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Julian “J-Rock” Williams: From a Homeless Teenager to a World Boxing Champ

Arne K. Lang

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Last weekend was a mixed bag for Philadelphia fighters. Undefeated welterweight Jaron “Boots” Ennis looked sensational on Friday while scoring a fourth-round stoppage of Bakhtiyar Eyubov. The next night, a raggedy performance by Jesse Hart in a super middleweight contest with Joe Smith Jr scraped away some of the city’s prestige as an incubator of great fistic talent. (Thirteen fighters identified with Philadelphia are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; bet you can’t name seven.)

On Saturday at Philadelphia’s Liacouras Center, WBA/IBF 154-pound world title-holder Julian “J-Rock” Williams (27-1-1, 1 NC, 16 KOs) seeks to right the ship, so to speak, when he opposes Jeison Rosario (19-1-1, 13 KOs) in the first defense of the titles he won from Jarrett Hurd last May in one of the most entertaining fights of 2019. It’s a homecoming for Williams, 29, who trains at the James Shuler Memorial Gym, named for the former middleweight contender who died at age 26 in a 1986 motorcycle accident. “J-Rock” last fought in Philly in 2011 at a small show at a National Guard armory when he was still a 6-round fighter.

Williams, like so many professional boxers, had a rough upbringing. According to an article by Frank Fitzpatrick in the Philadelphia Inquirer, during his school days Williams lived in an old motel that had been converted into a homeless shelter. His mother battled substance abuse and his father was in prison.

The shelter was located a long distance from his high school, Overbrook, in gritty West Philadelphia. Getting there required a trip on two buses sandwiched around a ride on the “el” train.

The faculty at Overbrook High School, who work in a 95-year-old building, face all the challenges that are endemic to inner-city schools populated by students from economically disadvantaged homes. But the school is famous because of the achievements of certain alumni. The great NBA player Wilt Chamberlain went to Overbrook High, as did the actor Will Smith and Guion S. Bluford Jr, America’s first African-American astronaut. If “J-Rock” can keep winning, he may etch his name on that roster.

Williams will go to post a big favorite over Rosario, a 24-year-old Miami-based fighter from the Dominican Republic. They have a common opponent in Nathaniel Gallimore who was out-pointed by Williams after previously saddling Rosario with his lone defeat (TKO by 6). Rosario got this coming assignment when Jarrett Hurd changed his mind, declining a rematch with Williams after initially activating his rematch clause. (Hurd has a stay-busy fight later this month on the undercard of the Danny Garcia vs. Ivan Redkach bout at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.)

Williams vs. Rosario will air on FOX and FOX Deportes as part of a triple-header. In the co-feature, 23-year-old Brooklyn super featherweight Chris Colbert (13-0, 5 KOs) is matched against Panamanian southpaw Jezzrel Corrales (23-3, 9 KOs) in a match billed for an interim WBA title. The flashy Colbert, reportedly 103-3 as an amateur, has a big upside if he can improve his punching power.

As for Julian Williams, down the road he figures to meet up with Jermell Charlo who recently recaptured his WBC 154-pound title while avenging a controversial loss to Tony Harrison. Williams’ lone defeat was inflicted by Jermell’s twin brother Jermall Charlo who now competes a weight class up at 160. If that fight materializes, “J-Rock” would be the second person to lock horns with both Charlo twins at the pro level following Austin Trout.

That may be putting the cart before the horse, but Williams, who is a good interview because of his forthrightness, is supremely confident. “I don’t think it’s a difficult fight for me, to be quite honest,” he says. “We’re not going to make (Rosario) out to be (Sugar) Ray Robinson. But he has the ambition to win, so you can’t underestimate him.”

Considering the obstacles that “J-Rock” has already overcome, it would seemingly be foolish to bet against him.

– – –

Philadelphia fighters in the International Boxing Hall of Fame listed in order of their year of induction: Joe Frazier (1990), Tommy Loughran (1991), Philadelphia Jack O’Brien (1991), Joey Giardello (1993), Harold Johnson (1993), Bob Montgomery (1995), Matthew Saad Muhammad (1998), Lew Tendler (1999), Battling Levinsky (2000), Jeff Chandler (2000), Benny Bass (2002), Harry Lewis (2008), Bernard Hopkins (2020).

Photo credit: Darryl Cobb / TGB Promotions

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Daniel Jacobs Edges Past Gabe Rosado on a Matchroom card in Florida

David A. Avila

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Former world champion Daniel Jacobs needed the last round to win by split decision against upset-minded Gabe Rosado and keep his place in line on Friday for lucrative super middleweight matchups.

But when the ring announcer erroneously announced the winner was from Philadelphia, confusion reigned for a moment until Jacobs was correctly called the winner.

Brooklyn’s Jacobs (37-3, 30 KOs) jumped out ahead against Philly fighter Rosado (25-13-1, 14 KOs) and held on for the win in front of no fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. For a second, many thought Rosado had won.

Both were careful during the first three rounds measuring each other’s distance and looking for openings to counter. There were very few.

It was the kind of fight expected by those who know boxing: two veterans with immense experience against top-flight world champions. Mistakes were few.

Jacobs, a former middleweight world champion, had fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in close but losing efforts.

Rosado had battled Golovkin too, six years ago in a bloody affair that ended in a loss. He had also lost to other champions like Peter Quillin and Jermell Charlo. But none were able to knock him out.

Both were aware of each other’s reputation. Bitter words had been exchanged for years and now they finally got their chance to prove their mettle and they did.

Though Jacobs was recognized as a knockout puncher, Rosado’s resilience was just as well known. Both neutralized each other for most of the fight with their feints and jabs to the body. Neither was willing to leave openings for each other.

Jacobs scored big with a left uppercut at the end of the seventh round. While Rosado wowed viewers with a sizzling right cross in the 11th round.

It was 1950s style, boxing with intelligence. Each found it difficult to land combinations, let alone find openings to score knockout blows. Instead, they had to be satisfied with scoring enough to convince three judges the actual winner.

Neither was able to pull out ahead with any conviction.

After 12 rounds one judge saw Rosado the winner 115-113 while two others saw Jacobs the winner 115-113 to give him the win by split decision.

“It felt just a little weird. It felt like a sparring match,” said Jacobs about fighting without fans in the audience. “This wasn’t a valiant effort.”

Rosado was certain he was the true winner.

“I thought I won the fight. I surprised him,” said Rosado who trained with Freddie Roach for this fight. “I’m a veteran, I know how to fight.”

Indeed, he does.

Jacobs now stands poised to fight one of many super middleweight champions in need of a marquee name.

“I live to see another day,” he said honestly.

Other Bouts

Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6 KOs) proved he was not an easy touch and knocked out former world champion Julius Indongo (23-3, 12 KOs) to march forward in the welterweight division while grabbing the vacant IBF Inter-Continental title.

In a fight featuring southpaw versus southpaw Yeleussinov caught Indongo with a roundhouse left the first time they exchanged and down went the former super lightweight world champion. Indongo beat the count and survived the round.

Indongo wasn’t as lucky in the second round as Yeleussinov again connected with a left and down went the fighter from Namibia again. He would not get up at 1:24 of round two giving the knockout win for Yeleussinov.

A battle between undefeated heavyweights saw Azerbaijan’s Mahammadrasul Majidov (3-0, 3 KOs) use roundhouse rights to stagger the heavier Sahret Delgado (8-1) to win by knockout in the third round. Majidov actually helped Delgado get to his stool after knocking him out on his feet at 47 seconds of the third round.

Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1) defeated Mason Menard (36-5) by majority decision after a 10- round lightweight fight that saw a lot of clinching and leaning.

Nikita “White Chocolate” Ababiy (10-0) out-fought Detroit’s Brandon Maddox (7-4-1) to win by unanimous decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Ababiy hurt Maddox with body shots but found Maddox more resilient than expected.

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Pradabsri Upsets Menayothin, Ends the Longest Unbeaten Streak of Modern Times

Arne K. Lang

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During the wee hours in the Americas, a big upset was brewing in Thailand. In Nakhon Sawan, a city roughly 150 miles north of Bangkok, Panya Pradabsri (aka Petchmanee CP Freshmart) out-pointed Wanheng Menayothin (aka Chayaphon Moonsri) in a domestic clash with international significance. Manayothin entered the bout with a 54-0 (18) record and was making the 13th defense of his WBC world minimumweight title.

Pradabsri had been defeated only once in 35 previous starts, but only 11 of his 34 victories had come against fighters with winning records. According to ringside reports, he kept Menayothin at bay with good fundamentals, a stiff jab, and good lateral movement. All three judges had it 115-113. The fight wasn’t without controversy as Menayothin finished stronger and many folks scoring off the live video thought that he had done just enough to retain his title.

How good was/is Menayothin? That’s a question that serious boxing fans will likely debate for decades.

In the summer of 2019, Menayothin signed a co-promotional deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. At time, GBP president Eric Gomez described him as one of the best fighters in the world. “We really want to bring him to the U.S. so people can see how talented he really is,” Gomez told England’s Sky Sports.

Menayothin was expected to make his U.S. debut in April of this year, but the pandemic ruined that plan. Earlier this year, he announced his retirement, but rescinded it after only two days.

Scottish boxing historian Matt McGrain, who has an exclusive arrangement with this web site, had lukewarm opinion of the Thai mighty-mite although he rated him the second-best 105-pound boxer of the decade, trailing only his countryman Thammanoon Niyomtrong (aka Knockout CP Freshmart).

“He is disciplined, strong, brings good pressure and is armed with a very decent range of punches,” said McGrain, “(but his record) is comprised mostly of men any competent fighter would be expected to beat.”

Although only one boxer from Thailand has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Khaosai Galaxy, class of 1999), the Southeast Asia nation has produced some outstanding boxers over the years – Chartchoi Chionoi, Sot Chitalada, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to name just a few. The difference between these fighters and Wanheng Menayothin is that they all left the comfort zone of their homeland to score one or more important wins on foreign soil.

Menayothin may yet display his wares in a U.S. ring. But at age 35, an advanced age for small fighters in particular, we won’t get to see him at his best and now that his bubble has been burst, disinviting further comparisons to Mayweather and Marciano, the curiosity factor has been tempered.

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Yoka vs. Hammer Kicks Off the Thanksgiving Weekend Slate on ESPN+

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PRESS RELEASE— Tony Yoka, the dynamic heavyweight punching Parisian, aims to impress in his ESPN platform debut. Yoka, who won a super heavyweight gold medal for France at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will fight veteran Christian Hammer in a 10-rounder Friday at H Arena in Nantes, France.

Yoka-Hammer will stream live and exclusively this Friday, Nov. 27 in the United States on ESPN+ beginning at 2:55 p.m. ET/11:55 a.m. PT.

The ESPN+ stream will also include the return of unbeaten 2016 French Olympic gold medalist Estelle Yoka-Mossely against Pasa Malagic in an eight-round lightweight bout. Yoka and Yoka-Mossely, who have been married since 2018, welcomed their second child in May.

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Earlier this year, Yoka inked a promotional agreement with Top Rank, which will co-promote him with Ringstar France.

“Tony Yoka’s potential is limitless, and he is a grounded young man who is motivated to be a great professional fighter,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “France has never had a world heavyweight champion, and I believe Tony is the one to bring the sport’s biggest honor home.”

The 28-year-old Yoka’s stellar amateur run included a berth at the 2012 London Olympics and gold medals at the 2015 World Championships and 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Before his triumph in Rio, he’d already defeated the likes of former heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker and current undefeated prospects Joe Joyce and Ivan Dychko. At the Rio Olympics, he defeated Croatian standout Filip Hrgović in the semifinals and edged Joyce in the gold medal match.

As a professional, Yoka (8-0, 7 KOs) made his debut in June 2017 with a second-round stoppage over the previously undefeated Travis Clark. Apart from a decision win over Jonathan Rice in his second outing, Yoka has stopped every foe, including durable Englishman David “White Rhino” Allen and former European champion Alexander Dimitrenko. He made his 2020 debut Sept. 25 and stopped former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in one round.

Hammer (25-6, 15 KOs) has fought many of the leading heavyweight names during his 12-year career, falling short against Tyson Fury, Luis Ortiz and Alexander Povetkin. He’s notched myriad upset victories, including a highlight-reel knockout over David Price and a 2016 split decision over Erkan Teper for the WBO European belt. In March 2019, he went the 10-round distance against Ortiz and has not been stopped since Fury forced him to retire on his stool after eight rounds in their February 2015 clash.

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