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Julian Williams' past taught him not to take anything for granted

Unified 154-pound titleholder Julian "J-Rock" Williams, left, faces contender Jeison Rosario on Saturday. Photo provided by Stephanie Trapp/TGB Promotions

If heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr. is a recent example of how a fighter should not handle things after a huge victory, then Julian "J Rock" Williams appears to be the polar opposite.

Ruiz scored a monumental upset on June 1 by knocking out Anthony Joshua in the seventh round to take his three heavyweight world title belts. However, in the immediate rematch six months later, Ruiz, who put on nearly 16 pounds after spending months celebrating the victory, got taken to school in a one-sided decision loss on Dec. 7 -- admitting afterward that he had not taken training seriously.

Williams, at least outwardly, couldn't be handling things any differently as he prepares for the first defense of the two 154-pound belts he won by upset decision against Jarrett Hurd in May.

"I'll never take it for granted because I waited so long and I finally accomplished a dream," Williams said of winning the belts. "I snapped out of [celebrating] when I got back home. Now I got to get better and improve on certain things to hold these titles now. A lot of people are coming after me."

Williams' remarks carry a bit more weight and meaning because of the challenges he faced during his childhood. When he was 13, Williams sought refuge in a homeless shelter because his father was incarcerated and his mother was addicted to drugs. For nearly a year, he faced that personal challenge -- and now understands and appreciates how far he's come.

"I went to the gym every single day during those times," Williams said of when he was homeless. "That was like my getaway, like my safe place. I used to have real dreams about winning the title and defending the title and fighting on HBO. That's where all the popular fights were around that time.

"The titles look beautiful but it's all about financial stability for me and my family," Williams continued. "Now it's all up to me. The ball's in my court. That's why I'm working so hard and I'm so focused on being the best champion I can be and having the longest reign as possible."

Williams' initial defense will come in a hometown fight against Jeison Rosario in the Premier Boxing Champions main event on Saturday (Fox, 8 p.m. ET) at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. He hasn't fought there since 2011, when he was still a six-round preliminary fighter. Williams vowed not to get caught up in the hometown hoopla.

"I'm just coming to do my job and coming there to win," Williams said. "I don't know how it's gonna look. I don't [know] if it's gonna be cute or pretty or ugly, but I'm coming to win and I'm going to win. I'm coming to do a job. It's not a party for me. It may be a party for everybody else because they get to see me fight at home in a big homecoming fight, but it's not a party to me. It's business for me.

"I try to just block myself from the world, especially with a hometown fight. People are pulling you 50 different ways, tickets, asking me stupid questions. It's crazy, so I just try to block myself from the world."

Williams is saying all the right things, but nobody will know for sure how seriously he is taking the 24-year-old Miami-based Dominican Republic native Rosario (19-1-1, 13 KOs) until after the fight. It would be easy to understand if Williams wasn't solely focused on the relatively unknown Rosario, despite Rosario's solid wins over opponents such as Jorge Cota, Jamontay Clark and Justin DeLoach. After all, Williams wasn't expecting to, nor did he have any desire to, face Rosario at this time.

Williams (27-1-1, 16 KOs), 29, was anticipating an immediate rematch with Hurd in early December because Hurd exercised his right to one soon after the May bout. But eventually Hurd decided not to go through with it. He was still smarting from the loss and fired trainer Ernesto Rodriguez. Hurd eventually began working with Kay Koroma and wanted time to adjust to a new coach before fighting Williams again.

But because Hurd's decision to forgo the rematch came so late, Williams was limited to only one fight in 2019. It upset him, but he said he understood what Hurd was going through.

"I just wanted to fight again and know when I'm going to defend my titles," Williams said. "But I wasn't mad at him. If he needed time to get himself together, rebound and regroup and regain some confidence and work on stuff that's his prerogative. I can't tell him not to. But I will be ready whenever he wants a rematch and it will be a great fight again.

"But I did want to get a second fight in before [2019] was out so it ruined my schedule. We were supposed to rematch in December. They had a date set aside, the venue set aside. Everything was set aside and then he pulled out and my next fight gets pushed back. But everything happens for a reason, so I'm not complaining."

Williams said he would never take an opponent lightly, even though he preferred the rematch with Hurd and has the likely prospect of an even bigger fight down the road with Jermell Charlo, who regained his slice of the title by 11th-round knockout of Tony Harrison in their rematch on Dec. 21.

"In order to get to all this other great stuff -- more titles, more money, finally the recognition I think I deserve, cracking into the pound-for-pound [rankings] -- Rosario's part of that journey. So I got to respect that. I've lost and seen people point fingers and laugh. I know I can't get caught up in all the outside talking or in the Twitter matchmakers," Williams said. "My business right now is Jeison Rosario and I'm gonna handle my business."

Williams has come far in his professional life, having won the title after being written off by many after a fifth-round knockout loss in his first title shot in 2016 to Jermall Charlo (Jermell's twin brother). Williams said that if he was able to overcome what he has already been through in his life, losing a boxing match -- no matter how significant -- was no big deal.

"Man, I think everybody else made more of a big deal about the loss than I did," he said. "So many people tried to remind me of it and use it to beat me down and ruin my confidence and my self-esteem. But it didn't work because I'm mentally tough and I knew that I belonged. I knew I had the skill; I knew I had the ability; I knew I had the drive.

"You can't take that away from me. I knew I belonged there. I still had everything. I just didn't have my '0' no more. So I just kept working."