From the Valleys to world title glory, Liam Williams might just get his Hollywood ending

On Saturday night the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has a script fitting of its Hollywood setting.

The challenger, Liam Williams, the latest in an illustrious lineage of boxers from the Valleys. From the ‘Mighty Atom’ Jimmy Wilde who conquered the world as a flyweight, Howard Winstone who did the same as a feather, to the tragic death of Johnny Owen in his world bantamweight title attempt and arguably the finest of them all Joe Calzaghe. It is a legacy the Welshman will be well aware of.

Dynasties have followed the middleweight wherever he has gone, one whose current chapter lies in Sheffield and the Ingle Gym in Wincobank. Kell Brook, Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson and Junior Witter, some of Britain’s greatest ever boxers knew it as home and one steered by the late great Brendan Ingle. Boxing for world titles is what they do.

Throw in Williams’ own busy career and the story adds its backs against the wall cliché. Full of adversity, his first world title defeat (albeit interim at light middleweight) came against Liam Smith in a fight he was winning on all the judges scorecards. A nasty cut on his right eyelid ended the contest but it was one caused by a clash of heads and under the rules should have gone to the scorecards.

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Across the ring this time, Demetrius ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade, a two-weight world champion, undefeated in twenty-nine contests and to his fans the most-avoided fighter in global boxing. Once thought of as DAZN’s golden goose, it is Wales’ working-class man of the people versus one of the anointed kings of world boxing.

That’s how Matchroom and Queensbury will sell it but we know the reality is different.

First of all the setting, the Hard Rock hotel finding itself in Hollywood, Florida not the one in Los Angeles, California. The venue holds a capacity of a modest 7,000. The pandemic will of course have played its part but it’s more of an excuse than genuine justification. For American fight fans Williams is another opponent not of the level their star deserves.

It is coming up to eight years since Andrade’s first world title, a split decision win over Vanes Martirosyan for the vacant WBO Super Welterweight crown. Then he was twenty-five and was already drawing the criticism of commentators who felt he was being brought on too slowly in his career, fighting that day for a vacant world title against an opponent who has since been exposed in all his subsequent brushes with the elite level.

Now thirty-three the detractors still remain, and in the intervening period he has fought no-one who has either won or gone on to win a world title of any form. No one wants to fight him, his height, reach and southpaw stance being too dangerous for another middleweight king to risk their belts. That is how the story goes, and in it there may be elements of truth. There are other reasons he will be more hesitant to admit.

Despite his unbeaten status Andrade isn’t a draw, his career fought in arenas across the US and rarely with full capacity crowds. Uninspiring opponents have been a factor and this is where Andrade will claim others have ignored him and promoters haven’t pushed hard enough for the Canelos and Golovkins of this world. In this respect, however, he does retain some responsibility.

There have been numerous performances where he has dominated but failed to force the finish. Of eight world title fights, five have gone the distance. To compare, Canelo has nine stoppages in eighteen contests and Golovkin nine in thirteen (I have not counted either IBO or WBA Regular title fights, bouts that resulted in ten consecutive stoppages). Of course two of these blemishes were against each other and the majority of the rest have been against a higher calibre of opponent.

Canelo and GGG’s dust ups in 2017 and 2018 of course weren’t any less compelling because of their failure to land a knockout blow, but for Andrade when the level of opponent means only a finish is good enough then he sets himself a standard difficult to maintain. For the American, a fight against a “mandatory” challenger may have little risk but it has little reward too and becomes in itself a self-perpetuating cycle. 

Andrade is a world-class operator, of that there is little doubt. Strong with both hands he has a snapping right hand lead, a devastating left hook and an underated whipping right hook to the body. At 6ft he often enjoys a reach advantage and against Williams it will be no different. His boxing ability isn’t in question, perhaps his mentality is.

Boo Boo has already said he plans to fight somebody at 168 (super-middleweight) after fighting the Welshman, someone who he claims no prior knowledge of:

“Liam Williams is not someone who’s on my radar, just speaking facts because at the end of the day he’s not an elite fighter, elite level guy that people tune into…  I expect him to bring a fight because this is his opportunity to make something of himself, his name, but at the end of the day you get to say I lose to Demetrius Andrade”.

Demetrius Andrade speaking to Brian Custer on the Last Stand Podcast

It’s a fight Andrade clearly sees little possibility of losing and with no carrot other than the preservation of his unbeaten status. That is a dangerous mindset to possess. Williams, by contrast has everything to gain, not just for himself but for his trainer Dominic Ingle.

The Welshman moved to Sheffield six months after the defeat in his rematch to Liam Smith, parting ways with long time trainer Gary Lockett, leaving Wales a wiley aggressive boxer with sharpened skills but one who had ultimately fallen short in his two attempts at boxing’s top table.

With Ingle he has displayed a newfound composure, dismantling Mark Heffron over ten rounds before finishing the contest and screaming in the face of the Irishman. Against Joe Mullender, that killer instinct was displayed once more, a sickening second knockdown coming just seconds after the referee should have put an end to the fight. The beatdown inflicted on Alantez Fox, the American who knocked down Andrade in their own match up, displayed poise, composure and in the end brutally that innate desire to cause his opponent genuine hurt. It was that bout that ultimately led to this final path.

For Dominic Ingle, Williams’ winning the WBO middleweight title would be right up their with Kell Brook’s victory over Shawn Porter in 2014, an effort his fighters have struggled to match in recent years. That breakthrough looked like he had continued the success of his father but subsequent setbacks for Kid Galahad and Willy Hutchinson just last week have lost that momentum. With the death of his mother, Ingle Gym stalwart and boxing promoter in her own right, Alma, such a victory may provide some relief both to grief and to criticism from opponents of the outspoken South Yorkshireman.

How far Williams has progressed, how much he is the finished package, will be revealed on his return to the highest level but every sign so far has been positive. A brutal bully in the ring, how much he can tame those instincts and release them at the right moments may be the difference between a fighter who excels on the domestic scene and one who wins world titles.

Saturday, April 17 in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Williams will hope to get his Hollywood ending. Up against the odds, I don’t expect the margin of difference to be as wide as some people believe. If Andrade believes it, then perhaps that margin will close some more.

Featured image from Matchroom Boxing.

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