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West Philly boxing contender, former unified champion Julian Williams back in ring vs. Vladimir Hernandez

Williams' return to the ring took 21 months after two delays, but he's intently focused on getting back into championship contention.

Philly boxer Julian Williams will make his return 21 months after his last fight.
Philly boxer Julian Williams will make his return 21 months after his last fight.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Inside the James Shuler Boxing gym in West Philadelphia lie reminders. There are photos of Julian “J Rock” Williams’ hands raised with the champion belt around his waist.

Williams (27-2, 16 KOs) can see the main poster every time he walks in the gym on early afternoons. It’s now been more than two years since Williams became a unified champion. It’s been 21 months since he lost that belt in Philly.

Getting the title back is his primary motivation. That process starts Saturday night in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena against Vladimir Hernandez in a 10-round junior middleweight bout. Williams’ match will be televised live at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 and FS1. The Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder match will be available on ESPN+ and Fox Sports Pay-Per-View.

“I got to get some get back,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, this took longer than I expected, but everything happened for a reason.”

Williams’ focus is on another level of discipline. While most fighters spend a lot of time reposting photos and posters of upcoming fights on their Instagram pages, you won’t find those on J-Rock’s. His two kids and other family members won’t be out in Las Vegas, either. Only those who have been training with him are making the trip.

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The card is stacked. Williams and Hernandez (12-4, 6 KOs) are on the undercard of Wilder-Fury III, one of the most anticipated boxing matches of the year. Knockout artist and rising star Edgar Berlanga is also included. Matches like these usually intrigue Williams, who is often on Twitter posting boxing commentary on weekends. But this time is different. He couldn’t care less about the rest of the card.

“I got one mission,” Williams said. “I ain’t come here to party. Get in and get out.”

Trainer Stephen Edwards and Williams split after the loss to Jeison Rosario, but they have been back in tandem since last month. Edwards is regarded by some as having one of the sharpest boxing minds in Philly. Williams initially said the split was needed for a change.

“We had a conversation and just talked about the differences we had and that’s basically it,” Williams said.

Long layoffs often lead to ring rust. It’s been 21 months since Williams’ last fight. Edwards said the biggest focus is just catching a rhythm. Williams says he’s expecting to look sharp.

Williams’ timing will be tested and should get better throughout the fight, but Hernandez isn’t the kind of fighter who is going to sit back. He has a style similar to many classic Mexican fighters who like to brawl and come forward. Hernandez is also a southpaw. Williams and Edwards brought in a southpaw sparring opponent late in the camp for better preparation.

“I’ve seen so many different styles,” Williams said. “I think it’s a tough guy, but I’m going to handle it.”

This is Williams’ moment to come forward, too. His last two fight opportunities in December of 2020 and June were both postponed. The second delay was caused by an elbow injury, which he said is completely healed.

Williams also pointed out that before his last loss, he was sick. Edwards echoed that message, saying Williams may even have had COVID-19 before people knew it was a real problem, but Williams called it the flu.

“He’s about 90% of where he was before he got sick, but he’ll be back,” Edwards said. “He hasn’t lost anything, it’s just a matter of just doing the things that we was doing before.”

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Besides that, there’s no looking back. Williams stayed out of the news mostly for the past 21 months, and that wasn’t an accident. He’s not trying to do much talking about his future.

“I’m going to be quiet,” Williams said. “I’m going to show them. Everybody knows I can fight and what I’m capable of. I don’t want to really raise no eyebrows.”