DaVarryl Williamson is right where he always expected to be. The sport may not be the one that danced so vividly in the dreams of his youth, but center stage – competing for a world championship – was the destination for which he always planned.
“I didn’t just fall out of the sky,” he said. “I belong here.”
As a young man growing up in Washington D.C., Williamson was a basketball and football star at Theodore Roosevelt High School. He would later play quarterback at NCAA Division II Wayne State in Nebraska. He envisioned that the pinnacle of his athletic life would some day be reaching the Super Bowl.
The heavyweight championship of the world is not a bad substitute.
On October 1, he will challenge IBF champion Chris Byrd in Reno, Nevada, in a bout to be televised on Showtime. In Byrd, Williamson will meet a familiar opponent. He estimates that he’s sparred approximately 200 rounds with the champion. He was Byrd’s primary sparring partner for his fights against Andrew Golota and Maurice Harris. In fact, the combatants identify themselves as friends. Williamson has actually tutored Byrd’s son in basketball.
Although Williamson has a healthy respect for the champion as a person and a fighter, he believes things will be different when they fight for real.
“Chris Byrd is all the things a champion should be,” Williamson told TSS last week as he broke training camp in Colorado. “He’s a gamer. He’s a warrior. I think it will make for an interesting fight. This is a business. You have to put friendships aside. I think when the bell rings, and the headgear is off and we’re not wearing 18-ounce gloves, I think he will feel me a little more. I hope he does.”
Williamson considers Byrd the true heavyweight champion, based on the tenure of his reign (won vacant IBF title against Evander Holyfield in 2002) and the fact that he has already beaten WBC champion Vitali Klitschko. He is aware that Byrd has been criticized as a boring fighter, but he quickly points out that he does not know which Byrd will show up when they meet.
“He was very aggressive when he fought Andrew Golota and Jameel McCline,” said Williamson. “I have to be prepared for whatever his strategy is. I know that Chris Byrd can be hard to hit whether he is moving around the ring or whether he is stationary and moving his upper body.”
When it is suggested that he may know Byrd better than anyone, Williamson, forever the realist, offsets any perceived advantage by saying, “And Chris Byrd knows me very well too.”
The difference, and perhaps this is what Williamson is counting on, could be in the gloves. Byrd has only experienced Williamson’s power through the cushion of large sparring gloves and headgear.
Williamson has scored knockouts in 18 of his 22 professional victories. He was the last man to knock out Kevin McBride, the first man to stop Dale Crowe and the first man to legitimately knock Corey Sanders out [not the South African Corrie Sanders].
Wait, his amateur credentials are even better. Of his 120 amateur victories, 103 came by knockout. Or, as Williamson likes to say, “They went into the record book as RSC. Referee stops contest.”
He was captain of the U.S. national team and is the only heavyweight to win three straight national titles. He also won national PAL, Golden Glove and Olympic Festival titles. He fought Lamon Brewster, Monte Barrett and Calvin Brock four times each in the amateurs.
Williamson also was a silver medalist in the 1998 Goodwill Games, getting knocked out by Cuban legend Felix Savon in the finals. When asked to assess Savon, he laughed and said, “He was pretty good that night.”
But Williamson is less sure about the Cuban’s ability to succeed as a pro. “Sometimes, when you take that t-shirt off and the headgear and they turn lights up a little brighter, it changes things. Some guys are meant to be great amateur fighters. Some guys excel in the pros.”
Williamson happened to gain a small measure of revenge at least against Cuba when he defeated Eliecer Castillo last year to win the NABF title.
At 6-3 and roughly 220 pounds, Williamson doesn’t necessarily look like an imposing figure, certainly not a bomber in the mold of Mike Tyson. Think a larger version of Tommy Hearns. So where does all the power come from? Williamson has a theory – it was football.
Williamson believes that all those years spent tossing pigskin allowed him to develop shoulder strength and the proper hip rotation to render opponents unconscious. His right hand is lethal and he says his left hook is improving.
“Everyone tells me that DaVarryl has a great right hand,” said Byrd, in a conference call this week. “I have experienced it; I have sparred with him. We have great sparring sessions. With DaVarryl, he has a great right hand and a hook. He is a complete fighter when it comes to boxing, but especially punching. He may not look big, but he punches well. So that actually excites me. He is a big puncher and his record shows it. A lot of guys in this division can punch and I try to stand up to everything and be the complete fighter in the ring.”
Williamson, who is 37, didn’t take up boxing until he was 25. He was determined to give football a shot and tried out for the Indianapolis Colts during their 1994 training camp.
“I wanted to the NFL’s next black quarterback, I wanted to be the next Randall Cunningham,” he says. “But it didn’t work out.”
The fighter talks with much enthusiasm about his days at the training camp. He was so excited to wear the team-issued gray t-shirt and training shorts that, after being cut, he continued to wear them. In fact, he was so fond of the workout clothes that they literally wore away.
“I’m hoping,” he says, “That if I become the heavyweight champion they will give me another set. Maybe they will make me an honorary Colt.”
While some of Williamson’s wins are impressive, two of his three losses have raised questions. In 2003, he was knocked out by Joe Mesi in the first round of a fight televised by HBO. It was a bitter pill for Williamson to swallow since Mesi, a solid puncher, had been friends with DaVarryl in the amateurs.
“I practically raised him in the amateurs,” said Williamson. “We go back a long time. Joe Mesi is not that good. I lost the fight and I cannot tell you what happened, but he is a kid I raised. So I know he is not that good, but it did happen. I will always take the blame. I am not going to blame my coach because I froze up or looked like a deer in the headlights. There are no excuses. DaVarryl screwed up. I did not do what I could do and I came back and pulled myself up by the bootstraps and we put ourselves back into the thick of things.”
Then, in 2004, he lost a technical decision at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko. The bout ended in the fifth round due to a headbutt. Klitschko led on all three scorecards at the time and was awarded the win. However, Williamson dropped the giant heavyweight and allowed him to get off the hook. This was after Klitschko had been stopped by Brewster and Corrie Sanders (the South African).
“They were ahead when it was stopped and they just ran away with that decision, I wish the fight went longer,” said Williamson.
When it comes to running, Byrd doesn’t figure to run much anymore. He has stood and traded punches with his last two opponents – Golota and McCline. Both men were bigger and stronger, yet Byrd kept his title. He decisioned McCline and fought to a draw with Golota. The ringside consensus that night was split, with equal amounts of boxing journalists scoring for Byrd and for Golota.
If Byrd stands and trades with Williamson, it could be the end of his title reign. While McCline and Golota were larger in stature, they don’t seem to have the type of electrical current in their punches that Williamson possesses.
Yet, a word of caution for Williamson. In the McCline fight, Byrd rose from the canvas and dominated the second half of the fight for a points win.
McCline happens to be Byrd’s best friend.