Two-and-a-half years ago, Liam Williams was in danger of becoming another of British boxing’s ‘what ifs’.
In his two unsuccessful battles with Liam Smith, ‘The Machine’ demonstrated undeniable talent. However, his dedication did not match his ability. He found the lure of nights out difficult to resist. Tough losses to his domestic rival almost eroded the last of his love for the sport, to the point where Williams strongly considered hanging up his gloves permanently.
Thankfully, rather than turning his back on boxing, Williams opted for change. The alterations were wholesale. He traded the distractions of South Wales for the solitude of Sheffield, Dominic Ingle replaced Gary Lockett as head trainer, and he left the painful memories of super-welterweight behind in search of glory at 160lbs.
For Williams, change has been as good as a rest. He is now the mandatory challenger for the WBO middleweight title, currently in the possession of Demetrius Andrade. With his mind fully focused, we may finally see Williams fulfil his potential.
The 28-year-old has squandered opportunities before, but he is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
“I’m not going to let another chance slip away, no way,” Williams (22-2-1, 17 KOs) told Boxing Social. “If and when [Andrade] does fight me, he will lose.”
Such proclamations are common ahead of prospective fights, but with Williams this isn’t braggadocio, it is a deep-rooted belief.
The only doubt for Williams is if the fight takes place at all. Two-weight world champion Andrade – like the majority of high-profile fighters at 160lbs and 168lbs – has a broadcast deal with streaming platform DAZN. As such, he has a plethora of lucrative options available to him, including moving up to challenge Billy Joe Saunders for the WBO super-middleweight title.
Despite the fact that negotiations between both camps have commenced, a loss to Williams would put paid to Andrade’s hopes of facing the marquee names. Williams feels he may be deemed too high risk for little reward.
“I’ve said to a number of people, when it comes to the crunch I think [Andrade] is going to dip,” he said. “I hope he does fight me because I want to take a belt from a champion. I’m in a good position right now because I’m mandatory for the WBO title, but I think if I wasn’t mandatory, I’d still be struggling to get my shot because no one will willingly take a chance on me. I’ve been on a good run of form. I love a challenge, but a lot of fighters would rather get paid for steady walkovers.”
The last line was a not-so-thinly-veiled dig at the current champion. While Williams was a self-proclaimed admirer of Andrade at super-welterweight, he has been anything but impressed by Andrade’s run of defences against Artur Akavov (WTKO12), Maciej Sulecki (W12) and Luke Keeler (WTKO9).
Admiration has transformed into contempt as a former idol is now a rival.
“It’s mad really because when he was at 154lbs a couple of years ago, I was well behind him,” he said. “I never even thought we’d cross paths. I used to be a fan of him, I liked him. He was nice to watch, he had very good punch variety, good power, [he was] slick and I used to be a fan. I don’t think as much of him at middleweight. If he’s looking to move up again, I don’t think that’s a good idea. He looks worse when he moves up, even though he is big.”
Williams demonstrated the threat he poses to Andrade by halting Alantez Fox inside five rounds in December. Fox had previously gone the distance in a losing effort against Andrade during which he sent ‘Boo Boo’ to the canvas in the seventh round.
Standing at 6’4”, Fox is freakishly tall for a middleweight. His height and reach were expected to present Williams with problems, but from the opening bell the Welshman was in complete control.
Williams simply would not be denied.
“A lot of that was just pure determination, if I’m being honest,” Williams confessed. “I messed up my chance when I boxed Smith the second time, it all went a bit pear-shaped for me. I thought, ‘I’m not letting another opportunity slip, there’s no one taking it away from me’. I think on mindset alone I was always going to beat him. I was going to walk through him on determination.”
The combination of dedication and determination was in stark contrast to the attitude Williams possessed ahead of his second encounter with Smith.
In the build-up to their first contest, neither man had a good word to say about the other and the acrimony continued inside the ring as the fight was blighted by numerous fouls.
Heads clashed often and Williams received the more significant damage. At the end of the ninth round, Gary Lockett withdrew his fighter from the contest due to two lacerations on Williams’ right eyelid, which were impairing the boxer’s vision. Williams believed the injuries had been caused by deliberate headbutts rather than accidental clashes of heads, but referee, Terry O’Connor, did not, handing Smith victory.
The ruling infuriated and upset Williams in equal measure. Williams couldn’t shake the feeling of injustice. As a result, he became disillusioned with the sport. Like so many before him, Williams sought escapism in alcohol.
The temptation of the South Wales nightlife had always been difficult for Williams to resist, but ahead of the rematch the pull was stronger than ever. Williams tumultuous preparations showed in his performance as he looked like a poor facsimile of the fighter from the first bout as he went on to lose a majority decision.
“There’s no way of getting out of the fact that I lost,” he said. “He won the fight and I accept it. I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing anymore. I just wasn’t living the life. A couple of weeks before that fight, I was out getting drunk. It was things like that, which I shouldn’t have been doing.”
Afterwards, the partying intensified. Overweight and frustrated that he’d let a golden opportunity slip away, Williams was on the verge of quitting the sport.
Instead, he decided to roll the dice one last time, but he knew change was necessary. He left Wales to base himself in Sheffield five days a week. Under the tutelage of Dominic Ingle, Williams has looked rejuvenated.
A move up to middleweight, allied with a better mindset and lifestyle, has bore fruit. The 28-year-old is currently on a six-fight knockout streak, having captured the British middleweight title in the process, and looks on course to achieve his goal of creating the best possible life for his daughter, Myla.
“It might sound silly, but I’m proud of myself because I was seriously thinking about packing it in,” Williams said of turning his life and career around. “I thought, ‘I’ve had my big chance, I fluffed it. That may be me now. I might go off the rails’. I started going out on the piss all the time and stuff. I went on holiday and when I came back, I was 14st 4lbs. I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to pull this back’. It just goes to show, if you put your mind to it and you’re determined enough, I’m not saying anything is possible, but so much is possible.
“It was probably after my first fight with Dom that my love for the sport came back. Without sounding big-headed, I thought, ‘I’m fucking good. I need to make more of this’. I came so close to throwing it all away, it would have been wasted talent. I thought, ‘Dig in, you’ve got a couple of years and you could become world champion and potentially make millions of pounds’. The main thing for me is to do everybody proud, especially my daughter.”
Despite taking better care of his body, the battle with the scales is still an arduous one for the 28-year-old. While a move to 168lbs seems inevitable in the future, he is currently fully focused on world title glory at 160lbs.
“It’s not easy to make middleweight,” he said. “It wouldn’t be easy for me to make super-middleweight because I still have to lose quite a bit. I have to eat clean and diet hard. That last couple of pounds at [super-welterweight] was taking a bit out of me, but I honestly feel I could make that weight now easier than I did when I boxed Liam Smith because I’m living a better lifestyle. I’m not going out and getting smashed all the time, I’m not eating junk, I’m doing the right thing. I don’t even like being in Wales anymore, simply because there are too many distractions for me. It’s no good for what I’m looking to achieve. I can’t be around it.
“I still put on over two stone [between fights]. I’m 13st 2lbs right now and I’m looking in decent shape. I’m fairly big, I’m solid, I always have been since I was a kid. When I was 13 years of age, I was fighting at 75kg which is heavier than I do now at 28. I was heavier 15 years ago! It’s just madness. Now, I love what I’m doing again. For me, if you are enjoying what you are doing, you can’t go too far wrong, you just need that little bit of discipline.”
Williams is so confident of victory over Andrade that he already knows who he would like to face in his maiden defence.
While some would look to the path of least resistance by making routine defences against lesser fighters to guarantee a steady income, Williams has no interest in such fights. Having overcome the biggest challenges in his personal life, he now dreams of repeating the feat in his professional world.
“Right now, it’s all about taking away that title from Andrade,” he said. “When I win, I’m going to be calling on [Gennady] Golovkin first. He’s not what he once was? I’m not saying that, but I believe now is my time and I’d love to fight a name such as Golovkin just because he’s known as being this killer-puncher and he’s feared at middleweight. It would be very pleasing to go and beat someone like that.
“I don’t feel like you’ve seen the best of me yet. You may not until another two or three fights because I genuinely feel like I’m still learning, I feel like I’m improving all the time.”