You won’t remember the Baltimore Rockets, the Atlantic City Seagulls, or the daddy of them all the Washington Generals. These were the stooge teams employed to nominally do their best whilst being mesmerised by the flamboyant skills and trickery of the travelling Harlem Globetrotters.
They were the blank canvas that made it possible for the Globetrotters to showcase their talents. No one came to watch them win or even lose. They were just there. A vital yet invisible piece of the ensemble; nothing more than basketball’s straight men. Devoid of gags they just followed the script and did what they had to do, like an early Dean Martin residing in the shadow of an excitable Jerry Lewis.
Allegedly a young ‘Dino’ fancied himself as something of a pugilist. Over pretend whiskeys on the stage at The Sands or the Coconut Grove, he would quip in his semi-comatose drawl “I had a perfect record… 17 fights and 17 losses [Cymbal crash].”
Despite doubting that it ever happened, it is hard to imagine the laid-back Martin, putting in the necessary hard yards required to be a journeyman. It’s a tough game of beatings, single paycheques, and no insurance. Lurking proudly at the blue-collar business end of the sport it is a place where titles do not exist and, even if they did, retain zero meaning. It is about getting paid both in and out of the ring. Surviving the battle, hearing the final bell, and avoiding a salary-impacting mandatory 28-day suspension from the board.
Continually on the road and fighting with pre-war regularity, they are boxing’s endurance athletes. They do not fight to win but merely to endure. To see the battle through to the next one… and the one after that. Like weary soldiers at the front, they recite their own version of Wilfred Owen’s famous words as they, “War on death for life. Not men for flags.”
It is a language that Rochdale-based journeyman Scott Williams is fully conversant in. The 32-year-old told Boxing Social on the phone recently, following his two-round loss live on BT Sport to Tommy Fury, “For me, a win is getting to the last bell. That’s what I need to do if I want to be one of the best journeymen about. I’m a bit gutted about not doing it with Tommy, to be honest,” he said.
The defeat to Fury was the 10th straight loss off Williams’ career but marked only the second time he had failed to hear the final bell. Turning pro in late 2019, he fought twice within two weeks of getting his licence and appeared seven times in just three months. Quickly establishing himself as the ‘go-to’ man for inexperienced prospects in the North West to cut their teeth on, his list of opponents to date have a combined record of 27 wins, one draw, and zero defeats.
For Williams, turning pro was a difficult slog, but one that was almost cathartic following a prolonged period of what he describes as, “getting in trouble and being an idiot towards myself and others”. The loss of his father also hit him hard and, with boxing being a shared interest between the two, he identified it is as the only available route to win back his self-respect and to honour his late father.
“Boxing really has been a big motivation to make him proud. I just thought it was about time I did something with my life as well,” he explains. “At least I can take these good experiences from it. Not many people can say they’ve boxed live on BT. I am getting some amazing experiences out of all this.
“With five kids at home, boxing strikes a good balance in my life. Sometimes you need a bit of ‘me’ time. I just choose to get mine by being punched in the face! But getting a licence was a long road. There were plenty of hurdles to jump because I had been out of the amateurs for so long. I had to have a few amateur fights and I think the board wanted to see if I was serious, especially because of some of my past problems.”
Covid-19 has stifled the careers of many of the small hall prospects that Williams would normally be employed to fight. His activity has also been reduced to just three fights throughout the lockdown period, but that all have been televised, and due to the dearth of live boxing and the celebrity profile of some of his opponents, has brought with it barely conceivable exposure.
Such exposure frequently comes with a price and Williams – who is trained and managed by respected former journeyman Curtis Gargano – cannot resist laughing at some of the negative comments that did the rounds on social media following the announcement of his fight with Tommy Fury. “I know he [Fury] took some flack online when they announced my record. But these people don’t know boxing. People inside the game get it and understand why the fight was made. But I think that’s why they limited all the pre-fight press and stuff. They didn’t want too much focus on it all.”
Williams has no regrets over taking the fight in which he was dropped twice in the opening round and comprehensively stopped in the second. Despite standing 6”2 himself, the Rochdale-man was amazed at the stature of Fury at the weigh-in. “I think I’m quite big at the weight myself, but with him, I was like ‘Wow’. He was just too big to be fair. I don’t know how he weighed in the same as me,” he confirms.
“On another day, I probably could have got through the fight, but it wasn’t to be. He caught me round the back in the first round and I’m sure I’ve got a broken rib. It keeps clicking around and I still can’t sleep properly.
“But despite all that, these are the kind of fights you’d regret not taking – even if I did get battered!”
Despite his obvious difficulties against Fury in the ring, Williams has nothing but respect for the young fighter and his family. “It’s ridiculous all these people slagging him off. He’s a proper nice fella. A nice guy and he wasn’t a dick to me or anything,” he reveals.
“All the Furys were nice and respectful. I don’t have a bad word to say about any of them. But Tommy will always get haters because people are jealous of what he’s doing. People don’t like the fact that he’s been successful and they get jealous.
“But I wouldn’t mind being in his position let me tell you!”
Not surprisingly, the 32-year-old has a different view of his other quasi-celebrity opponent Idris Virgo. A largely forgettable fight, in which Williams stoically gave as good as he got, was outshone by the former Love Island contestants embarrassing antics at the pre-fight press conference.
In an attempt at showmanship or a cack-handed desire for notoriety and social media clicks, Virgo threw a bottle of water over Williams. “I nearly went a bit mad,” he admits.” I nearly grabbed the other bottle and chucked it at his head.
“But I didn’t because my background and being in trouble and stuff made it take much longer to get my licence. I wanted to show the board that I’m not a hot-headed idiot anymore. That I can be grown-up and civilised.”
The whole event had the feel of a stunt about it, like something straight front the play-acting of WWE, that luminaries like Prince Patel have been aping for some time now. Williams concurs with this view. “It’s all show with him [Virgo]. Afterwards, he said it was all a joke. He’s not the same guy as you would think he is.
“But I can’t stand all that messing about. There are other ways to get your career going. Do it through your boxing and not your mouth; don’t be a clown. What’s the point in giving someone you don’t know lots of crap; someone that’s basically coming to do you a favour.
“If he was any sort of man he would’ve taken [Steve] Goodwin’s money,” concludes Williams in a nod to Virgo’s rejection of opposing former Southern Area middleweight champion Brad Pauls for a one-off bumper £100k prize pot.
Indeed, you get the feeling that Williams would dearly love another shot at his flamboyant former adversary. He confidently remarks that, “With a six-week camp I reckon I’d do Virgo,” before going on to explain his less than adequate preparation for their fight in September last year. “I’d fallen out with the missus and moved out from home. No gyms were open and I wasn’t training properly. I’d been on a bit of a bender, to be honest, and only took the fight at four days’ notice,” he recalls honestly.
“Virgo should’ve been stopping me, considering I’d not been in the gym at all. He did have me hurt in the first round, but I had the press conference in my head and I thought ‘You’re not stopping me. I’m going nowhere’.
“But he didn’t like my power, despite me feeling really weak in there, he still didn’t like it. I was clipping him and it was keeping him away. He was just hitting my elbows and hands. I thought I deserved a few rounds, really.
“If he fights Fury, he’ll get battered.”
For Williams, there is no chance of him sitting out his 28-day suspension. Eager to get back to training, he wants to be ready for action as soon as he is able to fight again. However, with the small hall scene still to reconvene, he will be dependent on another high-profile television gig in order to earn his danger money. As much as he enjoys the exposure, there is a part of him that misses the quiet nights performing in provincial leisure centres against unknown prospects. “I want some good scraps, he laughs. “Rather than spending my time curling up in survival mode and taking beatings.
“The guys on the TV shows are no mugs, so I’m really stepping up to the plate to fight them anyway. I’d like to get the odd win when I get the right opponents. I’d like to fight more often and have that chance to collect a few wins along the way.”
These final sentences are telling. It is tempting to think of journeyman as motivated solely by the pay-day and an old school sense of professional honour. Like longshoreman queuing up for a day’s work at the local Union Hall, their labour little more than a hard physical grind performed without love. A mere transaction settled in bruises and blood. But for Williams and many of those like him, ploughing the circuit up and down the country, there is something altogether more to it.
“If I wasn’t a pro, or even if there was no money involved, I’d still do it,” he says. “Although I shouldn’t say it, I’d fight for free.
“It’s just something I love doing.”
Main image and all photos: Queensberry Promotions.