Baltimore’s Willie For Real Williams steps to the front of the room, his trainers and coaches waiting for a reason to cheer.
Williams, 36, will fight Roy Jones Jr. Friday night in a cruiserweight bout at Cabarrus Arena and Events Center. Jones is one of the great fighters of our time. He’s 59-8 with 42 knockouts, and at 46, he still can snap a punch and beat opponents with his speed.
Williams is the unknown. He’s also the underdog. He is 14-8-2 with four knockouts. He’s 36. So what does Williams say when the room looks his way?
“I came to win,” he says.
Never miss a local story.
“That’s right, that’s right!” his team yells. They sit at a booth at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Wild Wings next to the booth in which Jones sits.
Jones and Williams headline the biggest boxing card in and around Charlotte since 1994. Don King was in town that February. So was his boxer, Thomas Hearns. Hearns was Jones and his opponent, Freddie Delgado was Williams.
Hearns was supposed to handle Delgado. But it was a close and thrilling fight. As Hearns management group panicked, King turned around, smiled and said to me, “Is America a great country or what?”
Can Williams pull a Delgado and compete with Jones and perhaps beat him? Money Mike Long, who is promoting the card, asks.
“I know I’m most definitely going to win it,” says Williams.
“That’s right, that’s right!” come the shouts from his team.
What do you think about that, Roy Jones?
“He came to win so it don’t matter how I feel,” Jones says.
Doors open Friday at 6:30 p.m., and the first of the 10 bouts on the card will begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information go to carolinabrawl.com
The weekend is great for Charlotte boxing fans. On Friday and Saturday the annual N.C. Carolinas Golden Gloves Tournament will be held at Sugaw Creek Recreational Center. Boxers from Charlotte, Gastonia, Greensboro, Lincolnton, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune will compete. Fights begin Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults.
Jones, once the country’s most heralded amateur, has had 67 fights. Posing for a picture with him is Derek H-Bomb Hyatt of Gastonia, who on Friday will have his first.
Hyatt has a dazzling amateur Golden Gloves record and is 1-1 as a professional mixed martial artist.
I visit him in Gastonia this week. His trailer is spotless.
“When I get nervous, I have to do something, so I clean,” he says.
Kenny Letts of Fight Lab, where H-Bomb trains for mixed martial arts, says he’s happy about H-Bomb’s unusual pre-fight ritual. Letts says he’ll schedule more fights for H-Bomb and, as the fights approach, invite him to the gym and hand him a broom.
Hyatt’s amateur boxing trophies and medals fill a case and hang from a wall. He sits on a sofa. On a table in front of him is a Bible whose cover and pages imply heavy usage.
That’s not for show, is it?
“No sir,” Hyatt says.
Hyatt, who fights Florida’s Julian Valerio at 154 pounds, is a lean 6-2. His style is classic, setting up opponents with a long jab and following with a snapping right.
Also on the undercard is light-heavyweight Quinton Rankin of Charlotte. He got his start at Charlotte Boxing Academy. Rankin is 7-2, and has won his last three fights impressively – two third-round knockouts and a second-round TKO.
Despite the quick endings, he says: “I’m a good defensive fighter. What a boxer likes to do, I don’t let him do it.”
He’ll fight Craig Duncan of Florida.
Two highly regarded fighters will be featured. The first is Courtney Blocker of Pensacola, Fla., Roy Jones Jr.’s town. He’s 4-0 and has never fought beyond the second round. They fight at 140. He’ll fight N.C.’s Trevon Blizzard at 140.
The second is Miguel Cruz of Lake Mary, Fla., who is 6-0 with five knockouts. He’ll fight Eli Addison of Winston-Salem, who fights out of Charlotte. Addison is 11-3. They fight at 147.
The biggest man in the room is N.C. native and former heavyweight champion Bonecrusher Smith, 61, who lives in Myrtle Beach. You get a big fight, you bring out the royalty. The first college graduate (Shaw) to win the heavyweight title, Bonecrusher, who is 6-4, has become an author in his later years. He wrote “M.A.D. Make A Decision.”
As the news conference breaks up, several boxers ask Jones to pose for pictures with him.
I ask Jones about the fight of the year, decade and millennium between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacqaio. Jones says what you’d expect. He favors Mayweather’s boxing ability and the versatility of Pacquiao’s attack. He adds what you might not expect. He says intangibles favor Pacquiao.
Jones is gracious with fans and the other boxers. He’s signs and poses and, asked if he wants to predict a winner of his fight with Williams. He declines.
One suspects, however, that he, too, is in Charlotte to win.
“I was the best at it for years,” Jones says, raising his arms above his head in a victory pose. “And I’m still the best at it.”
Tom Talks first item goes here.
▪ Second item here.
▪ Third item here.
▪ Fourth item here.
▪ Fifth item here.
▪ Sixth item here.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen