By Jake Donovan
If you were disappointed in the fact that Thomas Williams Jr. was unable to put away faded former contender Yusaf Mack in their light heavyweight bout last November, you’re not alone.
Williams Jr. is not just an unbeaten light heavyweight prospect; he’s also an avid fan of the sport. With that comes the mindset that every fight must result in an entertaining night for his fans. That much was provided on fight night, but with at least one dissatisfied customer in the aftermath.
“I’m 50/50 on how I feel about that fight,” Williams Jr. (15-0, 10KO) recalls of his win over Mack as he prepares for Friday’s showdown with Cornelius White at Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Washington. “I got a lot of great feedback from my fans and my team… but I wanted that knockout. I would’ve been more pleased with my performance if I was able to put him away.”
Williams Jr. gets a second chance at a first impression this week, and on a larger stage than originally expected. His scheduled 10-round bout with White airs live on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights (Friday, 9:00PM ET), now serving as the main event. The original headliner fell through when Javier Molina suffered a broken hand, forcing him to withdraw from a scheduled bout with former 140 lb. champ Kendall Holt.
“It does make me take my game to another level,” Williams Jr. says of the reassignment as the evening’s showcase attraction. “Going from the undercard to the main event changes the dynamic of the fight.”
His opponent is experienced at the top level, but only in the sense where all eyes will be on Williams to see if he can outdo his predecessors. White (21-2, 16KO) hasn’t fought since a 3rd round knockout loss to Sergey Kovalev last June. His other loss also ended inside the bell, suffering three knockdowns at the hands of Don George as he was shown the exit after just two minutes of action.
Mixed in between, White also owns upset wins over Yordanis Despaigne and Dmitry Sukhotsky. Both weren’t just upsets, but lopsided wins in fights where he was clearly brought in as the opponent.
“I’m familiar with White, but not from scouting him or anything like that. I’ve watched his fights as a diehard fan of the sport,” Williams Jr. says of his opponent. “I’ve seen him at his best and I’ve seen him at his worst. I know what I have in front of me, and the level I have to raise my game to keep people talking about me.”
A win on Friday is believed to fast track the 26-year old, who only turned pro just over three years ago, towards a shot at a light heavyweight title before the end of the year. Guided by adviser Al Haymon and trained by George Peterson – best known for his work with former welterweight champ Paul Williams - the world will be there for the taking as long as Williams Jr. keeps winning and in such a fashion to where the public demands more.
What the southpaw boxer can promise is to never squander an opportunity given to him, especially when he’s in a position to rapidly rise in what he believes to be a wide-open light heavyweight division.
“There’s a lot going on in the light heavyweight division, but it’s wide open for the taking,” Williams Jr. believes. “You got (Adonis) Stevenson the champion, then Sergey Kovalev. Those are the guys I want to beat; nobody else jumps out at me. Jean Pascal did his thing on Saturday but he ain’t have to work too hard ‘cause his opponent (Lucian Bute) didn’t want to engage.
“Watching that fight bothered me,” Williams Jr. continues. “I said to myself, ‘Man, if I could switch places with him, there’s no telling what I could’ve done in there.’ When you get those opportunities, you have to step it up. You might not get it again.”
With that, his self-mandate is to win and look damn good doing so. From there, start positioning for his swing at the king.
“After this win on Friday, I would like one or two more fights, possibly an eliminator in one of those fights,” Williams Jr. says. “I’m 100% confident that I will be fighting for a world title this year.”
He’s equally confident that after Friday night, fans will be pleased to the point of demanding repeat business. Given his opponent’s history in the ring, Williams Jr. is well aware that comparisons will be made, especially given the path he hopes to travel in the near future.
“I know because where I fight and who (White) just fought, Sergey Kovalev will be on everyone’s mind,” Williams Jr. says, acknowledging the unbeaten Russian’s blitzing of White last summer. “I gotta give Sergey Kovalev his props, he’s the only one in the division really making any noise right now.
“As for me and this fight, I’m not going to just try to do what (Kovalev) did. I’m going to add my own seasoning and impress in a whole new dynamic. I’m prepared to go 12 rounds, but make no mistake I never want to go the distance. If I can get the job done in one round, I will go for it. Then fans can let me know on Twitter (@topdoggjr ) how they felt about my performance.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox