Boxing is a sport constantly in search of its next big thing.
Whereas the NBA’s top stars play multiple games per week during its season, and the NFL dominates every Sunday and Monday during its season, and Major League Baseball’s biggest names play pretty much every day during its season, boxing’s schedule is an entirely different animal.
There is no boxing “season,” and the best fighters in the world may only fight once, twice or maybe three times per year.
Throw in the fact that the game’s biggest name, Floyd Mayweather Jr., has been in a state of semi-retirement since 2015. Then consider that business feuds between cable networks and promoters often prevent marquee fights that fans want to see. Given that, you can see why it’s imperative for boxing to find as many marketable personalities as possible to stay relevant in the public consciousness.
Earlier this month, Julian Williams did his part to put his name on the mainstream map and position himself as one of boxing’s rising stars.
On May 11, Williams scored a unanimous decision victory over Jarrett Hurd to claim the WBA, IBF and IBO light middleweight championships, a fight that was broadcast nationally on FOX Sports.
In his post-fight interview, “J-Rock” began by thanking Allah and sending a Ramadan shout-out to Muslims around the world. It was probably surprising to a lot of viewers who wouldn’t have guessed that Williams is Muslim, since his name or nationality doesn’t necessarily give it away.
It wouldn’t be a surprise for fans who have closely followed Williams’ career, however. On Williams’ Instagram and Twitter pages (@jrockboxing), his bios read “proud Muslim, pro boxer, proud dad, boxing junkie …”
The 29-year-old Williams is from Philadelphia, Pa., which has a relatively large population of Black American Muslims.
Future Hall of Fame boxer Bernard Hopkins, who retired in 2016 after record-setting reigns as world middleweight and light heavyweight champion, is another practicing Muslim from Philadelphia. Hopkins’ longtime trainer, Naazim Richardson, is also Muslim.
The late Matthew Saad Muhammad, a former light heavyweight champion who is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and former lightweight contender Zahir Raheem called Philadelphia home as well.
Like many boxers, Williams had some rough times growing up. His mother suffered from drug addiction, and Williams was temporarily homeless when he was 13 years old.
Williams made his professional debut in 2010 and received his first world title shot in 2016. He lost that fight, for the IBF light middleweight belt, to Jermall Charlo. That remains Williams’ only loss as a pro. After defeating Hurd, his record now stands at 27 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw and 1 no-contest. Williams has won 16 fights by knockout.
Going into his most recent title opportunity, Williams was a significant underdog against Hurd, who was undefeated at 23-0 and fighting near his hometown in Fairfax, Va. Hurd had successfully defended his titles three times before the Williams fight.
Williams took control early by knocking down Hurd in the second round. After 12 rounds, the three judges scored the fight 116-11, 115-112, and 115-112 for Williams.
Next up for Williams could be a rematch with Hurd. In the junior/light middleweight rankings for The Ring magazine, an authority in the sport, Williams is now ranked No. 1 at the weight class (154 pounds), while Hurd dropped only to the second position.
Cuban veteran Erislandy Lara is No. 3, but the most recognizable names in the top 10 are probably 7th-ranked Jermell Charlo, twin brother of Williams’ former opponent Jermall, and 9th-ranked British star Kell Brook.
If Williams is open to moving up and fighting at middleweight (160 pounds), he could challenge well-known superstars like Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin or Daniel Jacobs, or get a rematch with Jermall Charlo to avenge his lone defeat.
If Williams can drop down to welterweight (147 pounds), big names like Errol Spence Jr., Terence Crawford, Manny Pacquiao and Danny Garcia are possibilities.