Born and raised in the boxing-rich city of Philadelphia, Williams has proven throughout his rise up the 154-pound ranks that he can beat you with his brains as much as his brawn. How else do you explain the 26-year-old’s current streak of nine straight fights without so much as losing a single round?
More than just a skilled boxer, Williams is also a true student of the sweet science, both in and out of the ring. In fact, “J Rock” has such deep respect for his sport’s history that one gets the sense he’s spent as much time researching the legends of the game as he has how to perfect a three-punch combination.
Speaking of history, Julian Williams (22-0-1, 14 KOs) will be looking to make some of his own December 10 when he challenges 154-pound champion Jermall Charlo at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Los Angeles (SHOWTIME, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
During a recent break from training for his first world title fight, Williams chatted with us about the man he believes is the greatest fighter in history, the importance of the jab, his mad culinary skills and the top item on his bucket list (hint: He’s on the verge of crossing it off).
Do you have a boxing hero?
I respect Muhammad Ali as a modern hero in history for the things he stood for-not just for what did in boxing. To me, Ali’s boxing [accomplishments] are relative and a smaller part of his legacy compared to what stood for outside of the ring.
Muhammad Ali’s true greatness was represented by what he did for the world and the stands he took more than his fights.
Of all the boxers in history, who do you wish you could’ve fought, and how would the fight have played out?
I don’t want to give you a result, but I would say Sugar Ray Robinson, because in my opinion, he is the best fighter who ever lived. And I would want to see how I would stand up against the best fighter ever to wear a pair of gloves.
Sugar Ray Robinson had everything-great punch selection, the skills, the jab, the speed. He was a tremendous fighter. I’ve never seen anybody as good before or since.
This was during a time when guys were fighting with six-ounce horsehair gloves two or three times a month. They were doing that against the best competition. I mean, he would fight Jake LaMotta and Kid Gavilan in 15-round fights. They just don’t build men like that no more. It doesn’t happen.
Sugar Ray Robinson would bring out the best in me and give me a great gauge about how good I actually am. I would never disrespect Sugar Ray Robinson by saying I would beat him. I respect the legends. I would just like to see how good I would do against those types of guys.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… probably just finishing up college, paying back student loans and being miserable. I would probably be a major in business administration.
What’s the public’s biggest misconception about boxers?
That we’re all stupid.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit, and how you did you deal with it?
You know what, I’m not trying to sound cocky or anything, but I don’t remember. I’ve had some tough fights, but I don’t really recall an opponent who has really hurt me like that.
It’s never been where I was like, “Oh my God, he punches so hard,” or “He hit me so hard, I couldn’t get myself together.” I’ve never experienced that. I’m not saying that it can’t happen; I’m just saying that it hasn’t happened.
Excluding yourself, who’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today?
It’s close, because I don’t think anyone has taken the lead for now. I would probably say Andre Ward, but at the same time he’s had so much time off.
You’ve got guys like Sergey Kovalev out there who have been dismantling everybody, and then you’ve got guys like Guillermo Rigondeaux who is probably the best fighter in the world, but he’s never gotten the opportunity to prove it on the big stage.
Then you’ve got Floyd Mayweather Jr., who I think is the clear-cut best fighter in the world when he’s active. But he’s retired.
It’s just hard to pick one. I couldn’t pick one. I would be able to pick one at the beginning of the next year.
What kind of food is the toughest to give up while training for a fight?
I like pasta and red meat. I don’t eat too much red meat when I’m training, because it’s too hard to cut. I like steak and lamb and pasta. I just like all pasta in general.
Speaking of training, what’s your favorite exercise?
I don’t really have any. I hate them all. I just do them because I have to do them.
What about a favorite punch to throw?
It depends on who I’m fighting, but I would definitely have to say the jab, because the jab sets everything up. That’s usually my range finder, and I can usually control the fight with the jab. I pretty much use it in every fight to good effect.
Do you have a favorite boxing movie?
Raging Bull. I liked Rocky, also. I mostly liked all of the Rocky movies.
Who is the one artist on your playlist that would surprise fight fans?
Teddy Pendergrass. I grew up with my mother and father liking his music.
Would you rather run over a linebacker or juke him out of his shoes?
That depends on who it is. If it’s [retired Baltimore Ravens legend] Ray Lewis, I would have to juke him. Because I don’t want to be hit by him.
Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to know that …
… I’m an amazing cook. I can cook a lot of things-pretty much anything.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Race relations. The world would be a better place if everybody didn’t see so much color.
What’s on your life’s bucket list?
I want to be a world champion, which I can accomplish in my next fight by beating Jermall Charlo. This is what I’ve been working so hard for my entire life.
I don’t have a bucket-list wish to go skydiving before it’s all over or go to Japan or anything. It’s simple: I’ve been working half of my life to become a world champion, and that’s the most important thing on my bucket list.