If Saturday ends with Julian Williams' lifting his first world title, the West Philadelphia boxer's mind will likely travel to a time when nights like that seemed to be just a dream.
Williams was homeless when he was 13 years old, living in a shelter that occupied the first floor of a Roosevelt Boulevard motel. He often had to fend for himself as he watched his mother battle drug addiction. Williams stayed there for nine months and hid his problems from those around him.
"Definitely a learning experience," Williams said last week before training for Saturday night's bout on Showtime in Los Angeles against IBF super-middleweight champion Jermall Charlo. "It was a stressful period of my life, but I worked through it."
Boxing remained the one constant in the fighter's life as he shuffled among shelters throughout the city. Williams traveled with his team to Missouri in 2005 for his first national tournament. Upon returning, his coach, Kenny Mason dropped all the kids at their houses. Mason asked Williams where he lived. Williams told him the Boulevard.
"We get up to the Boulevard and you know how the Boulevard is super busy," Williams said. "He says 'Where's your house?' I said, 'Just let me off right here.' He left me off and I think that's when his antenna went up. It was tough and it was embarrassing."
Williams soon moved to a shelter at the Kirkbride Center in his West Philadelphia neighborhood. He later admitted to Mason that he was homeless and the coach invited him to move into his Overbrook Park home. Williams stayed with Mason for five years, until he graduated from Overbrook High School.
"He basically adopted me," Williams said.
Williams (22-0-1, 14 knockouts) turned pro two years after graduating from high school. He has since gone unbeaten and could be the city's next elite fighter. His boxing career has afforded him the chance to buy a house and other properties that he rents. He is poised to show his daughter the life he did not have.
"It's impressive," said his trainer, Stephen Edwards. "It shows a lot of perseverance. When it's happening to you, you don't look at it like that. You're just in it."
Williams is a vicious puncher and has recorded seven of his last nine wins by stoppage. He pushed himself into the title picture thanks to a swift left hook and a thunderous right hand. And for a while it seemed as if a title shot was eluding him.
His team had trouble finding credible opponents. Austin Trout, a former champion, turned down a fight with Williams. The bout with Charlo (24-0, 18 KOs) was delayed in July after the champion had eye surgery. Now it is finally here. The once homeless fighter has his shot at a world title and it no longer feels like a dream.
"Just keep pushing," Williams said. "No one is immune to the trials and tribulations of life. No matter if you grew up rich or you grew up poor. Rich people go through stuff. Poor people go through stuff. Black people, white people, it doesn't matter. Just work hard, be a good person, and you can persevere, too."