By Keith Idec
Ricardo Williams doesn’t think it’s too late to become the fighter he was supposed to be.
Ten years have passed since promoter Lou DiBella believed enough in his talent to give Williams a $1.4 million signing bonus. He still hasn’t beaten a top 10 contender, much less won a world title. And the former Olympic silver medalist has since spent more months in prison than he has in The Ring magazine’s rankings.
But Williams is still just 29, young enough, he believes, to make it all right.
“My biggest problem has been matching my conditioning with my talent,” Williams said. “If I can get my conditioning to match my talent, the sky’s the limit.”
Williams’ lack of conditioning was the primary reason DiBella released him from his contract nearly eight years ago. The fact that the Cincinnati native is still saying such things about getting in proper shape surely will make doubters dismiss Williams’ ability to become a real player at welterweight in 2011, but all Williams wanted was a chance.
Promoter Dan Goossen, manager James Prince and Shane Mosley are among those who’ve made sure Williams will get another opportunity to realize his potential. Williams (16-2, 9 KOs, 1 NC) is scheduled to face 42-year-old former super featherweight contender John Brown on Friday night at Bally’s Events Center in Atlantic City.
This non-televised, six-round welterweight bout against Brown (24-18-2, 11 KOs, 1 NC) will mark Williams’ debut with Goossen Tutor Promotions. Goossen signed Williams three months ago and is working with Mosley on an agreement for Mosley to become Williams’ co-promoter.
Mosley expressed interest in working with Williams after working out with the skilled southpaw last summer in Houston, where Williams moved with his wife and their four children about a year ago. After boxing Brown, Williams will serve as Mosley’s primary sparring partner for his May 7 showdown with Manny Pacquiao.
Williams was Antonio Margarito’s chief sparring partner prior to his Nov. 13 loss to Pacquiao, too. He credits that experience with helping restore some much-needed confidence.
“It made me feel real good about myself, being around a guy like [Margarito],” Williams said. “He’s a humble guy, and just watching the way he worked, it taught me about being a world-class fighter.”
Goossen is convinced Williams has learned from everything that has left him in his current predicament. He sensed sincerity in Williams’ voice when they talked about Williams signing with Goossen Tutor.
“One of the reasons I have interest in promoting him is because I do believe that he is a different man,” Goossen said. “And he’s still under 30. He was very talented when he came out of the Olympics, very highly touted. Having all that money and all that baggage behind the scenes obviously wasn’t good for him. What we probably got from him is about half of what he could give.”
To get everything from him that he is capable of giving, Williams wants to remain as busy as possible.
Shoddy conditioning and taking his gifts for granted were more responsible for decision defeats to Juan Valenzuela (then 15-6) in February 2003 and Manning Galloway (then 59-17-1) in April 2004. But being active is imperative if he is to record wins in two 10-round fights this year and make a real run within the 147-pound division.
He hasn’t fought since knocking out grossly overmatched Richard Best (5-13-3, 4 KOs) in the first round on April 17 in Houston. That easy win was just Williams’ sixth fight since he was released from a halfway house early in 2008.
If he beats Brown, Goossen expects Williams to return to the ring on the Andre Ward-Arthur Abraham undercard May 14, at a site to be determined.
“I have a belief that he has conquered his demons,” Goossen said. “It’s a day-in and day-out process, but he has a newfound dedication to achieving success inside the ring. If we can get that talent we all saw in the Olympics and move it into the pros, he can do something.”
Regardless, Goossen admires Williams for wanting to come back after all he has endured during a decade of underachievement.
“I respect people like this,” Goossen said, “because it’s much easier to say, ‘Screw it, I blew everything. [It was] my fault and I’ll live with the consequences.’ What he has done is come to grips with it and said, ‘I want to overcome it.’ ”
Williams feels as though he owes that much to all the people who’ve refused to give up on him.
His wife, Sherise. His father/trainer, Ricardo Sr. Sydney Garvin, his closest friend from prison. And Prince.
They’ve all strongly supported Williams’ attempt to finally reach the potential he displayed as a gifted, flashy amateur throughout the late 1990s.
“In the past I was just being stubborn, hard-headed, making dumb decisions that led me to going away for a few years,” Williams said. “But I have four kids. I realize it’s not about me anymore. That makes me want to do the things I know I can do.”
Williams hasn’t forgotten the promises he made to the inmates he befriended during his 31-month incarceration at a federal prison in Ashland, Ky., either. Garvin, of Charlotte, N.C., still calls Williams to remind him that their deal was for him to become a world champion once he was released.
Williams credits Garvin with helping him adjust to life in a prison environment. Garvin stressed the importance of avoiding fights while he was locked up, so that Williams wouldn’t end up doing more time than the 36 months he received for his role in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 2005.
“A lot of guys in there were very supportive,” Williams said. “Some of those guys let me know, ‘You’ve got another chance. You’ve got to make the best of it. You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got and become a world champion, like you said you would. We want someone we can be proud of. We want to be able to say, ‘That guy was in here with us and he changed his life.’ Just to know those guys are pulling for me, I use that as motivation.”
He also has been inspired by the professional success of former Olympic teammate and close friend Jermain Taylor and Miguel Cotto, who like Williams, lost to gold medalist Mohamad Abdullaev at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
“I’m excited about boxing again,” Williams said. “I’m hungry. And I need this, not just for me, but for my kids.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, NJ., and BoxingScene.com.