Pound for pound, there's not a harder puncher in all of St. Louis than "Dangerous" Dannie Williams. He's 26 and holds the WBC Continental Americas lightweight title, which he won in April on a vicious first round knockout of Manuel Leyva. Nine of his eighteen wins have come on first round knockouts, five more on second round knock outs.
"The first couple of rounds, I try to take their hearts," says Williams (18-1, with 14 KOs).
He will fight Antonio Cervantes (16-5-5, with 11KOs) on August 12, at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, on a card that will broadcast on ESPN's Friday Night Fights. So right now he's not actually in St. Louis, but in Youngstown, Ohio, where he trains with legendary corner man Jack Loew and Loew's most famous student, Kelly Pavlik.
Williams grew up on the north side, in the Peabody housing projects, where "everybody either becomes a boxer or at least tries boxing." He learned the sweet science in the same gym as Devon Alexander, under the guidance of Kevin Cunningham. He started boxing when he was thirteen and quickly realized that he was very good at it. He was faster and rougher and packed an overhand right that could knock the snow off a roof. Over the course of his seven-year amateur career, he won 127 of 154 fights and was an eleven-time national champion. He capped off his time in headgear in 2004 by winning the National Golden Gloves tournament at 132 lbs.
He turned pro in '05 and won his first three fights by first or second round knockout. But then he got thrown in the penitentiary for two years after getting convicted of unlawful use of a weapon. The streets were still in his veins, and he couldn't shake the old habits.
"I was playing both sides of the fence," he says.
Realizing how suddenly a promising career can evaporate, he re-dedicated himself to the sport while behind bars -- staying fit and telling fellow inmates that they'd see him on TV one day. When he got out of prison in 2008, Jack Loew tracked him down and offered to train him. Loew had seen Williams fight a few times, in the amateurs and professionally, and he was struck by his rare combination of skills. Yes, Williams could knock the shit out of people. But, damn, the kid was sharp as hell technically -- a product of his time in the amateurs.
"Dannie is definitely a boxer-puncher-puncher," says Loew. "You don't win as many national championships as he did without learning how to box."
So he boxes, working the body and moving his feet and keeping his hands high and popping the jab, but thirsting for that opening to drop a bomb.
"I train for distance but I fight for the knock out," Williams says.
Over the years, says Loew, Williams has developed patience, which can be a frustrating virtue to grasp for a fighter with his pure power.
"When you're a puncher like that," says Loew, "you really only need to land one."
There is a curious trend in Williams' record: Every single one of his fights have either ended in first or second round knockouts or gone the distance. No gray area. This is partly due to small sample size. But Williams says that it also reflects his game plan: If he senses fear or weakness in a fighter, he goes for the kill early; if his opponent is a strong boxer or withstands his mortars, he closes up and boxes, picking off points for the long haul.
Williams' sole stumble came in September 2009, when Eloy Perez, an undefeated and slick now-24-year-old, beat him by unanimous decision in a thrilling ten round war. But Williams, in the first true test of his career, showed the boxing world that he could take a hit and, more importantly, that he's one of those fighters who bites back when he smells his own blood.
Since then, Williams has rattled off six straight wins, four by first or second round knockout. His fight against Cervantes will be his first time on television (in fact, there's only one clip of him on YouTube). The bout co-headlines the card with the Kermit Cintron-Antwone Smith junior middleweight fight.
Television time is particularly important for young boxers. Impress and excite the cable TV brass and they'll call you again. More TV time means more name recognition, which means bigger draws and bigger purses and bigger opponents.
Tickets, which start at $35, are currently on sale through Rumble Time Promotions and Ameristar Casino. The first bell is at 7pm and the ESPN2 broadcast starts at 8pm. The event marks the second time in three months that St. Charles hosts a big time prizefight (the first, of course, being the Alexander-Matthysse bout at the Family Arena on June 25).
With the region producing young talents like Williams, Alexander, undefeated cruiserweight Ryan Coyne, and 2011 Golden Gloves runner-up and Olympic hopeful Stephon Young, there should be a steady supply prizefights on tap.