By Derek Bonnett
Julian Williams and Ishe Smith met head on at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ten round clash, one of Smith’s most entertaining bouts in years, was contested in the junior middleweight division and presented the winner with a great likelihood for another world championship bout. Williams entered the ring just one victory removed from his fifth round stoppage at the hands of Jermall Charlo. Smith had won two in a row, but was absent from the ring for over a year.
Williams, 27, flashed a stiff jab at Smith, who fought the first frame in a mostly defensive posture, taking in all he could from the recent world title challenger. Smith stalked while Williams touched up his body with right hands. The jab of Williams kept good distance for the Philly-fighter and worked effectively when his feet were moving. Smith, a former world champion at the weight, moved his attention to Williams’ body and built up his offense in the second. A clash of heads opened a small cut on the corner of Smith’s left eye. Williams muscled Smith to the ropes and worked him over with right hands as he sought a home for his uppercut. Williams began the third with his stick-jab and landed a huge right hand on the chin of Smith. Smith threw wide, looping shots, which Williams was mostly able to avoid or catch on his arms. Smith’s left hand began finding its mark by the end of the round and started what would be a major shift in the action. Williams was able to punctuate the round with a fine uppercut. Smith capitalized on a drop in activity from Williams, focusing on steady work to the body. The former champion would be warned by Russell Mora for low blows in the same round, but the momentum remained in his favor after a slow start. Smith kept his hands moving in the fifth and hooked the body with power. Both boxers demonstrated excellent defense up to this point in the bout. Williams tagged Smith a pair of hooks to the head, but he did not match Smith’s work-rate over the final minute of the round. Unofficially, Williams led 3-2 in rounds on the SecondsOut scorecard after five.
Round six was fought with great fervor from both pugilists. Williams got back to work with his jab, but Smith was able to time it well and counter over the top with growing frequency. Good exchanges were created and the stanza could have gone either way. The right hand followed the jab of Williams successfully in the seventh. However, Smith, 39, managed to momentarily stun the younger fighter with a right hand. A second clash of head produced another cut over Smith’s left eye, this one much deeper and badly located above the eye, threatened to send the fighters back to their corners for a technical decision. Fortunately, excellent corner work and a fair account from the ringside doctor kept the action moving. Williams used his footwork to greater effect in round eight, as he had earlier in the bout. His jab moved with greater snap and he was not standing in line for Smith’s counters. Smith continued going after the body, which left him open to Williams’ uppercut. Smith upped his work-rate for the ninth and smothered Williams’ punches with his own activity. Williams attempted to land the right, but was outshined by Smith’s combination punching to the body and head. Williams did catch the former champion with a strong left hook, but ate an uppercut in return. The tenth round should have been the deciding factor of the bout as both men fought well and asserted himself over the other in numerous round. It would be Williams’ greater activity in round ten that made him a narrow 96-95 winner on the SecondsOut scorecard or 5-4-1 in round. However, the three judges saw a more lopsided affair and granted Williams a victory by margins of 99-91, 98-92, 97-93.
Williams lifted his ledger to 24-1-1 (15) and gained tremendous experience against a tough veteran fighter. Should he try for another belt soon, Williams will be better prepared and, fortunately, will not have to deal with Jermall Charlo, who has moved to middleweight. Smith’s dossier fell to 29-9-0 (12), but he proved he can still hang with the top young fighters in the division and will likely try for another world title himself given the number of belts in circulation.