In August 2014, Thomas Williams Jr. was a hot prospect pursuing his third straight stoppage, this time against former titleholder Gabriel Campillo.
Not only did Williams enter that ESPN-televised fight at 17-0 with 12 knockouts, but the “Top Dog” had one of boxing’s preeminent personalities seated on his bandwagon.
“I’m a fan of Thomas Williams Jr. I really like him,” veteran trainer and ESPN ringside analyst Teddy Atlas said prior to the start of the Campillo bout. “I love the fact that we’re following him in his career. This guy has talent [and] is also TV-friendly.
“He boxes, looks to counterpunch, but for the most part, he’s aggressive. I’m interested to see how Williams goes about it with such an experienced guy. I’ll say it again: I’m a fan of Williams.”
Moments later the bell rang, and Williams quickly showed why Atlas was so high on him, dominating the first two rounds of a 175-pound clash of southpaws.
But in the fourth round, the script flipped when Campillo caught Williams with shots that opened a cut over his left eye and bloodied his nose. Seeing his own blood for the first time in his career, the aggressive and confident Williams turned tentative and apprehensive in the fifth—a shift in style that clearly irritated his ringside fan.
“He’s gotta mentally handle it,” Atlas said of Williams during the broadcast near the end of the fifth. “Right now, he’s looking [to land] desperation punches, he’s backpedaling, he’s squinting. He’s being bothered by that cut—not only by the flow of blood, but just the situation, that he’s not in control.
"And he’s worried. … We are seeing the unraveling of a prospect right now.”
As the sixth round was set to begin, referee Ray Corona summoned the ringside doctor to examine Williams’ eye and ordered the fight stopped. Just like that, Williams’ perfect record was no longer, having fallen to a 35-year-old opponent who had gone 7-5-1 and been stopped twice in 13 previous fights.
Shortly after the bout was called off, Williams made his way over to Atlas and apologized, telling him “I let you down.”
“You didn’t let me down, Thomas, not as a person” Atlas said. “But listen: Now’s the time to find out who you are.
“As an athlete, what happened to you tonight, other great athletes, other great fighters, that’s happened to them. What they do now, what they start doing tomorrow, that’s what’s [important]. Don’t let yourself down. Pull yourself back up. Because that’s the test of a man, that’s the test of a champion.”
Atlas’ words seemed to resonate with Williams, who went back to work and rebounded with a unanimous decision over Michael Gbenga in December, winning eight of 10 rounds on all three judges’ scorecards.
Now Williams (18-1, 12 KOs) is set for his latest test when he takes on Humberto Savigne (12-2, 9 KOs) on Friday night in Biloxi, Mississippi (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). The 175-pound contest is set for 10 rounds and is the co-feature to the 175-pound bout between Edwin Rodriguez (27-1, 18 KOs) and Michael Seals (19-0, 14 KOs).
Looking back on the loss to Campillo, Williams acknowledges he didn’t handle things as well as he could have.
“I didn’t overcome [adversity],” he says. “Being cut while you're fighting is always a negative. It was very difficult to see with blood pouring down into my eyes.
“I know that winning and losing is part of boxing, but I did feel like I let everyone down. Nothing was going bad for me that night. I was controlling and winning the fight until I got cut.”
In Savigne, Williams will be facing an opponent who is coming off a second-round knockout loss to then-unbeaten Craig Baker in February. But before that defeat, the 36-year-old Cuban native who resides in Miami had scored consecutive second-round stoppages, the last in July 2014 against former champion Jeff Lacy.
“I really don’t know much about [Savigne], but me being a southpaw will cause anyone to have problems,” Williams says. “My game plan never changes. The thing that stays the same is getting my hand raised at the end of the night.”
Williams, 28, says the Campillo loss—and the disappointment brought by it—is firmly behind him. More importantly, he believes he's still a force in what is a stacked 175-pound class. "Anyone who knows me knows I'm still a problem in my division," he says.
At least one of Williams' fans concurs.
“Thomas Williams is good enough and has the gifts to be a top player in this division, but it’s a critical point in his life,” Atlas says. “So it’s going to be whether or not he has the constitution, discipline [and] mental fortitude to perform under pressure."
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