For West Philadelphia boxer Julian Williams, the axiom “Success is never owned, it is only rented, and the rent is due every day” couldn’t be any more true.
As a 13-year-old, he was homeless and watched his mother battle drug addiction as they lived in a shelter that occupied the first floor of a Roosevelt Boulevard motel.
To fend off frustration and pent-up anger, he laced up his boxing gloves on the basketball playgrounds and started squabbling. Boxing brought him structure, self-control and discipline, and from that day forward, the rambunctious adolescent completely consumed and enveloped himself in the sport in an organized manner and never looked back en route to winning national tournaments as an amateur, and then his first 22 professional bouts.
As a 26-year-old, undefeated rising star in 2016, he fought what was at the time the most significant fight of his career: a championship bout against Jermall Charlo. He was competitive early but suffered a three-knockdown, fifth-round stoppage. At the time, Williams had never been dropped, entered the fight having won 53 consecutive rounds, and was one of boxing’s fastest-rising contenders.
The opportunity proved to be too soon, and the setback resulted in more rent needing to be paid.
After a fruitful four-fight rebuild, Williams, 29, will step in front of Fox’s national TV audience Saturday as a burgeoning boxer — and moonlighting real-estate entrepreneur — to face Jarrett Hurd for the WBA, IBF and IBO super-welterweight titles at the EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va., a short drive from Hurd’s hometown of Accokeek, Md.
“I want America to be introduced to me as a winner. That’s everything that I work so hard for and pay my dues for. I’ll have everything else in control after that,” Williams said. “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. You have to keep pressing forward and chase your dreams.”
Williams (26-1-1, 16 knockouts) will get a second chance to prove he belongs with the sport’s top guys as a prime-time headliner on the Premier Boxing Champion card. No matter the outcome, the 154-pound contender on the verge of potential breakout already considers himself a winner.
“You can’t test a fighter’s true character until you find out how they come back from a loss," Williams said. "Imagine if Muhammad Ali never had his first career loss to Joe Frazier. We would never know how great he was.
“This new era of boxing is damaging, because they’re taking away what’s so great about the sport. Everyone is not going to be undefeated. Fans will just love a boxer until he loses a fight. They’ll consider him damaged goods if he loses the zero on his record.”
In a day of record protection and inactivity, the boxer known as “J-Rock” is considered a throwback fighter. He said he grew from his lone loss to Charlo by practicing better patience.
“I got a chance to go back to the drawing board and work on a bunch of things after that fight,” he said. “I've got championship-level experience, and that's invaluable.”
Hurd (23-0, 16 KOs), 28, a unified champion and the class of the division, enjoyed one of the best years of any boxer in 2018. Although Hurd has impressive wins against Erislandy Lara, Tony Harrison and Austin Trout, Williams said that if you judge him from those victories, he’s lost a lot of rounds. A last-second knockdown saved Hurd against Lara last April and gave him a 12-round split-decision win, hailed by the Boxing Writers Association of America as the 2018 Fight of the Year.
“Jarrett is a good, strong fighter that’s really hot right now,” Williams said. “He’s a lunch-pail kind of guy. He’s a dog with no let-up. I don’t consider him to be super tricky. I just have to be myself, not do anything extremely special, and just be mentally prepared.”
“Julian has a great inside game. People maybe underestimate it a little bit,” Hurd said. “I want to make it one-sided all the way through. I don’t want the fight to be close.”
A win for Williams would allow him to continue building a life for his daughter that he was never afforded.
“Winning would definitely change my life, definitely more financial stability. It’s going to mean a lot. But my career is not on the line,” Williams said. “I’m motivated by the glory, the titles and the money. I’m going to win in a classic. We’re probably going to have to do it a second time it’ll be so good.”
Part of the reason Williams has succeeded in boxing is that he has persevered with the triumphs in his personal life, he said. Those experiences have created a cerebral approach and lead him toward a path to create financial security and residual income for himself through real-estate investments.
He no longer pays rent. People pay rent to him.
“Being a boxer is like being an independent contractor, so I like being a landlord," Williams said. "I’m not a real-estate guru — yet. It’s a hobby that makes me money and is building a legacy for me and my family.
"I want to leave behind a legacy of a great champion, but more importantly, being a winner from Philadelphia.”