fight on the inside, too," Lao added. "His advantage is his body size. He's taller and longer. He likes to keep his distance."
Williams knows he needs to use his height and reach to keep Lao at the end of his jab while also being wary of Lao's ability to counterpunch. He also has to cut off the ring better than he did against Jackson. It's all part of a game plan he's been implementing beyond the border, spending his weekends for the past two months in Brooklyn sparring with unbeaten prospects Sadam Ali and Frank Galarza.
"To go into their backyard and spar, it helps me make a name for myself," Williams said. "I did eight rounds with Galarza the other day. They keep inviting me back. I got in the ring with Ali. These guys are hungry. They're at the point in their career that when they spar they give it their all. I've learned so much.
"I can't wait to show everyone what I've been working on these past few months."
For Lao, a Meriden native who trains under the guidance of East Hartford's Mike Conroy, it's about being the best in Connecticut once that final bell rings. He has a draw and a win since his return in October, erasing the memory of his lopsided loss to Gabriel Duluc in 2012, while Williams continues to climb the ladder in Connecticut following his win over Evincii Dixon in November, the same Dixon who fought Lao to draw a month before losing to Williams.
They knew they'd meet up at some point. They just never figured it'd be this soon.
"I'm really excited for this," Williams said. "I know some of his weaknesses and I know what he brings to the table, but I also know this will be a totally different fight.
"I'm ready for whatever he's got. I've seen him at his worst, and I've seen him get the best of me in sparring. I've got a good feeling. I'm going to adjust to whatever he tries to do."
Said Lao: "Once that bell rings, I'm here for business. I'm here to fight. It doesn't matter who it is. This is about proving who wants it the most. Who deserves to be in that spot, to own that belt and represent Connecticut? This will put my name out there. Who's the best in Connecticut? My name will pop up. That's what I want."
Saturday's main event features world-rated lightweight Hank Lundy (24-3-1, 11 KOs) of Philadelphia battling Mexican challenger Pipino Cuevas Jr. in a 10-round bout. Coming off back-to-back wins, Lundy is now ranked No. 9 in the World Boxing Council (WBC).
Lundy's 10-round fight against Cuevas Jr. headlines a dynamic card that also features the return of female bantamweight sensation Shelito Vincent and light heavyweight slugger Kevin Cobbs, plus the addition of an exciting amateur undercard replete with the region's most sought-after talent, including Gary Balletto Jr. and Ray Oliveira Jr., sons of two well-respected fighters who dominated the regional circuit at the turn of the 21st century.
Cobbs (7-1, 2 KOs), a veteran from Willimantic, Conn., will face Willis Lockett (13-13-5, 5 KOs) of Maryland in a four-round bout in Cobbs' first fight in more than a year, while Vincent (10-0, 1 KO) battles Philadelphia's Lakeysha Williams, a veteran of 30 fights, in a six-round bout. Also on the undercard, female welterweight Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes (10-2-1, 1 KO), a former world-title challenger, will face Althea Saunders (3-0-1) of Atlantic City in a six-round bout. In other regional action, Hartford's Wilson Jr. (1-1) faces Ethan Pena (2-1, 1 KO) of Providence, R.I., in a four-round bout.
On the amateur portion of the show, Oliveira Jr., a 165-pounder who trains out of On Point Boxing in New Bedford, Mass., will face Khiary Gray of Camp Get Right in Worcester, Mass. Also from Camp Get Right, 140-pounder Phil Davis will battle Cranston, R.I., amateur Javier Nieves of 401 Boxing, and Kendrick Ball Jr. of Worcester and Camp Get Right will face Edmond Worley of Lowell, Mass., in a 185-pound bout.
New Haven, Conn., middleweight Godfrey Campbell faces Miguel Teo of Marlboro, Mass.; and Smithfield, R.I., light welterweight Anthony Marsella Jr. battles New Bedford's Scott Sullivan. Balletto Jr., a middleweight also fighting out of Cranston, will face New Haven's Eric Anderson of Elephant In The Room Boxing Club. All amateur bouts are three rounds, unless otherwise noted.