Williams relishes second chance

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Williams relishes second chance
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Ricardo Williams shows off the silver medal he won at the 2000 Summer Olympics

If things had worked out differently, the standouts of boxing's 140-pound division – Timothy Bradley and Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana and Devon Alexander – would be clamoring to fight him. He'd be making about 10 times the $1.4 million signing bonus he received coming out of the Olympics for just one major fight.

If things had worked out differently, Ricardo Williams Jr. would never have gone to jail, would never have taken repeated shortcuts in training and would have been one of the three or four best fighters in the world.

When Williams turned professional after winning a silver medal in the 2000 Summer Games, no knowledgeable boxing person would have laughed at the suggestion that he could have become the left-handed version of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

He was that talented.

Now, he's a 29-year-old ex-felon headed into the seventh fight of a comeback, still facing 42-year-old men who have just one win in their previous 13 fights.

Williams, though, isn't about to let go of the dream. He knows – just knows – that he can somehow recapture the glory that eluded him. The journey will continue on Friday in Atlantic City, N.J., when he meets veteran John Brown in a welterweight bout at Bally's.

Williams is a lot chunkier and not nearly as flashy as he was when, as a 19-year-old, he won silver and very easily could have won gold. He lost the gold-medal match to Muhammad Abdullaev, sparking cries of outrage by USA Boxing officials.

But it never quite clicked in the pros. An uninspired and out-of-shape Williams lost in his 10th professional fight to journeyman Juan "Pollo" Valenzuela. That fight may have stunned some, but it wasn't much of a shock to those who had been watching closely.

They saw Williams coast. They saw him cut corners. They saw him skip training sessions altogether.

Lou DiBella, his original professional promoter, once said of Williams in a New York Times story: "When he was 17, he was the best prospect I have ever seen." But Williams was content to get by on reputation.

Now a 29-year-old journeyman no one holds out much hope for, Williams conceded that most of his shortcomings belong squarely on his shoulders.

"I just got too comfortable with my surroundings," Williams said. "I got too much too soon and I took it for granted. I took it all for granted, 100 percent. I never matched my conditioning with my talent. I did just enough to get by, and just enough is not enough in this game."

Williams is 16-2 overall, 6-0 since mounting a comeback after being released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Ky., in 2008 after serving 31 months of a conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

When he stood before U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel to be sentenced on May 18, 2005, Williams never expected to be handcuffed and taken to prison. Williams firmly believed he would be given probation.

He felt a knot in his stomach when he heard Spiegel pronounce his sentence: Three years behind bars. He felt like he was hit with the best body shot he'd ever taken.

Williams' mind wandered to all the bad things that could happen in prison. It didn't turn out to be what he expected. If Williams ever does reclaim his lost glory and becomes a factor in professional boxing, he'll have to thank his fellow inmates at Ashland for helping him.

"Jail wasn't what I expected," he said. "There were a lot of supportive guys there who provided another avenue of motivation for me and really made a lot of difference in my life. These were guys who had been locked up for 10 years and still had 20, 25 years to go and they were encouraging me to work, to run, so I would be ready when I got out.

"I'd tell them I was sore and tired and wanted to rest and they'd say, 'You can rest when you're dead.' They really encouraged me to work and to go after that second chance. It was a huge difference."

Had Spiegel done as Williams expected and given him probation, it would have been the worst thing that could have happened to the then-23-year-old.

"It would have been just a slap on the wrist – and I'd have probably gotten caught again and it would have been much worse," he said.

Williams did his time and he's saying all the right things, though he's moving extraordinarily slowly. The combined record of the six men he's beaten in the two-and-a-half years he's been fighting since his release is 85-60-8. None of them ever accomplished anything noteworthy in the sport.

Williams acknowledges he's not where he wants or needs to be. Whether he'll get there is anyone's guess, and his history would suggest he will not. But Williams is convincing when he says the years have given him a new outlook.

"I have a wife and four kids now and I'm not just fighting for me anymore," Williams said. "I'm fighting for something more than myself. It's given me a newfound hunger. I know I can still succeed at this. I believe I still have what it takes but I have to dig deep inside of myself because I know there is no room for error.

"I'm trying to put the work in every day, which I didn't do before. I let a lot of people down – I know that – but this is a chance for me to do it right, to fix all that. I learned a hard lesson: Everything was given to me and I blew it. But with four kids, I can't afford to blow it now, you know?"

If he makes it, it will be one of the great comeback stories ever in a sport replete with them. He's never gotten anywhere near fulfilling his potential.

Right now, Williams is a bust of Ryan Leaf-Tony Mandarich-JaMarcus Russell proportions. And that leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

"I do have the talent – and now I have the motivation coming from my family," he said. "It's a matter of matching my condition with my talent. People who doubt me will see. I believe I can still do this. You'll see."