Gary Lockett discusses Liam Williams' ring return
It is 13 months since Liam Williams left the ring with the Commonwealth light middleweight belt slung over his shoulder after stopping Michael Lomax within a round. The 23 year old from Clydach Vale may not have seen any in-ring action since claiming his first professional title, but he has been fighting the toughest battle of his career away from the lights and cameras. On Saturday, Williams will end his enforced exile from the ring when he contests the vacant British light middleweight title with Kris Carslaw.
After initially being told his career could be over due to a finger injury, Williams, 12-0-1 (7KO’s), wisely sought a second opinion. His trainer, Gary Lockett, may have helped to rebuild the confidence of Enzo Macarinelli and Gavin Rees and restored them to championship level but the challenge of maintaining Williams’ morale whilst he waited to find out whether his promising career would be over before it had begun was an entirely different one.
“Liam was devastated. He went for the initial inspection with Gavin Rees and when I got the text message telling me what he’d been told, I thought that Gavin was having a joke and he’d told him to send me that. I called him right back and I could tell by his voice that he wasn’t joking. He was devastated,” Lockett told Livefight.
“I just said to him that we were going to get around it. We’d get a second and third opinion and not to drop his head yet. He just carried on coming to the gym and just worked on his left hand. He’s a dedicated lad so he’s always going to come in the gym and keep himself fit. When Nick Blackwell won the British title against John Ryder [in May] we went to Las Iguanas in the O2 afterwards. It was a great night. A great victory against a Matchroom fighter on a Matchroom bill and Nick’s a great kid. We were mega pleased. Liam sat next to me and everybody was enjoying themselves. I looked across at him and he was just looking down at the floor. I said to him ‘Don’t worry. Your time will come.’ At the time it was probably very hard for Liam to believe what i was telling him but I always believed.”
Thankfully, the second diagnosis came with a far more positive outlook and Williams is back up and running.
“Basically the tendon which runs up the finger was actually fused to the bone. The index finger bone was poking right out so he couldn’t really make a fist. Basically, every time he punched and caught that knuckle, he was in agony. He’s had that for probably the last four fights. We’d been getting him cortisone injections and just getting him through but it got to the point where he couldn’t do it anymore. They’ve freed the tendon up now. When they went in [to the finger] they didn’t know what the success rate would be but they saw that it was fused to the bone. They cut some other stuff away and it might not look the best but he feels no pain at all and that’s the main thing.
“It’s massive relief to me because Liam’s my friend. He’s only 23 years old but we get on handsomely well and just to see what he was like…….it’s great to see him back. He sparred ten rounds with Tobias Webb recently and Tobias is a really talented fighter but he coasted through it. He’s been out for over a year so it won’t all come back in one spar but that was the first time I’ve thought that he was back to his best.
“We haven’t come back with a six or eight rounder. We were offered one.We had to give up the mandatory position which was given to Kris Carlow but [now the title is vacant] the board have put Liam forward as they think he’s next in line. It’s a good little match and a tough one but we’re very confident that he can come back from a year out and get straight back to where he was. That’s how confident we are in Liam’s ability.”
With his hand as good now as it will ever be, Williams can concentrate on getting back into the rhythm that had many touting him as one of the most promising young fighters in Britain. Williams is seen as exciting and aggressive - a world away from his ‘Dull’ nickname - but it would be understandable - expected even - if he altered his style to protect his hand. Lockett reveals that any tactical changes Williams introduces to his game will be natural progressions rather than borne out of necessity.
“Liam can punch. He’s got good judgement of distance and his timing’s very good. A time might come where he can win a fight easier by going on the back foot and letting the guy come on to the punches. That might be the case against Carlow, you never know. He’s a good all round talent and people have only seen the come forward Liam so far. There have been a couple of times where he’s boxed and fought a bit. The fight on Enzo Maccarinelli’s undercard in Germany [a TKO victory against Yuri Pompillo] was a good little performance. I think that was the first performance where he’d gone from the old style to the style I want him to use which is that of a boxer puncher and using his main assets - his jab and his judgement of distance - to effect. I think he’s improved every single time since.
“Without a doubt, Liam can make up the lost time.”
Had Williams been able to push on unhampered after his Commonwealth title victory over Lomax, he may well have come into the reckoning for a fight against new WBO light middleweight champion, Liam Smith, who defends his title against Wythenshawe’s Jimmy Kelly a little higher up the packed Manchester bill. As it is, Lockett is simply looking forward to getting Williams - who has still only boxed 51 professional rounds - back up to speed and building a gameplay to unseat Smith couldn’t be further from his mind.
“Liam [Smith] is a cracking fighter. Funnily enough, I got asked about earlier about once we get past Kris Carslaw, whether we’d have Liam Smith next. Liam Williams has had twelve fights. Liam Smith is not in our sights yet. When I’d had twelve fights I was still fighting journeymen in six rounders. That just shows you that Liam’s ahead of the game. We took an opportunity in his tenth fight to fight Ronnie Heffron and it’s kind of like when you beat somebody like that, you can’t then go back. I’ve got to do the best job I can for him and keep him winning and getting experience until the point where he’s ready to be let off the leash. He hasn’t been past eight rounds yet. I just think he needs a little more ring time and if the opportunity arises in a few fights time we’ll look at it. If you ask Liam, he’d take it now! He’s a fighter and that’s all he want’s to do. Sometimes, though, it takes a slightly older head - like me! - to just steady the ship and think rationally and in the none too distant future I’m sure he’ll be ready for Liam Smith and the like.”