Standout amateur Austin Williams answered questions in a live stream interview with Bite Down Boxing to discuss how he’s handling COVID-19’s impact on his young pro career
With the sports world at a total standstill, as a result of the ongoing worldwide battle with the coronavirus, the devil’s choice of playgrounds has multiplied exponentially with the rapid increase in available idle minds. Athletes across the world find themselves with nowhere to compete nor anywhere to get prepared, for when competition resumes. In this unprecedented moment, perhaps only the smartest will survive.
Boxing may not be any worse off than any other sport, but there is no players’ association or union for the sport. Nor are there any player reps, team captains or Hall of Fame teammates encouraging younger players to do something constructive with the downtime. Lastly, there aren’t any league offices for boxers, with commissioners pushing their staffs to quickly devise viable contingency plans to salvage an ongoing season. Nor is there a central figure staying appraised of the latest developments, from governments and health officials, to be able to start the upcoming one on time.
Fighters, as they always are inside the ropes, find themselves having to figure out this fight all alone. As their living rooms, patios or garages begin to morph into their gyms fighters are largely left to their own devices. As to be expected, some fighters are handling the autonomy better than others. Some fighters have the means to stay sharp, get in some drills and to commit to doing some exercises. Others are exercising their Twitter fingers.
Youngsters Ryan Garcia and newly reinstated WBC Lightweight Devin Haney went public with their rivalry.
What Devin Haney texted me right now, Please God Heal the world of Corona Virus so we can start fighting again… I can’t take many more of these texts 😅 pic.twitter.com/V7XfqSLZU0
— Ryan Garcia (@KingRyanG) April 3, 2020
Recently crowned WBC Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury went the Public Service Announcement route.
Top pound-for-pound fighter and unified Middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez welcomed an impressive guest to his gym in platinum-selling southpaw rap legend Nasir “Nas” Jones. Perhaps the two toasted, “To life and good health!”, clicking together raised snifters filled with Hennessy afterwards.
After checking in, online, with some of boxing’s elites, or more established fighters, this writer’s interest turned to what might be going on with some of the game’s newcomers. With this shutdown presenting boxers with an opportunity to share their story with fight fans in a variety of ways, not all responded to direct interview requests from independent media. Undefeated 23-year old Middleweight Austin “Ammo” Williams replied – and with some enthusiasm. After a couple of exchanges, Williams called in to speak with Bite Down Boxing for an interview that streamed live on the Pay Me No Mind YouTube channel Wednesday, April 8.
A lot has changed since Showtime aired its March 13 ShoBox: The New Generation card which featured Lightweight Brandun Lee third round stoppage of Camilo Prieto in front of a small crowd which consisted of the fighters’ camps, production staff and the series’ three-man on-air team. Williams revealed that the national quarantine preempted his sixth fight which was slated for a Thursday night Golden Boy card scheduled for March 19 in Los Angeles.
In addition to expressing his disappointment in squandering his preparations for that fight, over the live stream’s 77-minutes Williams discussed several matters that factor into the fighter’s 5-0 run with Matchroom Boxing USA and the DAZN streaming app.
For starters, the Houston native – who spent one year at the Univ. of North Texas attempting to make the basketball team as a walk on – just started boxing at 19 years old. In 47 amateur fights the southpaw’s accolades included two-time USA Boxing Western Regional Champion, two-time Houston Golden Gloves Champion, and two-time Houston Open Ring National Champion. These feats quickly propelled him towards his ranking as Team USA Boxing’s No. 1 165-pounder.
Following Matchroom Boxing’s late-February 2019 announcement of the 5-foot 11-inch southpaw’s transition to the paid ranks, Williams fought five times starting last April. He debuted at The Forum in Inglewood, CA on the undercard of Sor Rungvisai-Estrada with a first round KO. Back on January 30 in Miami, in his fifth fight Williams looked dominant in a poised TKO4 dismantling of Donald Sanchez (he breaks down and grades his performance at the 51:50 mark). The bout streamed live on the undercard portion of Andrade-Keeler.
Williams enters the sport in a complicated and highly-competitive era. With promotional entities funneling their rosters almost exclusively towards their broadcast partner, a promoter’s depth of talent in a specific weight division is a critical factor, among a few others, fighters must weigh nowadays. In simpler times, a fighter’s primary concern about a potential promoter was a proven track record in guiding young talent through the phases of prospect, contender, world champion and hopefully into a box-office name.
At 19:20 Williams shrewdly walked BDB through his brief dealings with Premier Boxing Champions, his opinion towards Top Rank’s ideal fighter, and why his late-start-with-rapid-success in the sport was a perfect fit for Matchroom and DAZN’s strategy with its young group of signees. Matchroom’s roster also includes 21-year old Nikita Ababyi, as well as Diego Pacheco and Alexis Espino who fight on DAZN under the Golden Boy banner. Williams mentioned that he regularly encourages his peers to stay sharp, excel and that he’s hopeful down the road they will be able to face each other in lucrative and entertaining bouts.
At 27:19 of the interview Williams described the occurrence that led to him deciding to forego a bid for a gold medal at Tokyo 2020. After some qualifying tournaments were affected by COVID-19, on March 24 Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach announced the Games’ postponement until 2021.
The major reason for the interview, working through the personal impact of the COVID-19 shutdown, was discussed around 32:20. Surprisingly, Williams’ situation isn’t dire. In fact, this downtime is allowing a lingering issue with his right hand to heal properly. He has private access to his gym and has been able to get in limited work. In terms of money, without going into too much detail, smart decisions at the beginning of his deal with Matchroom are paying off because mechanisms put in place allow him to box full-time and not be solely reliant on fight purses.
Williams’ journey includes a fight at Madison Square Garden on Joshua-Ruiz Jr. as well as the World Boxing Super Series Super Lightweight tournament final Taylor-Prograis. The WBSS finals took place in London in October, and the former high school point guard took full advantage of the trip, as he illustrated its benefits to his maturation as a professional boxer at 40:30. Not only did Williams assist former WBA Lightweight champion Prograis with his final sparring preceding the unification bout with Taylor, but he also gleaned a great deal about professionalism, firsthand, as Prograis addressed the UK fans after losing a narrow decision in a Fight of the Year match-up.
Beyond the UK time spent in the gym, or at the two events he attended, Williams also benefited greatly from a well-publicized flight with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn aboard a private jet. During the flight, and also while at the Matchroom offices, the business teachings imparted by Hearn and his staff left an indelible impression on a young man who admittedly doesn’t come from a boxing family. Williams described the nature of Hearn’s conversations as “cut throat”, but said that him and his father now have a better understanding of their role in matters, and the team expects to pursue their goals with the same zeal – fully aware Matchroom has it objectives.
At 61:00 Williams touched on where he’s focusing his energy as everybody works through the ongoing quarantine. He discussed whether a move to Super Welterweight is still feasible, and revealed that he was once ready to deviate from the plan for his development to face Lorenzo “Truck” Simpson after the 20-year old Baltimore native let some shots go in his direction. Hearn was unable to follow through on his demands for the bout, but Williams added that along with Simpson, he’s eager to face all of the division’s young talent such as Top Rank’s Edgar Berlanga. He’s just wise enough to understand there’s plenty of time left for those fights to become meaningful, entertaining, and lucrative.
Early in the interview Williams said he wants to be the most influential athlete ever. That’s certainly a lofty goal. By the end of the interview, once this writer had the chance to sit and think on the kid’s charisma, commitment to his craft, and his boxing attributes it’s obvious he has a lot of ammo with which to take his shot it.
All photos provided by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing