A LAST INTERVIEW WITH IKE WILLIAMS
by Bill Kelly
Ike Williams was more than a world-class fighter to
me. Ike was a mythic. Ike was quite simply --- with
apologies to Benny Leonard, Henry Armstrong, Lew
Jenkins, Beau Jack, Jimmy Carter and Bob Montgomery
and even Roberto Duran - the best lightweight
fighter who ever lived.
Fighting didn't come naturally to Ike; he mastered
it, absorbed it, as he did every challenge in his
life. As a kid in New Jersey I worshipped him. One
of my finest hours in boxing came when I interviewed
Ike in 1994. The last time I spoke with him was on
August 28th. He was found dead in his home at 520
Hobart Boulevard, Los Angeles, California on
I took Ike to dinners, and fight banquets because he
didn't have the price of admission. His closest
neighbors didn't know they were living with one of
the best lightweight fighters of all time.
In 1947 a determination was made to fused the
lightweight division which had been unraveled for
five years, thereby crowning one undisputed world
champion. The aspirants were Bob "Bobcat"
Montgomery, who had won recognition by the New York
Commission by beating Beau Jack on May 21, 1943, and
Ike Williams. Ike was sanctioned by the National
Boxing Association. He had recently dethroned tough
Juan Zurita in two rounds on April 18, 1945. After
that, he retained his title by knocking out Ronnie
James in 9 rounds in Cardiff, Wales.
Getting two champions to unify a title has always
been tantamount to sending Elian Gonzalez back to
Cuba where he belongs. It's a familiar ode. You are
asking each fighter to give up dispensations that
even a fragmentary championship brings -- and
bringing Williams and Montgomery together was even
more challenging since the two battlers got along
like Red Foxx and the IRS. Ahab and Moby Dick. Don
King and anybody.
According to Ike, the intense hatred he and
Montgomery held for one another reached back to
their first meeting on January 25, 1944. If you like
skyscraper infernos, or Sam Peckenpah movies, you
would have loved the private wars of Bob Montgomery
and Ike Williams. Classic grudge matches. Terrorist
organizations recruit guys like these. Al Capone
would have covered his eyes. Too gruesome.
Ike was born Isiah Williams in Brunswick, Georgia on
August 2, 1923. His family moved to Trenton, New
Jersey while he was still a teenage featherweight.
Fighting as an amateur, he picked up various titles
around the Jersey/Philly area, winning most of his
fights by knockouts.
He stood 5 ft. 9 inches tall. His fighting weight:
Graying at the temples when I interviewed him, he
still possessed the physique of a praying mantis. He
had compiled a record of 125 wins - 60 by knockouts
-- 25 losses and five draws. In the following
narration, he pulled no punches.
KELLY: Ike, you say you are working odd jobs? Are
IKE: The million bucks I made as a fighter is gone.
I'm having a tough time finding work at my age.
All I know is boxing. I would like to find work
connected with boxing. Jersey Joe Walcott said he
would help me, but nothing ever came of it.
KELLY: What the hell did you do with all your money,
IKE: Bill, I was a soft touch. I loaned money and
never got it back. Gave some to relatives. My
managers took a lot from me.
KELLY: You never invested any money?
IKE: Oh, yes. I owned a couple of apartment houses
but I lost them. I gambled, mostly on the golf
course. I contributed money to college
scholarship funds and I sponsored baseball
teams, you know, for kids. When I had money, I
spent it like everyone else does.
KELLY: What about your managers?
IKE: Connie McCarthy was a good enough manager, I
guess. But he was a drunkard. I finally told him
I was going to another manager and that's when
called the Boxing Guild. They blackballed me.
fighter who tried to stand up to his manager in
those days was blackballed and labeled a
troublemaker. I wanted to start my own fighter's
guild. I approached Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie
Pep, Sandy Saddler. But they were too scared.
Even Jake LaMotta was afraid to be seen talking
to me. I'm not saying they were wrong. They were
making plenty of dough so why stick your neck
out. For a long time I couldn't get a fight in
Philadelphia that's how powerful the Guild was.
I had fought over 20 fights for Herman Taylor
and he turned his back on me.
Jimmy White, head of the Boxing Guild, said he
would boycott anyone who fought me. The only man
who had the guts to stand up to them was Blinky
Palermo. Blinky was managing Billy Fox at the
time he was training for his rematch with Gus
Lesnevich. 'Listen,' Blinky said to me, 'you
sign with me and I'll straighten out that
KELLY: So you went with Blinky? Was that a good
IKE: Well, it was the only move I could make at the
time. No one else would touch me. You have to
eat. But, honestly, I didn't know about
reputation or association with gangsters or I
wouldn't have gotten mixed up with him. But I
wanted to fight Bob Montgomery again in the
worst way. In our 1944 fight he bragged that he
was not only going to knock me out, but knock me
clear out of the ring. It was a damn tough
fight. I was knocked out for the first time in
my career -- in the 12th round. But he fought
dirty all the way. He fouled me repeatedly. I
told Blinky, 'if you can get me a rematch with
that bastard, I'll sign with you.' Blinky said,
'I'll get the fight.' So I signed with him
and he got he the
KELLY: There were fights in between. I was at
ringside in Philly when you flattened Joey
Peralta, and again when you knocked out Mike
Delia in 1 round. I saw you beat Slugger White
and Sammy Angott - twice. I lost ten bucks when
Willie Joyce outpointed you --
IKE: ( Interrupts): I whipped him in a return match
(January 8, 1945) then in June he decisioned me
but it was an over-the-weight match, just like
loss to Angott later, when he stopped me on a
KELLY: Getting back to Montgomery. You finally did
get the rematch you wanted.
IKE: ( Interrupts): Yeah, it was for the vacant
World Lightweight Championship ( August 4,
1947). I whipped him like his daddy. It was the
night of my life. I was in the best shape I could
possibly get in. I knew his style by then, it
wasn't like today, you can watch video tapes of
your opponent. Back then, you had to learn the
When a fighter's in a crouch he loses power and
has to come up, so I caught him coming out of a
crouch and nailed him good. It was the most
perfect punch of my career. He got up at 9, but
he was out on his feet. I went after him and
referee Charley Daggart counted him out. But I
had a terrible cut over my right eye which
took six stitches to close.
I firmly believe that Montgomery was more
interested in causing further damage to my eye
than he was in winning the fight, the way he went
KELLY: When I attended a Boxing Hall of Fame banquet
in Hollywood a few years back, I asked Henry
Armstrong and Lew Ambers if they would pose for
a picture together. Neither of them would do
it. They still held a grudge after all those
years. Sandy Saddler told me that Willie Pep
refused to talk to him to this day. Is that how
you felt toward Montgomery?
IKE: No. As far as I'm concerned it's all in the
past. But I understand he still carries a
KELLY: Let's back up. What was your first pro fight?
IKE: I won a four round decision over Carmine Fatta.
The record books say it was in New Brunswick, but
it was in the Masonic Temple in Highland Park,
York. I got ten bucks. Six months later I fought
Patsy Gall to a six round draw in Hazleton,
Pennsylvania and I got four bucks. There were no
easy paydays back then -- not like today. These
fellows pick and chose the easy fights for the
KELLY: So you were back on top after you stopped
IKE: Yes. I beat Kid Gavilan, who had whipped
everybody. I beat Enrique Bolanos in eight
rounds. I stopped Beau Jack, then Jesse Flores.
All of these fighters would have beaten any of
these lightweights you have today.
KELLY: Didn't Kid Gavilan beat you twice?
IKE: I have a good story to tell you. When I was
training for the Gavilan rematch, after I beat
him, Blinky comes to me and says he was offered
$100,000 to throw the fight. He advised me not
to take it. I should have. I lost anyway. But
you see, Blinky wasn't as bad as people think.
Oh, he robbed me blind -- that's a fact. I never
saw a dime of the $33,000 I was supposed to
have gotten for the Beau Jack fight in 1948. I
was supposed to get $33,000 for the Jesse
Flores fight after that. I got zilch! Blinky
took it all. He told me he was going to get his
head blown off if he didn't pay a debt to some
mobsters. Not only that, I had to pay the
taxes on those two fights that I fought for
nothing. Hell, you wonder why I'm broke?
KELLY: No offense, Ike, but you were stupid.
IKE: I know it.
KELLY: Was Bob Montgomery the toughest guy you ever
IKE: No. Kid Gavilan was. But you see, I had trouble
getting the money-makers to fight me -- even for
the title. Paddy DeMarco and I would have sold
out the Garden, but he said nothing doing. Terry
Young was hot at the time, but he avoided me
like the plague.
Poor guy, he got shot down in a night club.
Killed. Just like Al "Bummy" Davis.
KELLY: Henry Armstrong told me a story about the
time a set of golf clubs saved your life ---
IKE: ( interrupts. Laughs). Oh, yes. How did he know
about that? Anyway, in June of 1948 I was at the
Los Angeles County Club and I saw this beautiful
set of golf clubs that a fellow was using and I
made a fuss over them. He told me he bought them
at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago. So, on my way back
home, I got off the plane at Chicago and went to
Tam O'Shanter's in search of these beautiful
clubs. Well, the plane crashed in Mount Carmel,
Pennsylvania, killing fifty-six people. Imagine
what might have happened to me if I hadn't gotten
off that plane to buy those golf clubs. That's
why Hank said golf clubs saved my life.
KELLY: I guess that was the most frightening
experience of your life, wasn't it Ike?
IKE: Not really. The most scared I ever was when I
went to Mexico City in 1945 to fight Juan
Zaurita. I arrived the day before the fight. The
crowds at the hotel where I was staying treated
me like some hero. I mean, they actually hoisted
me up and carried me through the streets.
Everyone cheered me. That night, I called my
wife, Virginia, and told her, 'Hell, I could run
for president down here.'
KELLY: That was frightening?
IKE: Wait a minute -- after I beat Zurita for the
NBA lightweight title, I was leaving the ring
some thugs pushed a gun into my ribs and took my
championship belt. They would have killed me if
wouldn't have handed it over. But later I lost
title to Jimmy Carter.
KELLY: Carter knocked you out didn't he?
IKE: He stopped me in the 14th round (May 25, 1951).
I had successfully defended my title seven times
in six years. I hate to sound like sour grapes,
but I injured my shoulder four days before I was
to fight John L. Davis in Seattle. That was in
1950. I was fighting a kid named Walt Hayes and
he threw a punch that caught me on the forearm
and tore the muscles. I was never right after
that. I was training for the Carter fight and
Blinky comes to me and says, 'Ike. they want to
give you fifty grand to go into the tank. In six
months he'll fight you again and you can win.' I
turned him down flat. But again, I should have
taken the money because I knew I couldn't beat
him with my bad shoulder. Besides, I was 21
pounds over the lightweight limit and taking
it off so fast it left me so weak that by the
12th round I couldn't lift my arms. Eighteen
days after the Carter fight, win or lose, I was
suppose to fight Art Aragon, the Golden
Boy. I knew I couldn't beat Aragon with a lame
wing. So you see, I should have taken the money
because I could see the end was near. But I
KELLY: I think it was right after that I saw Gil
Turner beat you in Philly and I couldn't
IKE: He stopped me in the tenth ( Sept. 10, 1951). I
was only 26-years-old, an age when a fighter
should be in his prime. But I had lost three in a
row because of my shoulder.
KELLY: But you kept going. Carmen Basilio decisioned
you (Jan. 12, 1953). There was a tough guy.
IKE: Beau Jack made a comeback and fought him in
1955. In April I fought Beau Jack in Augusta and
they called it a ten round draw. It was a Don
King decision, if you know what I mean. A rob
job. I beat him good and they robbed me. In
August we fought again and I stopped him in the
ninth. I was 33 years old and the boxing
commission made me quit after sixteen years of
fighting. They wouldn't give me a license. It was
not only my last fight but Beau Jack's last
KELLY: The thing that bothers me is your loss to
Chuck Davey. He couldn't break bread --
IKE: (Interrupts) Bill, I swear to you that I went
in the tank for $10,000. Pride knuckled under to
desperation this time.
KELLY: (Astonished) You did?
IKE: I never told anyone that before and I'm ashamed
KELLY: Doesn't it leave a bitter taste in your mouth
that now that you need help none of you old
cronies in the boxing game will help you out?
IKE: A couple have tried. I was part of Mahammad
Ali's entourage back in 1974, up at Deer Lake,
Pa.; while he was training for the George
Foreman fight in Zaire. When Ali went to Zaire, I
stayed behind. The majority of his entourage
was Muslims. One day I went to the grocery
store and brought back some pork, intending to
mix it with some beans for dinner. Well, these
Muslims got mad because I bought pork into their
camp, and some guy that I had knocked out in
1943 called Zaire and told Ali. When Ali
returned he told me, 'Ike, pack up and git!' He
put me on that bus of his and drove me home. And
that was that. Muslims took Ali's life over.
They had him brainwashed.
KELLY: Did Ike Williams ever duck anybody?
IKE: Yes. I turned down a fight with Sugar Ray
Robinson because he outweighed me by 15 pounds.
KELLY: There have been a lot of tough years, right,
IKE: A broken marriage after the money ran out. My
daughter, Barbara Ann, died of pneumonia in
She was only 10. Most of my friends disappeared
when the money ran out. And now, I'm broke and
desperately need work. I know I could be a good
trainer or referee. But boxing doesn't take care
of their own. It's money. Look at me, no one
will give me a job sweeping floors in the gym.
KELLY: What, if anything, have you gotten out of
boxing that pleases you?
IKE: I can't say money, because I'm broke, and
that's nobody's fault but my own. Some of the
celebrities I've met I wouldn't have known if I
hadn't been in the limelight myself, Mickey
Rooney, Abbott and Costello. Some of the places
I've been: Mexico City, Perth Amboy, Atlantic
City, Cleveland, New Orleans, New York, Fort
Wayne, Havana, Europe. I've fought everywhere.
KELLY: Aside from not socking your money away for a
rainy day, any regrets, Ike?
IKE: I would have to say losing my Championship belt
to those thugs in Mexico City hurt me very much.
It was hanging in a bar in Mexico the last time
I saw it and I could never get the money to buy
KELLY: Do you wish you were just coming up today,
IKE: I would have beaten them all, easy. ******