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Ring Veteran at 15 : Jeremy Williams Trains in Dad's Gym, Dreams of a Title

September 17, 1987|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

In the style of Muhammad Ali, the kid danced inside a boxing ring and punched the air with gloved hands. Beyond the storefront gym windows that silhouetted him, late-afternoon traffic passed on Long Beach Boulevard.

Watching the kid work out last week were his father at ringside, a sidewalk passer-by whose nose was pressed against the glass, and--staring from magazine covers on the walls--the greatest fighters of all time.

One of them, Sugar Ray Robinson, visited the gym a couple of years ago, saw the kid throw a left hook the way Robinson used to and was moved to tears, the kid said.

The kid, only 15, is convinced that in four years he will become the heavyweight champion.

"All I want," said Jeremy Williams, who began to box when he was 7, "is to wake up and see my face on Ring magazine."

His amateur record is 37-2 with 17 knockouts. In June he won a bronze medal in the 165-pound division at the National Junior Olympics in Marquette, Mich. "Next year I'll bring back the gold for Long Beach," he predicted.

His father-trainer, Charlie Williams, who had a vision long ago that Jeremy would be a champion, said that under his tutelage his son has earned a "master's degree in the art of boxing."

Already 6-feet-1 and weighing up to 170 pounds, Jeremy Williams has a strong, lean frame that awaits further development. His stomach ripples with muscles. His hands are larger than most men's.

Serious About His Ambitions

He continued his workout on the decaying linoleum of this place in downtown Long Beach that was once a tropical fish store but is now Muhammad Ali's and Charlie's American Fitness Gym. Gritting his teeth and making unintelligible sounds, young Williams smacked equally hard with both hands a bag that hung from the ceiling.

The bag, wet with sweat, still spun several minutes after the assault. The kid is serious about his ambitions.

"I worked eight years hard (in here) not to just throw it away," Jeremy Williams said. "I never had a childhood. When kids were out playing, I was in the gym."

He boxes like a pro, which may have been the reason, his father said, that he lost a bout in the Junior Olympics. "In amateur boxing they want you to stay in there toe-to-toe popping each other," Charlie Williams said. "I don't teach him like that."

Jeremy Williams has blended the styles of great fighters.

"I used to watch old tapes (of fights)," he said. "I picked out who I thought was best, took the best styles from each. I have the speed and strength of Sugar Ray Robinson, I hit with the same power with either hand like Marvin Hagler and I dance and move like Ali."

Charlie Williams, 43, a former amateur boxer, moved his family into an apartment above the gym eight years ago because he had always wanted a gym. He got Ali to lend his name and began teaching Ali's hit-but-don't-get-hit method of boxing.

"I like a safe approach to boxing where you throw combination punches going backwards or sideways," Charlie Williams said. "You have to control the situation, keep your eye on your opponent, outmove him, outbox him, outthink him."

He has instilled in his son his belief that battering an opponent's brains is not the essence of boxing.

"I like the art of it," said Jeremy Williams, who spends countless hours shadowboxing in his room. "I don't like to fight, like out in the streets. I like to think of what a person will do before he does it. I look at it as a sport rather than beating someone up."

Not all fighters share his philosophy, as he has discovered during sparring sessions in the ring here. They have paid, even men in their 20s, including Long Beach middleweight Anthony Holt.

Holt, who billed himself as "The People's Hope," was touted by Charlie Williams just last year as a potential champion, but Williams recently let him go, complaining that Holt had "bragged and talked too much and didn't have his heart in boxing."

"Anthony tried to bang on me," the kid recalled. "I ate him up all four rounds. If you come to bang, prepare to be hurt.

"See that guy," he said, pointing to a photo on the wall of Pat Freeman, the California super heavyweight amateur champion. "I busted his nose (while sparring). BOW!"

The idols on the wall have come to life for the young boxer.

"Sugar Ray Robinson sat in a corner over there," he said. "I was hitting the bag, doing his moves, right? I looked over at him and saw a tear roll down his cheek. He said I could do anything I want in boxing if I stick with it."

Above a case containing the kid's trophies was a photo of Ali and Jeremy eyeing each other with mock menace.

"Me and Ali, like we sparred right here ," the kid said. "We started dancin' and he threw one of the fastest jabs I've ever seen. He threw it and I jumped back just in time.

"We drove him home. He was always looking in the mirror, playing with his face. He looked back at me and clenched his fist. A guy pulled up next to us and his face dropped when he saw who it was. I want that feeling, to have someone see me and have a dead expression."

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