Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The Man Who Couldn't Stay Away

By Ben Fowlkes

Almost five years ago, Jeremy Williams walked away from what was quickly becoming a successful career in mixed martial arts. He had just defeated both Yves Edwards and Shannon Ritch, and was starting to make a name for himself as a fighter.

It seemed like the perfect time for him to take his career to the next level, but Williams decided to give it all up.

He was tired of the injuries. He was sick of the hassle of trying to get training partners, trying to get fights, all for next to nothing when the paycheck came.

He stopped competing as a professional and opened a gym of his own in Orange County, California. He got married and had a child. He embarked on a different kind of life, one that seemed to him more normal, more stable than the life of a fighter. It was the life he thought he wanted.

And all that was fine until a few months ago, when Williams’ long-time friend and teacher, Marco Ruas, came to him with news of the team he was putting together to compete in the IFL. Ruas was in need of some men he knew and trusted, and he wanted Williams as the squad’s middleweight.

Suddenly the life he thought he’d left behind was right back in front of him, and Williams knew he couldn’t say no.

“I missed the challenge,” Williams said of his decision to return. “That’s why I’m here, to challenge myself.”

As much as he enjoys running his own gym, Williams couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete on Ruas’ Southern California Condors.

But once he had agreed to join the team, Williams had to prepare himself to fight again in only a few short months. His team was up first in the 2007 season, and their debut appearance would put him up against the Tiger Sharks’ Bristol Marunde.

“I wasn’t totally sure that I was ready. The afternoon before the fight, I could really feel the nerves,” Williams said. “But then just knowing that Marco thought I was ready, that gave me a lot of confidence.”

And so Jeremy Williams climbed back into the ring after almost five years away, and this time he did it in front of a packed house for the IFL’s 2007 premiere. If he had doubts as to whether he was ready, they were quickly erased.

Just over a minute into the first round, Williams jumped into a guillotine choke and then transitioned into a triangle choke as Marunde put him on his back. The Tiger Sharks middleweight was a game fighter and refused to tap, even Williams had cinched the choke all the way in.

At the 1:13 mark of round one, Williams turned calmly to the referee and informed him that Marunde was unconscious. When the referee didn’t jump in to stop it right away, Williams released Marunde and let him slump to the mat.

Just like that, he was a pro fighter again, and he knew that this time he couldn’t walk away.

“It keeps me hungry,” said Williams. “That’s what I need, to push myself like that. If you tell me I can’t beat someone, it makes me want to try even harder and to push myself so I can beat them.”

Now Williams faces a new test. On March 17th his Condors will step in against the up-and-coming Sabres, and Williams is slated to take on Kazuhiro Hamanaka, who the Sabres are expecting big things from this season.

Hamanaka was the only fighter to survive coach Ken Yasuda’s roster purge after the team’s winless performance last season. He’s fought on some big stages in his short career, including Pride and K-1, and against some big men, even competing as a heavyweight at times.

“I know he’s going to be tough,” Williams said. “I expect him to be really strong. People are telling me this will be my toughest fight yet, and I know some people have me as the underdog in this one, which is fine with me. I kind of prefer it that way.”

If Hamanaka is to be Williams toughest test to date, the same could easily be said of the challenge that the Tokyo Sabres present to the Condors.

Both teams are 1-0 this season. Whoever wins in Los Angeles moves onto their final match of the season with an undefeated record, almost assuring them of a spot in the postseason.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any easy fights on either side,” said Williams. “We want this and so do they, and I think it’s going to be really close however it turns out.”

For the Condors to be successful, they’ll likely need Williams to notch a win against Hamanaka, something that is not lost on the Southern California-native.

“They have some really experienced guys on their side, no question,” Williams said. “But as a team, I think we work well together to get each other ready.

“Team training like this is a hundred times better than training for a fight by yourself. When you’re fighting by yourself, you have to worry about finding training partners and working around everyone else’s schedule, but here we’re all after the same thing. It’s great.”

The Sabres, too, will be after the same thing when they step into the ring at the L.A. Forum.

Williams’ hope is that he, along with his team, can stop them.


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