HOLMAN WILIAMS

BORN: January 30 1915; Pensacola, Florida
DIED: July 1967; Akron, Ohio
HEIGHT: 5-10 ½:
WEIGHT : Lightweight - Light-heavyweight
MANAGER:
Julian Black & John Roxborough; Charley Rose




Why Holman Williams Belong in the Hall-of-Fame

 
Holman Williams was born in
Pensecola, Florida and took up boxing after his family migrated north to Michigan. His reasonably successful amateur career more-or-less ended when he lost the 126lb National Amateur Championship final to Richard Carter in New York in 1932. Revenge against Carter in the Olympic box-offs in San Francisco later the same year established Williams as the hot favourite for the Olympic berth, but the glory was short-lived as he lost in his next bout to Anthony Muscatello (also of Detroit).

Disappointed with not making the Olympic team Holman Turned to the professional ranks and was soon making headway in the 135lb class. For the first three years out of the Simon-Pure ranks he ran a record of 19 bouts, with 17 wins, one loss and one draw. Included in this run were 11 early stoppages. By 1935 he was ready to step up in class and defeated Wesley Farrell over ten rounds in New Orleans in a fight promoted as being for the ‘Colored Lightweight Championship of the World’. Four fights later his winning streak of 26 was broken as he lost over ten rounds to Cocoa Kid. The Puerto Rican wizard appeared to have the hex sign on Holman as he defeated him handily in three of their next four meetings. One of those defeats was early the following year (1936) in a contest for the ‘Colored Welterweight Championship’. Cocoa Kid would lose the belt to Charley Burley in 1938 before Williams relieved Burley of the title later the same year.

That particular 15-round contest between Burley and Williams was the first of what proved to be an exciting series between the two technicians. If the bout had been contested over the ten round distance Charley Burley may have gained the victory but, Williams, demonstrating that he had heart as well as skill, came off the canvas three times in the fourth round. He somehow stayed in the fight and seized the opportunity for victory when Burley, a mile ahead after nine rounds, injured his shoulder. Williams was able to come back against a one-handed opponent and grabbed a close decision after 15 eventful rounds.

During this pre-war period Williams was tangling with good calibre fighters including; Wesley Farrell, Lew Massey, Luther ‘Slugger’ White, Bobby Pacho, Remo Fernandez, Gene Buffalo, Saverio Turiello, Andre Jessurun, Eddie Booker, Carl Dell, Izzy Janazzo and the aforementioned Charley Burley. By the onset of the 40s Williams was 65 and 7, with 24
Kos and 5 draws. More than half of those defeats were to his nemesis Cocoa Kid. It was also during this time that the rangy, slick-boxing Williams was assisting in the coaching of one of the games all-time greats – Joe Louis. In an interview with Sam Green in the August 1946 edition of The Boxing News, Williams recalled the early days of the Brown Bomber's career.

"When I was coaching the novices at Brewster Recreation Center about 15 years ago, Joe was in the class, but he didn't make much of an impression on me. The only reason I noticed him was that he was the biggest kid we had. He must've weighed about 155 then. Most of the others were a skinny lot."

Holman Williams


Williams also recalled that he seconded Louis in his first formal fight. This was an intramural match with a boy named Henry Carter.

"Joe got the decision and we gave him a little red ribbon with the word 'Champion' in gilt letters. I doubt that he was any prouder the night he stopped Jim Braddock in
Chicago for the heavyweight title."

Holman Williams


Williams describes Carter as: "the only kid at Brewster in those days who was close to Joe's weight." It was Louis' spirit that tipped Williams off as to his potential.

"So they fought three or four times and Joe always was the winner. They gave the crowd action. I remember one night they fell through the ropes and kept right on punching outside the ring. I wasn't sure of Joe until that night he fought Johnny Miller. You remember Miller, of course - a tough, hard-hitting guy who was
Michigan State AAU champion of his class. Miller knocked Joe down nine times in three rounds, but Joe was on his feet at the finish. I knew then he had something."

Holman Williams


Eddie Futch, one of boxing's all-time greatest trainers, was also around at the time, making himself available as a trainer and corner man. The legendary trainer has often cited Holman Williams and Charley Burley as the two greatest fighters he ever had the privilege to see and was quoted as saying that he would rather watch Holman Williams shadow box than watch most other fighters in action.

"Holman Williams was a great boxer, but he never got the recognition because he wasn't a puncher. He had the finesse of a Ray Robinson, but no punch."

Eddie Futch


The comment about his lack of a knock out punch may have had an element of truth to it as Williams once went close to two years and 20 fights without stopping an opponent. This apparent decrease in power was largely due to the terrible damage he inflicted upon his hands during the earlier stages of his boxing career. For his first two years in the professional game, the Detroit-based fighter had a fifty-percent knockout ratio and his hands were broken several times during his career. It appears that as he progressed in the fight game his hands could no longer take the punishment inflicted by heavy punching and that ratio soon dropped. Also a point to consider when ranking Williams’ ability to stop an opponent is the fact that he was progressing through the weights at a rapid rate and was meeting some tough fighters.

Williams started as a featherweight in 1932 and five years later he was a top ten rated welterweight with Cocoa Kid, Fritzie Zivic, Saverio Turiello, Ceferino Garcia, Jack Carrol and Jimmy Leto in competition with him for Barney Ross’ title. He remained a top ranked welterweight for the following five years beating the likes of Jimmy Leto, Eddie Dolan (two fighters Burley lost to), Jackie Burke, Izzy Jannazo, Ernest ‘Cat’ Robinson, Jose Basora and the teak-tough Antonio Fernandez. By the time the
USA was at war Williams (along with Burley, Cocoa Kid and Eddie Booker), was a middleweight and was ranked as third best challenger in the world for champion Tony Zale’s crown.

The war probably affected Holman Willliams’ claim for world title honours as deeply as it impacted upon the two guys rated above him at the end of 1942 – Archie Moore and Charley Burley. Today both of these great fighters are talked about with the respect they earned and Holman Williams is no less deserving. While Zale was in the navy the likes of Williams, Moore, Burley, Booker, Marshall, Chase, Aaron ‘Tiger’ Wade, Joe Carter, Jose Basora and Bert Lytell all fought amongst themselves in that vain hope of securing a championship fight at some point.

In 1942 Williams and Burley met four times, each winning two. Williams also beat Jose Basora, Cocoa Kid and Kid Tunero. The following year (1943) he lost on points to these same three fighters in return matches, but defeated Roosevelt Thomas (twice), Joe Carter (twice), ‘Mad’ Anthony Jones, Mario Ochoa, Eddie Booker, Lloyd Marshall and Steve Belloise. Practically every one of them a world ranked fighter. 1944 was almost a repeat (opponent wise) as he had his busiest year, engaging in 19 fights and added four fights (all wins) against Jack Chase to his record. He also lost to Eddie Booker in the
San Jose fighters’ final bout and beat another West Coast favourite Aaron ‘Tiger’ Wade. His performances were good enough to see him ranked the number one contender to the championship by the end of the year, but he still wasn’t done.

1945 was to be the final year that Williams really shone amongst the worlds’ elite middleweights. He was in his 13th year as a professional fighter and at the start of the year he had a record of 134 wins (30 KOs), 21 losses, 10 draws and just one ‘no-contest (against Charley Burley). Most of his defeats had come against top-flight fighters such as Burley, Booker, Cocoa Kid, Kid Tunero, Jose Basora and Lloyd Marshall. If you were to try and name another fighter of that time period with similar fighters on his record it would only be one of the names already mentioned. The year was to be a fairly successful one for Williams, despite getting off to a bad start by losing to Cocoa Kid in
New York. In fourteen meetings Holman Williams managed only three wins against the Hartford-based Cuban. In this, his 14th  year as a professional fighter, Williams won 13 of 16 fights, with losses to 'Cocoa' Kid and Archie Moore and a draw with Bert Lytell. In the second fight of the year with Moore Williams was stopped for only the second time in his career up to that point, going out in the eleventh round. He was still the number one ranked contender in the middleweight division and had been in the top three for four years.

For what were the remaining three years of a fantastic career it was largely a downhill ride for the talented Holman Williams. Although he still had enough to beat Aaron 'Tiger' Wade, dynamite-punching Bob Satterfield, Deacon Johnny Brown, Henry Hall and O'Neil Bell amongst others, he would lose 11 of his remaining 22 fights. The years began to catch up with him and his defensive style started to suffer due to a decline in his reflexes. The war was instrumental in Williams – and others – not getting the chance they so richly deserved and by the time Tony Zale was out of the forces and willing to defend his championship Williams was, in boxing terms, an old man. With his best years behind him he was no longer able to defend his position as number one contender against the younger wolves in the chasing pack. He lost to Bert Lytell and Jose Basora twice, Jake LaMotta, Henry Brimm, Sam Baroudi, and Marcel Cerdan and Jean Walzak. Williams opposed Cerdan and LaMotta only after he had been a professional fighter for close to fourteen years (losing to both on points).

His career ended in June 1948 when he lost a decision over ten rounds to Gentle Daniel in
Trinidad. In a career spanning 17 years, Williams compiled a record of 144 wins, 34 by KO. He lost 28 times on points and was stopped only three times. The only fighter to beat him consistently while in his prime was the largely ignored Louis 'Cocoa' Kid who beat Williams eight times while losing only three decisions. Holman Williams was the ‘Colored’ champion of the world in the lightweight, welterweight and middleweight divisions and it has been said that he engaged in over 300 professional fights, if so, many of these bouts have yet to be added to his record.

Several years after his retirement from active competition, Holman moved from
Detroit to Akron, Ohio. He teamed up with Lee Thornton training local fighters and remained with Thornton when he opened the 'Club Wonder'. At the club Holman would also carry out maintenance duties and look after the place, often doubling as a watchman over the weekends. On Saturday July 15th 1967 he was on duty in the club when a terrible fire destroyed the building. Newspaper reports at the time indicated that the fire had been set deliberately. On the Monday prior to the suspected arson attack Arthur Snell, Summit County Assistant Prosecutor, was shot to death after an altercation with two men in the club. It was suspected that the fire was linked to the shooting. Fire officials stated that Williams was probably asleep at the time, awoke to find the building ablaze, tried to escape, but was overcome by the smoke. His body was found near the bar. Holman Williams, one of the greatest and, it has to be said, one of the most historically neglected fighters of all time was dead at 52.

Without doubt, Holman Williams was one of the best fighters of the 1940s. One look at his record will show that this slick boxing defensive wizard fought the best welterweights, middleweights and even light-heavyweights around at the time. Conspicuous by their absence however, as on most other records of the standout black ring men of the day, are meetings with big name white fighters. If not for the war, Williams may have received a title shot against Zale around 1943 or ’44. On the form he was displaying at that time it would have been difficult to bet against him.

Besides demonstrating his outstanding talent in the ring, Williams was instrumental in the development of one of the most highly regarded fighters in the history of the sport along with the early education of one of the games great coaches. It is not stretching the truth to say that Holman Williams had a hand in the legends of both Joe Louis and Eddie Futch. A great asset in the gym due to his marvelous boxing skills and great sense of humour Holman was liked by everyone he met and was a credit to the sport. In a 1988 interview with author Ronald K. Fried, Hall-of-Fame inductee Charley Burley remembered his most frequent adversary with great affection and respect.

"Me and him, we had some times together!
New Orleans I remember. I think I knocked him out once. He was a runner and a good boxer. It'd be hard to catch him. He was a great fighter, you can't take that away from him."

Charley Burley


You certainly can’t.



© (Harry Otty)