With title shot looming, Julian Williams insists he’s laser focused on Marcello Matano

Think about your ultimate lifelong goal—the one thing you’ve been working for years to achieve. Now imagine being one step away from it. Of course the imminent accomplishment would be front of mind 24/7. Unless you were Julian Williams.

One of the most skilled—and feared—boxers in the game today, the heavy-hitting Williams is one fight away from earning a mandatory world title match, likely against 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo. That title shot is the reason Williams got into the fight game, the carrot the 25-year-old Philadelphia native has been chasing since turning pro nearly six years ago.

But right now, Julian Williams (21-0-1, 13 KOs) says he’s not expending any energy pondering a potential showdown with Charlo. Rather, he swears his sole focus is on Saturday’s 154-pound title eliminator against Marcello Matano (16-1, 5 KOs) at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).

“Being a world champion is my lifelong dream, it’s what I’ve been working toward my whole life,” says Williams, who weighed in Friday at 153.9 pounds, while Matano checked in at 150.4. “And I’m definitely excited just to fight for the world title, but I try not to think about it too much.”

Considering his appreciation for boxing history, it’s no real surprise that Williams subscribes to the old-school, one-fight-at-a-time approach. He understands that, while he might be just one step away from a championship, he could take 100 steps backward if he were to underestimate Matano.

That’s why he and trainer Stephen "Breadman” Edwards used every resource available to dig up info on the 29-year-old Matano, a relative unknown who has fought exclusively in his native Italy.

So what did their intel reveal?

“He’s a really scrappy guy,” Williams says of Matano. “I was able to see bits and pieces of each of his last couple of fights, and it seemed like he got a little bit better each time out. So I’m expecting a tough guy.”

Says Edwards: “He’s going to try to outhustle Julian, try to steal rounds and really be busy. He doesn’t look like a really big puncher. He has decent quickness, but it’s not anything we’ve never seen before.

“Julian’s a really good puncher, so sometimes when a guy gets hit, he doesn’t become as willing anymore to engage. So we have to prepare for everything, but mostly, I’m expecting a real scrappy, hustling type of fighter.”

In addition to what appears to be a monumental edge in power—“J-Rock” has more knockouts (eight) in his last 11 fights than Matano has in his career—the 5-foot-11 Williams has a decided height advantage over his 5-foot-8 opponent. Because of that, Williams is pretty confident he won’t have to beg Matano to exchange with him in the scheduled 12-round scrap.

“He has to come to me to try to win the fight,” Williams says. “If not, he’s just going to get beat up and shut out or stopped. So I think he’s definitely going to come forward.”

Matano didn't do anything to refute that assumption at the final pre-fight news conference Thursday. “I can adapt myself to any opponent," he says. "I can be a boxer or I can be a brawler. But in my heart, I am a warrior, and I will come forward all fight."

As if he needed it, Williams will have yet another advantage at his disposal Saturday: the crowd. While Matano has traveled more than 4,300 miles for this fight, Williams will be making the 70-mile trek north from Philly to Bethlehem. In fact, this is Williams’ second straight fight at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, where he destroyed Luciano Cuello in 93 seconds in his most recent bout on September 22.

To hear Williams tell it, though, the fact Matano traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to fight him in his backyard speaks to the Italian’s courage.

“Like I’ve told a lot of people, he’s shown some ambition to want to come over here to fight me in an eliminator, in a fight that everybody is picking him to lose,” Williams says. “That in itself just shows hunger and ambition.”

Hence the reason Williams and his team are very reticent to look ahead to that coveted world title opportunity—no matter how tempting it might be.

“Looking at [Matano], he’s not as talented as Julian, but that doesn’t mean anything, because sometimes will can overcome skill on the right day,” Edwards says. “So we’ve prepared very, very, very hard for this guy.”

For full coverage of Williams vs Matano, hit up our fight page.

Julian Williams and Marcello Matano

Unbeaten Julian Williams says he is not looking past relatively unknown Italian fighter Marcello Matano heading into Saturday's 154-pound title eliminator in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Amanda Westcott/Showtime)

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