All smiles, resurgent Jimmy Williams aims for glory against ex-champ Yuri Foreman

Photo courtesy of Will Paul

Providence, RI – Nearly 20 years ago, Jimmy Williams, then a young, promising amateur boxer from Plainfield, NJ, honed his craft under the guidance of renowned trainer Joe Grier at Grier’s gym in nearby Patterson.

Though the two never worked together when Williams eventually turned pro in 2013, Grier’s tutelage has had a lasting impact on Williams’ career. Grier not only gave Williams his nickname, “The Quiet Storm,” he also gave him the opportunity to spar against some of his other top pupils, including a then 19-year-old Yuri Foreman, a decorated amateur about to make his own debut within the next year.

On Saturday night, Williams and Foreman renew acquaintances at the Kentucky Center for African Americans in Louisville in an eight-round bout for the vacant American Boxing Federation USA Super Welterweight Title, part of a stacked, 12-fight lineup in the hometown of “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali.

Saturday’s main-event showdown is an intriguing crossroads bout for two fighters who’ve traveled considerably different paths in their pro careers and would otherwise be considered a random pairing were it not for their inadvertent link to Grier. While Foreman is aiming to recapture old glory at the age of 40, Williams brings a whole new vibe to Kentucky this weekend in hopes of revitalizing a career that has hit a standstill since he last tasted victory in 2018.

“This is my opportunity to get back on track,” William said. “I take nothing away from Yuri. He’s a world champion and you can’t knock his skills, but I will always jump at the opportunity to fight someone who’s been there and done that.”

“Jimmy has been with us from Day 1 and we haven’t left one another’s corner since,” said CES Boxing president and Williams’ promoter, Jimmy Burchfield Sr. “There is no one who works harder or deserves this opportunity more than him. Like I tell all of our fighters, if you put in the work and effort, we will be with you until the end, and I’m excited to see where the rest of this journey takes Jimmy. We’re confident the best is yet to come.”

Few fighters at the age of 34 with more than 20 pro bouts under their belt would consider themselves in their “prime,” but Williams is a firm believer that a change of scenery can lead to a new beginning. The first five years of his career provided stability most fighters could only dream of – a solid management team, consistent trainers, and a well-rounded support system anchored by Burchfield, his first and only promoter. Not surprisingly, William surged to a 14-0-1 record and captured the WBC USNBC title as a welterweight before suffering his first pro defeat.

The last two years have lacked the balance that defined the early part of his career. Relationships with the people in his inner circle took on a strict business approach, forcing Williams – who lost his father to cancer at a young age – to search elsewhere for someone he could connect with on a more personal level. After Williams’ last fight in December, his promoter suggested he work with Brian Johnson, a Rhode Island-based trainer and manager whom Williams already had a decent rapport with.

Understanding the importance of the Foreman fight and what it could do in terms of putting him back on the right path, Williams decided to go all in; during the latter half of his training camp, he lived out of a hotel near his new gym to avoid the long commute between West Haven and Providence and to keep his mind focused on the task at hand. Being away from his wife and twin sons has been difficult, but Williams is confident the sacrifice and commitment will yield a big payoff in the end. This is the best he’s felt in years, both physically and mentally, and he attributes most of it to his connect with Johnson, whom he’s described as a “father figure.”

“When I lost my father at a young age, I felt like I never really grew up as a man,” he said. “Everything I learned was through trial and error. I’ve always looked for a ‘father figure’ in my trainers, but it was always just business. Brian and I can talk for hours. Now I’m growing as a man.

“I’m talking different, my swag is different – everything I wanted for myself when I first came into this game, I’ve got now. Brian’s like the father I never had. That’s why I call him ‘Pops.’ I respect everything he brings to the table.”

All positive vibes aside, there’s still the formality of having to face a hungry, ex-world champion Saturday night in what might be the most important fight of his career. The connection to Grier is a small part of what makes this fight so intriguing. Foreman, now 40 and fighting for just the second time in four years, worked with Grier for more than a decade after he turned pro; Grier was the one who famously threw in the towel during the eighth round of Foreman’s 2010 loss to Miguel Cotto when Foreman tripped and tore his ACL, only to have referee Arthur Mercante allow the fight to continue until Foreman got stopped by a body shot in the ninth.

Grier, as Williams remembers, showed similar compassion even back when Williams was an amateur. When Williams fought in the New Jersey Golden Gloves, Grier had commemorative jackets made for the entire team. Unable to attend the celebration, Williams received his jacket at a later date. When Grier finally presented it to him, it had “Quiet Storm” stitched onto the sleeve, unbeknownst to Williams, who had no idea at the time the nickname would stick with him throughout his career.

As pros, Williams and Foreman have enjoyed much success; Foreman, a 5-foot-11 Israeli right-hander and ordained rabbi since 2014, amassed an amateur record of 75-5 and rose to prominence in 2009 when he captured the WBA world super welterweight title from Daniel Santos, became Israel’s first world champion boxer. The loss to Cotto occurred just seven months later, leaving Foreman with a badly-damaged knee and swirling questions about his future in the sport. He fought sparingly over the next decade and appeared to be done for good following a 2017 knockout loss to Erislandy Lara in his attempt to recapture the WBA title, but he returned in December with a win over journeyman Jeremy Ramos, launching what he believes is another run at a world title after catching his “second wind.”

Where does Williams fit into the puzzle? The West Haven resident, who works full-time as a truancy officer in his city’s school district, firmly believes Foreman is looking past him, especially since Williams has lost four of his last five, including a surprising loss to Mexican journeyman Esteban Villalba in December.

As Williams puts it, “When you go to Mexico to fight, people know you aren’t going there to lose. When [Foreman] saw that, he probably thought, ‘Jimmy’s done,’ but I’ve got a lot left.”

The loss, while still a blemish on his record, might’ve actually been a blessing for Williams. Going the distance just two months after a brutal knockout loss to Brandun Lee reaffirmed his belief that the journey is far from over.

“That trip changed my whole life,” Williams said. “Win, lose, draw – it didn’t matter. I just needed the confidence to know I fully recovered from the previous fight and could finally put it behind me.”

Whether or not Williams can turn back the clock Saturday night may very well determine his next move. A win over Foreman proves there’s still a lot left in the tank and perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel as he enters what he feels is his “new” prime. Having sparred with the likes of reigning WBO world middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade and new stablemate Marqus Bates, Williams’ confidence – and comfort level – is at an all-time high. The “Quiet Storm” is back.

“The weight is off my shoulders now,” he said. “The gyms in the gym, they’re hungry just like me. I never had a team to train with before. It was always just me in the gym. I never had the motivation of seeing other guys work at it, picking one another up. It’s given me a whole new level of understanding and confidence.”

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