IN November last year, Watford referee Bob Williams was officiating at Wembley Arena on a bill topped by Conor Benn. Bob handled two of the five contests – a six and an eight-rounder – and acted as a judge for the other three. One of the proudest moments in a distinguished career as third man came when he judged the bout between Liam Davies and Sean Cairns for the vacant English bantamweight title. Bob has been a Star referee for a few years now and has refereed and judged many of the UK’s leading fighters, but the reason that this fight was so special is because his great-grandfather, Jim Williams of Marylebone, fought for the same title back in the late nineteenth century.
I well remember Bob as a quality super-lightweight throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. He boxed as BF Williams, and he won 20 of his 33 contests and was regularly rated at around 20th place in what was then a highly competitive division in Britain, topped by the likes of Pat Barrett, Andy Holligan, Tony Ekubia and Ross Hale.
Bob started boxing as a young lad, and when his father saw that he was serious about the game he told Bob about his illustrious ancestor and then went upstairs to find a long-forgotten belt that had been put to one side for many years. The belt, which is still held within the family, was the English 116lb championship and old Jim had fought for it on four occasions between 1899 and 1902. Just seeing this belt and hearing about his great-grandfather was all the inspiration Bob needed, and he became fanatical about attending his local gym at Bushey ABC and learning everything he could about the sport.
While an active professional Bob became a fireman, and although he is now one of Britain’s most capable referees, he can still be found alongside his younger colleagues regularly attending serious incidents in and around Hertfordshire.
Jim Williams boxed in a number of championship contests at or around bantamweight between 1895 and 1902. At the time, the classic eight championship weights had not yet been established and title bouts were arranged at many different weights. Jim fought for the English title at 114lbs, 115lbs and 116lbs, and he achieved a notable victory in one of these contests.
Matched against the great Pedlar Palmer at the National Sporting Club, Covent Garden, in January 1902, few would have given Williams much of a chance. Palmer had recently boxed twice for the world title, losing to Terry McGovern and Harry Harris. In his previous bout he had beaten George Dixon, another world-rated fighter. The Williams camp were confident in their man and he backed them up by overpowering the Canning Town fighter from the start. Palmer was on the canvas four times in a blistering first round and was then dispatched by a body shot early in the second. It was Jim’s greatest victory, and he retired in 1909 having had nearly 50 contests in 16 years.
Bob’s last fight took place in 1994 at the Town Hall in Watford. Understandably, being a local lad, Bob had established quite a following among the regular attendees at this famous boxing venue. Matched for the vacant Southern Area super-lightweight title against Jon Thaxton, this was to be Bob’s most prestigious contest.
He had won his three previous bouts inside the distance, all of them in Watford, and he was in good form. Thaxton, however, was going places, having previously beaten Dean Hollington in three rounds, and the Norwich man was the pre-fight favourite. Bob’s plan was to weather the early storm for four rounds before stepping up the pace. As he told me on the phone when looking back on the bout, Bob didn’t quite get that far, being stopped in the fourth.
Bob can be proud of his achievements, both as a boxer and a referee, and he can certainly be proud of his great-grandfather.