FOR THE past eight months, Clydach’s Liam Williams has seen promises of dream opportunities diminish to a nightmare that threatened to never end.
After Chris Eubank Jnr spoiled a hometown stage in early 2022, the only action Williams has enjoyed was a sickening blowout of confidence-boosting comeback opponent Nizar Trimech at the end of the year. The 31-year-old has been stuck on the sidelines since and endured a prolonged period of inactivity while seeking to regain control of his career.
“There’s no ifs or buts about it,” opened the Welshman in his usual forthright fashion, about to assess how much time he has left to punch for pay, “I think I’ve got probably four years maximum.”
Having reached the light at the end of the tunnel a few weeks ago, Williams has confirmed his position as a promotionally free agent once again.
“I need to make a big push and hopefully get another chance to fight for a world title. The idea is obviously to win a world title, but I’ve got to get myself there first before I think about that.”
The former British champion is gearing up to make another charge to the top. Williams is determined that a points loss to then-sanctioning body belt holder Demetrius Andrade in 2021 won’t be his last tilt for world honours. He also believes the final phase of an eventful career is probably to be spent at middleweight, where it began 12 years ago.
“Even since my first fight at middleweight, it’s never been easy [making weight], but for the time being, I see myself there in the future. It depends. Let’s see how things move along and I’ll make decisions as each fight comes around.”
Williams knows better than to plan too far ahead. That’s one lesson he’s learned lately.
Having signed a promotional deal with Probellum in February 2022, Williams was assured the new outfit had the plans and power to become a serious global force. It certainly looked like they were committed to causing a seismic impact as they signed stars like Nonito Donaire and Regis Prograis with promoter Richard Schaefer at the helm. How seismic? By now, more shaft than shift.
Problems started when Probellum were inevitably linked to Daniel Kinahan, the alleged figurehead of a worldwide organised crime empire reportedly worth $1 bn. Along with world title challenger Matthew Macklin, the Irishman was an original co-founder of the MTK Global but was supposed to have stepped away in 2017 – a year before Williams joined the management company – amid increasing scrutiny of his chequered background. Kinahan was said to have pivoted to a new role as an independent advisor to some of the biggest names. His most notable client was Tyson Fury, an MTK-managed world champion.
Boxing’s major decision-makers hadn’t just turned a blind eye to Kinahan’s influence, they’d welcomed the suspected narco-terrorist with open arms. Many of the sport’s most established promoters willingly worked with Kinahan-connected entities for years after allegations of his criminality. A deadly feud that traumatised Irish communities wasn’t enough of a deterrent to steer clear, even when a Kinahan ally was shot dead at an infamous boxing weigh-in in 2016.
Kinahan’s new friends in boxing forged profitable alliances in broad daylight, as well as the shadows, but it all changed at a press conference in April 2022. The truth was taboo, until it wasn’t. The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) were in Dublin, Kinahan’s home city, to tell the media of their sanctions issued to his Organised Crime Group (KOCG). The headline-grabber was a collective $15m bounty for its leaders. From there, MTK Global quickly ceased operating and Probellum’s days were numbered.
As a knock-on result, any expectations of big paydays would fail to materialise for Williams while he was pledged to Probellum, whose influence shrunk in the wash overnight. Every attempt at revisionist history failed them and they hosted their last ever event in December 2022. Williams fought on a Wasserman promotion the month prior, and he would go without ever performing under the Probellum banner.
As authorities in Europe and America continued to actively pursue Kinahan’s arrest in the Middle East, Probellum was officially sold to a group led by a Dubai-based businessman called Nicolas Link. He holds no known experience in boxing and is a far cry from Schaefer’s status in the sport. Few were fooled by a rebrand to Disrupt Promotions in early 2023. Link stressed no connection to Kinahan, despite living in the same city for years. Disrupt Promotions has still only hosted a handful of events in obscure locations, none of which featured Williams.
“There’s been a hell of a lot going on,” said Williams. Like many in boxing, he is cautious to comment on the overall background. He’s felt some of its aftershocks more than most.
“It’s been a nightmare, to be honest with you. I don’t want to go into too much detail but obviously I was with Probellum. Then they switched, or they done what they done, and turned into Disrupt. It just wasn’t working for me and it wasn’t right. I wanted to get out of contract and, obviously, it wasn’t made easy for me, so it took some time to finally get to the bottom of it.
“I was with Frank Warren [until 2021] and I wasn’t totally unhappy there, but I was sold the dream by these other people and I thought, ‘bloody hell, this is something I can’t turn down, I have to go [because] they’re going to pay me big money and get me massive opportunities.’ To be honest, it backfired on me by making that move. Looking back, I fucked up.
“It’s one of those, there’s two sides. I have thought, ‘what the f**k have I done there? I’ve really made a bad decision,’ but also on the other hand, with making that bad decision, I have to accept it for what it is. Nobody put a gun to my head and made me do it. I made it and hopefully I can change things around and it can get better again.”
Is Williams the only boxer to be caught in such a conflict? Super-featherweight Rocky Hernandez revealed more in his complaints about Disrupt Promotions and his proposed solutions. After going public, the Mexican banger was quickly signed by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing. The details of Williams’ resolution to part ways with Disrupt Promotions will, however, remain confidential for now.
As the father-of-two navigated the legal route out of the ring, he has also used the gym as a release. The self-styled ‘Machine,’ unwilling to collect dust on the shelf, has trained hard throughout the year. It was the outlet he needed to curb frustration. A recent rekindling of his relationship with coach Gary Lockett served as an invaluable source of support while his parting with Disrupt Promotions progressed.
The pair had already been through a lot in their first spell together from 2011-2018. No times were more testing than 2016 when gym-mate Nick Blackwell suffered a brain injury against Chris Eubank Jnr and when Mike Towell lost his life after a knockout loss to Dale Evans. Williams and Lockett stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the corner on both occasions, likely providing perspective to the boxer’s promotional troubles.
“As I said last year, it never really felt like I’d left. We’ve grown and again, we’ve stayed close as friends. We’re closer in that sense because the whole time I’ve been going through this shit, we’ve gone through every stage together. Things like that make you closer.”
The next chapter starts soon. An aggressive up-and-comer has already set his sights on Williams’ scalp. Ireland’s Aaron McKenna (17-0, 8KO) is greener than those who have previously overcome Williams, but he fancies his chances of repeating Liam Smith, Demetrius Andrade and Chris Eubank Jnr’s wins.
Making no secret of his intent on Sky Sports or social media, McKenna’s calls have been answered. Negotiations are ongoing and Williams wants the showdown in October. Their exchanges echo Williams’ tasty encounters with Mark Heffron and Gary Corcoran – both knockout wins – and the verbals have got his juices flowing.
“It’s nice for me to not go chasing,” said Williams, no stranger to trash talk. “He wants to fight me. I believe there’s probably bigger fights out there for me, but we can start with him. I’ll make an example out of him. I fully believe I’ll smash him and stop him.
“There’s other people he could get a good name from, which aren’t as tough or aren’t as good as me. I think he’s trying to make a big statement by saying he wants me, and this and that. He’s obviously young, he’s fresh and he’s fit. You know, he’s got a lot going for him, but I personally don’t see what the people around him see.”
Williams strengths are obvious and – after 29 professional fights – perhaps his weaknesses are, too. However, every opponent he’s lost to was around world level at the time of trading blows, whereas McKenna is yet to experience a truly competitive matchup as a professional. Practical as ever, Williams was clear in his assessment of the task ahead.
“He’s very fit, he’s got a very high work rate and he brings the pressure. I don’t believe he fights the best at long range, well he can’t and he never chooses to fight at long range when he’s a big guy.
“He loads up with every shot as if he’s going to knock everyone out when he hits them, but he doesn’t do that. I believe he doesn’t hit that hard. He has good and bad, and we’ll find out when the fight comes.”
Should it be a reawakening of Williams’ career, he plans to kickstart it in the perfect way; by banging the snooze button on another.
“We’re both going to meet head on and go at it. There’s probably no more to it. The end will come with me sleeping him.”