Julian Williams stands in front of Luciano Cuello, his feet placed slightly wider than his shoulders, almost imperceptibly bent forward at the waist. When he moves in and out, his feet barely come off the canvas as he glides toward and away from his opponent. It’s like watching Michael Jackson in a dance-off with Frankenstein.
All the while, Williams’ head weaves in tight circles. Punches are short and compact. The shot that staggers Cuello, that makes the last eight seconds of their September 22 match a foregone conclusion, comes from the waist.
Julian Williams barely cocks his right hand, just slightly drawing his elbow back as he twists into it, without brining his fist up or over the top. The heel of his front foot lines up neatly with the toes of his back foot, and he stays lightly on the balls of both feet when he delivers the shot. It’s a devastating show, all the more terrifying for its efficiency.
Those sharp fundamentals come from the way Williams and trainer Stephen “Breadman” Edwards will obsessively work for hours on one punch, or footwork, or just shadowboxing in a day of training. But that’s not the only way that Williams fine-tunes his game.
Edwards and Williams also dedicate much of their time to reviewing vintage fight footage, helping Williams root his approach today in the successes of fighters from the past.
“Sometimes as time progresses, guys in this era concentrate more on physicality, strength and conditioning work and do a lot of fancy exercises. I’m not saying we don’t do that, but the name of the game is boxing. It’s not a decathlon,” Edwards says. “I think you win fights with solid skill and fundamentals.
"I’ve sent [Williams] clips of Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Terry Norris. I sent him a clip of Salvador Sanchez, Donald Curry. I’ll find somebody who has a similar body type and have him watch it.”
It’s something that started for Edwards when, as a young Leonard fan, his grandfather told him he knew of an even better Sugar Ray: Robinson. A disbelieving Edwards borrowed a VHS tape of Robinson and proceeded to devour it.
In the process, it helped trigger a lifelong appreciation for what old film could reveal.
“I didn’t know who Sugar Ray Robinson was,” Edwards says. “[My grandfather] said, 'Man, I know a guy who’s better than Sugar Ray Leonard.' I’m like no one can be better than Sugar Ray Leonard. He said, 'You’ve got to watch this guy.' I probably watched that movie 150 times.”
Trying to convince most 25-year-old fighters to learn from a boxer whose last bout came 50 years ago would be a tall task. But Williams took Edwards' advice to heart—that a fight doesn’t have to be in high-definition for it to be something from which you can gain valuable information.
So Williams pays attention. Not just to the in-ring technique, either. The fighter Williams studies more than any other is Norris, and Williams’ biggest takeaway is the way Terrible Terry’s conditioning and seemingly inexhaustible gas tank carried him through later rounds.
But it’s not just those things that pertain to the act of boxing that resonate when Williams watches the old-timers. He is just as keen on the way older fighters carried themselves, whether it was Muhammad Ali’s effervescent confidence or how veterans came out the other side of a more trying era completely intact.
“I take away the body work [Robinson] did. I took away how he threw punches off of angles,” Williams says. “How quick his jab was. Those guys were so great. They were fighting in the 15-round era, they were fighting with same-day weigh-ins and they were fighting with those six-ounce horsehair gloves.
"It’s the weirdest thing in the world those dudes’ bodies held up so good that those guys had hundreds of fights. One time I was watching ESPN Classic and they had an interview with Jersey Joe Wolcott and Archie Moore, when these guys were retired, and these dudes were talking clear as day. It was the most amazing thing in the world.”