Lem’s Corner: As 154-pound action heats up, Julian Williams patiently waits his turn

There’s been a lot of chatter in recent weeks—including in this very space—about all the talent and interest in the 147-pound division. Not to be ignored, though, is the next weight class up boxing’s food chain.

Julian Williams

Not only has unbeaten 154-pound contender Julian "J-Rock" Williams won 16 consecutive fights since a 2011 draw, he's also won 53 rounds in a row.

Intrigue also abounds in the 154-pound division, where several top boxers not only are hitting their prime but on the verge of hitting each other.

It all starts May 21 at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which will host a tripleheader of 154-pound title bouts (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). It starts with Jermell Charlo (27-0, 12 KOs) and John Jackson (20-2, 15 KOs) vying for a vacant crown, followed by Charlo’s twin, Jermall Charlo (23-0, 18 KOs), making the third defense of his world championship against former titleholder Austin Trout (30-2, 17 KOs).

Finally, Erislandy Lara (22-2-2, 13 KOs) will close the show by putting his title on the line against Vanes Martirosyan (36-2-1, 21 KOs) in a rematch of their technical draw from November 2012.

Another important 154-pound clash follows June 11 at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, where left-handed former champion Demetrius Andrade (22-0, 15 KOs) takes on contender Willie Nelson (25-2-1, 15 KOs).

“We’ve got the top six consensus fighters in the 154-pound division between the May 21 card, with all three major world titles on the line that night, and the Andrade card on June 11,” said Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports.

One man stuck on the outside looking in at this glut of important 154-pound showdowns is Julian Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs). It’s a position with which Williams has become all too familiar, as the unbeaten Philadelphia native continues to be the most avoided fighter in the division—if not the entire sport.

Williams is coming off a seventh-round TKO of Marcello Matano on March 5, his third consecutive stoppage victory. The Williams-Matano fight was a title eliminator, so with the win, Williams automatically became the No. 1 contender for Jermall Charlo’s belt.

So why is Charlo squaring off against Trout on May 21 and not Williams? Because he was granted an exception to face Trout on the condition that the winner laces them up against the 26-year-old Williams.

Interestingly enough, Williams thought he had a fight lined up with Trout late last year, but that fell through. Then, moments after defeating Matano, Williams made a point to call out Charlo during a post-fight interview from in the ring.

So obviously “J-Rock” is miffed that Charlo bypassed him for Trout, right? Not exactly.

“I think that’s a good fight to make,” Williams says of the Charlo-Trout matchup. “I’m not really upset at the fight. I think Jermall has a right to make a voluntary defense. I’m just going to have to be a little more patient.”

Prior to taking apart Matano, Williams dismantled Luciano Cuello in 93 seconds in September. To put that result into perspective, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez—who is widely regarded as one of boxing’s top pound-for-pound fighters—faced Cuello in July 2010 and needed six rounds to do to the Argentinian veteran what Williams did in less than two minutes.

Williams has now won 16 consecutive bouts (nine by way of knockout) since his six-round draw against Francisco Santana in May 2011. During that winning streak, he’s won 53 consecutive rounds.

No wonder Naazim Richardson—the legendary Philly trainer who helped mold Bernard Hopkins into a multi-division champion—has dubbed Williams “one of the top prospects in the sport.”

Soon enough, that prospect will get the world title opportunity he’s long desired. Indeed, once the Charlo-Trout fight ends, the days of Julian Williams being treated like the boogeyman of the 154-pound class will be over.

“My shot is coming, and I’m excited about it,” Williams says. “I know that when it happens, I’m going to be able to beat either of them. It doesn’t really matter who wins.”

Erislandy Lara

Erislandy Lara defends his 154-pound title against Vanes Martirosyan on May 21 in the main event of a 154-pound championship tripleheader in Las Vegas. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

SO, WHO YOU GOT, J-ROCK?

Williams may not care who prevails in the Charlo-Trout clash, but he’s got an opinion on who will win. In fact, we asked Williams to put on his analyst hat and break down the quartet of upcoming 154-pound matchups:

Andrade vs. Nelson: This is a tough fight. Willie Nelson is a good fighter, but he gets hit a little too cleanly too often. Nelson is really tough and he’ll come to win, but I think Andrade is going to have too much for him. I’m picking Andrade by decision.

Charlo vs. Jackson: This is going to be a lot closer than people think. Jackson can fight. He’s really skittish, and he’s a big puncher. A lot of people didn’t see the fight between him and Willie Nelson [who won by unanimous decision], but that was a close, close fight. I thought John Jackson won.

Jackson was also kicking Andy Lee’s ass [in June 2014], knocked him down and everything, and then he just got caught with a big shot and got knocked out [in the fifth round]. But you can’t count Jermell out, because he’s fought some tough fights on the way up. I’m torn, so I don’t know who is going to win.

Lara vs. Martirosyan II: That’s another tight fight. If you watched the first four or five rounds in their first meeting, I thought Martirosyan was doing well.

Lara’s style is more about using his legs to move around the ring, and I don’t know how much his legs have left—he’s getting up there in age [33 years old]. But Martirosyan is there to be hit, so I’m picking Lara by a narrow decision.

Charlo vs. Trout: I see this as an easy fight for Jermall, who should be able to pick Trout apart. Trout is older, smaller and doesn’t take a punch too well. I think Charlo should finish him off in about six rounds.

I actually would like for Charlo to win, because that’s a much bigger fight for me.

Lem’s Corner is published each Wednesday at PremierBoxingChampions.com.

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