Some heavyweight champions are larger than life. Certainly Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Jack Johnson immediately come to mind. But with less than a week to go before DaVarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson attempts to wrest the IBF title from Chris Byrd’s capable hands, you can be sure that if Williamson wins, he’ll be the same old DaVarryl that his friends, family and neighbors have known for years. “My wife does a great job of keeping me in check. She doesn’t let me get away with anything,” he said with a chuckle.
Williamson prides himself on being a husband, father and member of his community, who happens to be a world-class boxer, rather than the other way around. In fact, while many elite fighters seclude themselves in remote training camps, DaVarryl talked with TheSweetScience.com as he was filling his tires on the way to his son’s football practice. The only difference between this camp and others in his past is just how much his friends and community are pitching in to help him get ready for the biggest challenge of his career.
He explained, “Before, my wife and I used to have to help out the sparring partners we brought in. She would cook for them. I’d drive them around for errands. This time, I’ve got all kinds of people driving them to Target or whatever for their needs, picking up my kids, everything. It’s a team effort.”
One gets the sense that even if Williamson becomes the biggest thing in the heavyweight division, little would change (other than his bank account). He adores his wife Shalifa and his two children, Dantel and Alayana, mentioning them many times in every interview. He doesn’t travel with an entourage, just a few close friends from childhood. When DaVarryl talks about a team effort, he means it, being sure to spell out the names of his sparring partners (Ravea Springs, Derrick Bryant and Boris Powell among others) so that they receive the credit he believes they deserve.
The healthy family and community life isn’t something that just fell in Williamson’s lap. He worked tirelessly to achieve it. Like many boxers, Williamson grew up hard on the streets. His father was not around much, spending time in prison. Yet Williamson received his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University. He then took advantage of the Olympic Education Program and Northern Michigan University to obtain his Master’s degree in Administrative Services. “I wanted to break the tradition of my family,” he explained earnestly.
And if DaVarryl’s home life and training camp aren’t warm and fuzzy enough for you, how about his opponent, Chris Byrd? The fighters are friends from their amateur days. They’ve roomed together, sparred an estimated two hundred rounds, broken bread together, and know each other’s kids.
Since the two boxers are so familiar with each other’s style, Williamson believes he has to stay busy and beat the champ to the punch. Williamson’s vaunted right hand must land in order to make sure Byrd, “can’t get cute,” according to the challenger. Despite accusations that Byrd punches like a middleweight, Williamson disagrees. “Chris has power. Any man who weighs two hundred pounds can punch. He’s hung in there with the best. He has a straight left to the body that is out of this world.”
So how does Williamson make sure he doesn’t fall victim to Byrd’s body attack? “Make him pay with the right hand. I’ve got to make him believe it’s not worth it to throw that punch (left to the body) if he has to take a right to the head every time.”
Wiiliamson knows that his critics are asking whether he’ll be able to handle the spotlight once again. After all, he seemingly froze against Joe Mesi in what was then the biggest fight of his career. “I’m so glad I’ve been through that with Mesi. Everyone was in my ear, ‘you’re going to make a million dollars, you’ll get commercials, a sit-com.’ Now, I know if I just win the fight, all the other stuff will come. Just win the fight.”
Williamson’s ego is big enough to give him the confidence he needs to win. However, it’s not so large that he’s disgruntled about being overshadowed by the Jones–Tarver fight on the same night, or despite fighting for the heavyweight title, his bout isn’t even the main event on its card. “I’m just so happy for this opportunity, I don’t care if it’s the first fight at 2:00 in the afternoon,” he said.
If he pulls off the upset Saturday night, Williamson appears grounded enough to keep things in perspective. His son and daughter probably shouldn’t expect any preferential treatment. “I’m fighting for the schedule,” Williamson said. “The money is nice, but the great thing about boxing is that I can go to my kids’ school if there’s something wrong.”
“Dantel, make sure your chin strap is on,” he yelled as his eight year old ran on to the field in pursuit of his own athletic achievements. Williamson then thanked the writer for his time and slipped unassumingly into the group of other proud football parents.
* What impressed me most (and many others too) early in Miguel Cotto’s career was his poise. I’m only more impressed after his last outing against Ricardo Torres, where Cotto was repeatedly rocked, yet never panicked. He may be destined for greatness.
* I was also impressed with how Wladimir Klitschko handled himself. I assumed after each knockdown he’d implode. Even the haters have to admit that Wlad is now one of the top heavyweights in the world as nearly everyone had named Peter the heir apparent.
* So what happens if Wlad ever becomes the WBC mandatory? Will the WBC strip Vitali for refusing to fight his brother?
Until next time, obey my commands and protect yourself at all times.