Philadelphia & Boxing History

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The city of “Brotherly Love”, with incredible skylines of some 300 lofty skyscrapers with architecture dating back to colonial times, known for its strong inimitable accent, art, sports, and cuisine, I’m sure most are well acquainted with the delectable Philly Cheese Steak, while being home to 1.5 million, a diverse and multicultural population.

“Yo Adrian, I did it” exclaimed Rocky Balboa to his wife in the award-winning Rocky II, an underdog story that resonates with every fan. Sylvester Stallone running up the 72 stone steps before the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is iconic and synonymous with Philadelphia and a common tourist attraction. The Rocky franchise has been an incredible part of the legacy of the city Philadelphia, putting the city on the world map.

“There’s always next year”, or “This is our year” are common sayings amongst disappointed Philadelphia sports fans. Side note, as a Brit this reminds me of the Liverpool FC Premier League trophy drought, which seemingly feels like it will finally end this year unfortunately. I digress, unlike the heartache, and pain Philadelphians have to go through with their sports teams such as the Sixers, the Flyers, the Eagles and Phillies, boxing is a sport where the city has unequivocally flourished. Renowned for the sweet science, the city thrived during the golden era from the 1920s to all the way to 1970s.

The fans have been treated to Joey Gardiello grinding out a victory against an aged Sugar Ray Robinson, a plateaued Bernie Briscoe being dominated by the “Marvellous One” Hagler at the now demolished famous arena, The Spectrum, and perhaps the most famous bout featuring non-Philadelphians, Gene Tunney upsetting Jack Dempsey.

Philly, as it’s colloquially known, has a deep-seated, rich history of producing a plethora of all-time great legendary fighters. It undoubtedly embedded in the DNA of the birthplace of America. From Midget Wolgast to Sonny Liston to Smokin’ Joe Frazier to Matthew Saad Muhammed to Bernard Hopkins, and to most recently Danny “Swift” Garcia. The list is endless, I have indeed missed out some, okay Meldrick Taylor, another one. The pugilistic sport has declined considerably and is no longer at upper echelons it was in its glory years.

Boxing has a fractious culture of whereby the “0”, or staying undefeated, is held in high esteem. But when a boxer suffers their first blemish on their record, particularly an unpopular fighter, they are briskly brushed aside or discredited. This maybe a by-product of the success of the celebrated Floyd Mayweather Jr. who retired with his record intact, but he is once-in-a-lifetime generational talent, an anomaly, and this creates an ill-fated false illusion to present-day boxers.

Today we look at two underdog current world champions that have rewritten the script and risen like a phoenix from the ashes in today’s knee-jerk and fickle era as they look to stamp their footprint in the history books.

Julian “J Rock” Williams (27-1-1)

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As his eyes glazed, eventually tears started to pour down his face and he quickly proceeded to sujood (Islamic prostration to God). Relief, Julian Williams proved all his doubters wrong and became unified WBA and IBF world champion. He out-muscled, outworked and outwitted the physically imposing Jarrett Hurd on the inside and knocked him down for the first time in his career in the second. Touted as 7-1 underdog, he executed the tactical game plan developed up by the astute and boxing cognizant Stephen Edwards, a criminally underrated trainer. A trainer that has been with him since his amateur days where he built up a respectable record of 77-10. He has been fighting since the age of 12.

It’s been a rocky and inspirational road for the proud West Philly native since his first loss to the IBF junior middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo. On the comeback trail, he racked up four victories including a win against former 154lbs titlist Ishe Smith and contender Nathaniel Gallimore into IBF title contention. Written off at his second world title shot, “The boxing world, they make it seem like if boxers take a loss, they can’t come back… boxing world stop condemning fighters after taking a loss” a jubilant and emotional Julian Williams was forthright in his post-fight interview. Williams was just a routine defence for the undefeated Jarrett Hurd, with a unification against the winner of Jermell Charlo vs. Tony Harrison looming in the distance. Williams grabbed the opportunity with both hands and upset the applecart in Hurd’s hometown. Hurd had his way for most of his career, by commanding his size and stature on most of his opponents like Trout and Lara, but Williams was unfazed by the size, as he stated in the pre-fight build up.

Williams is a gutsy and hardened inside gladiator that has the ring smarts to throw calculated counter punches whilst staying well-balanced on his feet. In the distinctive traditional “Philly Shell”, he starts his work with the jab, once he has his opponent hurt he will persistently to throw shots with high volume, mixing up his combinations with bodywork and venomous uppercuts.

In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my time, apologies, I got carried away. J-Rock typifies a story of humble beginnings, living with his siblings and single mother in the tough neighbourhoods of Philadelphia, he was homeless for a short period of time, staying in homeless shelters, and the ring was his escape as he has fought his way to the top. A devout man to his faith with unrelenting determination and focus and sheer self-belief in his abilities, and he is not afraid to fight the best at all costs. Where combat sports is unregulated, Williams remains vocal on stringent VADA drug testing as a caveat for all his opponents.

Julian “J-Rock” Williams will be back in action on Saturday 18th January 2020 in a homecoming bout vs. Jeison Rosario in Temple University’s Liacouras Center, Philadelphia. This will be on a PBC card on FOX in the USA and BoxNation in the UK.

Tevin Farmer – (30-4-1)

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A throwback fighter with swagger and slickness that is evocative of Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker by staying in the pocket, it really is “Never 2 Late” as Tevin Farmer has demonstrated. A tumultuous rise from journeyman to world champion as he continues his trajectory to a unification and career-defining fights. The direct descendant of the great Joe Gans, Tevin Farmer, doesn’t hide this fact and wears it like badge of honour. He is entitled to it, the “Old Master” was the first ever native born black American to ever win a world title and rated as the greatest ever lightweight by Ring Magazine. It is in the genes, Gans was known for his scientific approach to the game by capitalising on his opponent’s weaknesses and utilising his ring intelligence. Farmer is no different, a highly skilled, crafty and proficient southpaw, making his opponents miss consistently and making them look slow and ponderous with tremendous defence.

Similarly to Williams, Farmer’s narrative is of an underdog too, except he has completely reinvented himself with renewed dedication, staying busy fighting on small fight cards, being a sparring partner of P4P star Vasyl Lomachenko and coming back from turmoil. In July 2017, Farmer was shot in his right hand during his niece’s birthday party, during an altercation trying to disarm the person holding the gun. In an incident that could’ve been career ending, doctors at one point said he could no longer box, after the all clear, Farmer finally had his first world title shot vs. Japanese fighter Kenichi Ogawa, only to be robbed. Ogawa subsequently failed a drug test, so it was ruled as a no-contest, some consolation. However, this was another obstacle on his quest to be champion. In his very next fight, Farmer outclassed former champion Billy Dib to claim a one-sided victory and captured the IBF title in his backyard in Sydney, Australia.

Farmer operates in the stacked super featherweight division, currently riding a 23-fight win-streak since his loss versus Jose Pedraza; so, from 7-4-1 to now 30-4-1, he is one of the most active world champions today, fighting 5 times in one year (August 2018-July 2019) with 4 defences of his title. It is this exceptional drive and motivation that is admirable. When asked by Max Kellerman about fighting 5 title fights a year, Farmer replied with, “I feel like it would be a factor if I was taking punishment, but I am not really taking punishment”.

Farmer has been adamant on chasing fights with the likes of Gervonta Davis, regularly calling him and has goals to become undisputed but is aware politics will make it difficult. Farmer was not destined to be world champion especially with a disastrous start but he has shown a formula on how to come back from adversity.

Catch Tevin Farmer on Thursday 30th January 2020, where he will be making his fifth defence against a tough contender JoJo Diaz in Meridian at Island Gardens, Miami Florida on a stacked Matchroom card. This will be televised on DAZN in the USA and Sky Sports in the UK.