Former WBC light heavyweight champ JB Williams certainly had an interesting, up-and-down ring career. The man from Indiana sparred with world champions like Marvin Johnson, Michael Spinks and Thomas Hearns, while JB fought the likes of Murray Sutherland, Alex Ramos, Prince Mama Muhammad (against whom Williams won the vacant WBC belt), Dennis Andries (the fight that saw Williamson lose the title), Juan Domingo Roldan, and George Foreman.
Tall for a light heavyweight at 6’2” and with a long reach at 78-inches, Williamson was both tough and full of heart. Now aged 66 and still in pretty good shape despite suffering with arthritis, his memory fine, JB kindly recalls his career for the benefit of ESB readers:
Q: It’s great to be able to speak with you, champ. What are your memories of when you won the WBC title?
JB Williamson: “That was in December, the 10th, back in 1985. I beat Prince Mama [Muhammad]. That fight was in Los Angeles, at The Forum. He was from Ghana, Africa. That fight, I shocked the world, and I was the new world champion. It was just after Michael Spinks had won the heavyweight championship by fighting Larry Holmes. And I had been on his sparring team, working with him [Spinks]. He couldn’t do anything with me [in sparring], so I wanted to get my shot at the light heavyweight title. Marvin Johnson, who was ranked number-two at the time, he didn’t wanna fight me. I was ranked number-three.”
Q: It’s interesting the fact that you sparred with Spinks…..
JB W: “Spinks and Marvin Johnson. I grew up sparring with Marvin Johnson, we are both from Indiana. Back then, they [the fans] seemed to think that only the heavyweights were the tough guys, but no. Every man who wants to be tough, he can be tough. And it depends on how many skills you’ve got, and I had determination – that equals skill and skill! No man is limited to how tough he can be.”
Q: Have you still got your WBC belt?
JB W: “No. When Dennis Andries won it, the WBC never gave me a replacement.”
Q: That’s terrible. They never gave you a replacement?
JB W: “No sir.”
Q: You were still a world champion, and that’s all that matters. Talking about the Andries fight, it was in the UK and it was a close fight, with him winning a split decision.
JB W: “The former three-time light heavyweight champion of the world! When I fought Andries, my trainer was green, my manager was green. We’d never watched any tapes of him, so we never had any idea about how he fought or anything like that. How can you be champion and go somewhere to fight a man, in his hometown, and never watch a single tape of him and lose a close decision? I thought I beat him though.”
Q: It was close. Did you try and get a rematch with Andries?
JB W: “Well, they [Andries’ team] didn’t want no rematch. Don King was the one behind that! Don King and, what’s that promoter’s name in England……Frank Warren. Frank Warren told me personally that King owed him some money, hundreds of thousands, and this is how he would pay off his debt, by giving him the championship fight with me and Andries. So Don King named the show, guess what he named it – ‘Now or Never!’ If me and Andries had fought in America he wouldn’t have won.”
Q: As you know, Andries went on to fight the great Tommy Hearns. Would you have got that fight if you had beaten Andries?
JB W: “I’d have got that fight with Hearns, yeah. I sparred with Tommy Hearns and I knocked him out in training. I wasn’t scared of Tommy Hearns. He and I fought as amateurs, in world amateur tournaments all around the world. He was under me. I had no fear, I just jumped on him [when we sparred]. His trainer, Emmanuel Steward, he knew me well. They were at our gym in Santa Monica, California, and Hearns was getting ready to win his first welterweight championship. I was fighting a middleweight at the time, and Emmanuel Steward stopped our sparring after two rounds because I was starting to kill him. I was chopping him up. Thomas Hearns didn’t want [to fight] me. That was the next fight in line though, after the Andries fight.”
Q: What did you think when Hearns beat Andries, knocking him down all those times before stopping him?
JB W: “I watched the fight at home. I just wish things had come out different and I’d have got my shot at Hearns. Yes sir, I’d be a multi-millionaire today!”
Q: You moved up to heavyweight, what was the Foreman fight like?
JB W: “I fought the best all the time. Before that [move to heavyweight] I fought [Juan Domingo] Roldan. They wouldn’t release the whole film of the fight. I feel I whupped him in his hometown. I went to Argentina, and I fought him there. They gave him the decision. So my second and third defeats were in other countries. I call it poor management. I had won the light heavyweight championship in California, at The Forum. I don’t know why my name couldn’t have stayed there, I brought people to the fights. That way we wouldn’t have had no home-town decisions going against us. But my manager signed my promotional fight contract with Don King, and because King owed Frank Warren, that’s how he paid off his debt, by giving Warren the Andries fight. And Andries went on and got trilogy fights all around the world and I went back to the wild blue yonder!”
Q: How was it up at heavyweight after all that?
JB W: “The George Foreman fight, he was on his comeback and they were looking for some easy fights for him really. They wanted guys who could fight, like myself, but who were more like cruiserweights. I put coins and stuff in my pockets and I weighed-in at the heavyweight limit at 202 pounds. George Foreman told me in that fight, he said, ‘man, you trying to stick it on me!’ I wanted to knock his ass out! I probably could have, because George made a couple of statements after that fight, about how he could feel those punches. But they gave me a couple of rounds [on the cards]. I went five rounds with him.”
Q: Who would you say was the best you fought?
JB W: “I can’t really pick anyone out, not really. In terms of who was the most awkward I fought, that would be Andries. I had not seen even a clip of film of him. He had studied me, and he had a sense of what I would do. I had no perception of him, and I had no idea how to respond or how to act. Andries was tough too, and he wanted to be somebody, he wanted to become world champion. Like I did.”