Explaining the status of any individual fight, the sense of the significance it should be afforded in the wider boxing landscape, is an undertaking for only the boldest and most patient among us. This intractable maze also makes it impossible to define fighters in the way they once were. Any argument about a fighter’s world class credentials must first be preceded by agreement on what world class actually means.
Is losing a world title fight enough or must you win one? Ken Norton never did but would give any heavyweight in history an argument. What is a world title anyway, if there are four available and others competing to be recognised? The WBA routinely acknowledge three of their own in a single weight class and list ‘champions’ few have even seen fight.
As Demetrius Andrade distorted Liam Williams’ face on Saturday night, in the way a potter might when throwing wet clay on a wheel, the notion of what makes a world class fighter, or how such status is earned, ebbed and flowed. A WBO title fight is rarely the platform for greatness, though exceptions exist, and the organisation’s mandatories, of which Williams was one such example, are not typically drawn from a consensus top 10.
Commentators offered the Welshman credit for his bravery and conditioning. In the aftermath, with his rich accent thickened by swollen lips, his brows and cheeks swollen, Williams expressed the belief he’d proven he belonged at this level. It felt like a curious conclusion, at odds with the etymology of the phrase or the action that preceded the interview. True, Williams imposed himself more in the middle rounds, forced Andrade to appreciate his grit and to accept that the early ending the 33-year-old American was close to achieving in the second round was long since lost. For all his territorial pressure however, Williams rarely secured any prolonged success. He earned his opponent’s respect, he too was bruised and tired ant fight’s end, but won no more than three rounds on this writer’s card.
Many fighters of the past and present came to mind as the two middleweights wrestled, clung to each other and slugged. Junior Witter one, a fighter who, like Andrade, often led with an uppercut from the southpaw stance but then faded after strong starts. The presence of Dominic Ingle, part of Witter’s team on his finest nights, as Williams’ chief second adding to echo. There was certainly a refrain of Witter v Lovemore N’dou about the fight too. Williams’ nationality also encouraged memories of Tommy Farr, who fought Joe Louis and parlayed the courage he showed in to a series of big fights Stateside. Mostly without success. More topically, the names of Michael Jennings, Matthew Hatton and Williams’ old nemesis Liam Smith also wandered in to view. All had bravely chased fighters with greater technical gifts, first through the ratings and then around a ring. Cooper, namesake Danny Williams two more. Were they world class?
All grappled with their own sense of belonging, peering out from beneath white towels, searching the eyes of closest allies for the truth beneath the rhetoric. Like Williams they discovered their tools to be inadequate tools to win fights at world level. Williams interpreted his survival and fleeting success as vindication of the idea he had a place among the names Andrade listed post-fight. Charlo, Golovkin et al. He also hoped the slippery American with his anaemic record, who struggles to convince his rivals he’s yet vulnerable enough to fight, meant what he said post fight too; ‘that one day, today’s loser would be a winner in a fight like this’. Perhaps he might. But it struck this viewer, on the evidence of Saturday night at least, as entirely unlikely.
Which doesn’t mean Williams shouldn’t be applauded for trying, nor, like his predecessors Tommy and Henry, not be cheered if he tries again. For the pursuit of the dream is to be cherished not derided. Boxing has far too many content with the status quo and averse to the leap Williams took on Saturday to be cynical about those who dare to try.