From the moment they first lace up the gloves, boxers are taught a very simple, very important lesson: If you can take your opponent out, you take him out. Julian Williams was the living embodiment of this lesson in his last fight.
At the midway point of the opening round on September 22, Williams blasted 154-pound veteran Luciano Cuello with a left-right combination to the jaw, the shot sending Cuello stumbling sideways from center ring into the ropes. Williams immediately chased Cuello down and unloaded a 10-punch barrage, with the final blow landing right before referee Gary Rosato stepped in to end the carnage.
Just like that, 93 seconds after Williams’ workday started, it was over.
If you can take him out, you take him out.
Unfortunately for Julian Williams (21-0-1, 13 KOs), what he didn’t realize was, in this instance, heeding that age-old lesson wasn’t necessarily a wise career move.
“The worst thing he could’ve done was destroy [Cuello] the way he did,” says Stephen "Breadman” Edwards, who trains Williams. “We would’ve gotten the Austin Trout fight if he didn’t do that. People won’t admit that, but that’s exactly what happened: He concussed that kid and seriously hurt him, and Austin Trout [who was working as a ringside analyst for Fox Sports 1] was standing 10 feet away.
“If Julian had gone the distance [against Cuello] and got a split decision, we would’ve fought Austin Trout. But that’s life. That’s the way the ball bounces.”
When a megafight with Trout, a former 154-pound champion, failed to materialize, Williams struggled for several months to line up an opponent. It wasn’t until shortly after the new year that a deal was made with Marcello Matano (16-1, 5 KOs), a little-known fighter from Italy.
The two will square off in a title eliminator Saturday at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, site of Williams’ demolition of Cuello and a 90-minute drive from the 25-year-old’s home in Philadelphia. The winner will be in line for his first championship opportunity, likely against current 154-pound titleholder Jermall Charlo.
Williams agrees with his trainer that his performance against Cuello hindered his ability to secure a big fight against a top contender in his loaded division. He just knows that if the roles were reversed, he would be more inclined to run toward rather than away from a quality challenger.
“I know certain guys want to protect their [unbeaten record] or they want to take the easier fights—that’s just the way some guys are,” he says. “But what they’ve got to realize is in the 154-pound division, if you want to be a world champion, then you’ve got to fight [the top fighters] because the division is stacked. There’s no way around it. I just think guys need to buckle down and fight so the best man can be crowned.”
Edwards has his own theory as to why guys at the top of the 154-pound division would rather not step foot in the ring with Williams, at least until they’re forced to do so.
“In all honesty, I don’t think [top-tier] opponents find him marketable enough as far as the risk versus the reward,” Edwards says. "I think they look at his record and see he’s won his last 12 fights, nine by knockout. They see that he hasn’t lost a round in more than two years and more than 50 rounds. They see that he’s knocking guys out with his left hook, he’s knocking guys out with his right hand, he’s outboxing guys, he’s fighting on the inside, he’s fighting on the outside.
“At the end of the day, they say, ‘Is this worth it to me? Do I feel like going into the ring with a kid who is that well-rounded, who has a bad attitude, who is in his physical prime, when I can make the same amount of money fighting someone else who is less of a threat?’”
The good news for Williams is he’s now worked himself into a position where he no longer has to chase down the lead dog: All he needs to do to get his first title shot is defeat Matano on Saturday.
And if the opportunity to once again finish things quickly presents itself?
“Hey, if I can knock him out in one second,” Williams says, “I’ll knock him out in one second and move on to the big fight.”
For complete coverage of Williams vs Matano, head over to our fight page.