IKE WILLIAMS was a class above the rest of the lightweight division for the second half of the 1940s.
The man born on the coast of Georgia, in Brunswick, fought out of Philadelphia and then Trenton, New Jersey, under the dubious patronage of Frank ‘Blinky’ Palermo, who would eventually be jailed for corruption alongside his odious patron Frankie Carbo.
Between 1946 and the end of Williams’ career in 1955, Palermo helped himself to what he liked of Ike’s purses, and what was left tended to run through the champion’s fingers anyway.
None of that could take away the class he demonstrated in a career of more than 150 fights, beginning when he was a 16-year-old man-child in Georgia.
Williams claimed NBA recognition as lightweight champion in April 1945, when he was 21, following a second round knockout of Juan Zurita from Mexico. A trip to post-war Britain saw him beat the Welsh hope Ronnie James in nine one-sided rounds at Ninian Park, Cardiff, in September 1946. He was sharp, quick, and put his punches together intelligently.
He earned the undisputed title in August 1947 when he knocked out Bob Montgomery in six, and in one defence he also stopped Montgomery’s arch-rival Beau Jack in six.
Williams outpointed and then stopped one future welterweight claimant in Johnny Bratton but twice lost decisions to a future bona fide 147lbs king, Kid Gavilan, in New York in 1949.
Before signing with Palermo he was ostracized for attempting to start a Boxer’s Guild – a courageous, some might say crazy, initiative in days where not very much was as it seemed. It fizzled out because of a lack of support.
From the beginning of 1946 until the end of the decade Williams won 38 of 42 fights, with just the points defeats to Gavilan and one to Gene Burton, plus a draw with Freddie Dawson, spoiling the run. He beat Dawson in two subsequent fights, one a title defence.
Williams had begun to fade for 12 months or so – struggling to make the weight – before he lost the title to Jimmy Carter in 14 rounds at Madison Square Garden in May 1951. He eventually retired in 1955, just after his 32nd birthday.
He worked in manual jobs but was always given a hero’s welcome when he took a bow at Madison Square Garden. Williams testified to the Kefauver Committee investigation into mob involvement in boxing that Palermo had asked him to throw fights, which he had never done, he said, though he admitted he had sometimes carried them, presumably to a given round or to a decision to satisfy his manager. He was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 1978. Williams spent his later years, in poverty, in Los Angeles. When he died in 1994, aged 71, somebody broke into his room and stole his television set.
Williams to Peter Heller, 1971: “I did a first class job of managing my money real bad. I gave a lot of money away.”