Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Williams’

Houston Area’s Greatest Boxing Heavies

August 28, 2011

Two Houston fans settle issue over who shall possess the last available ticket to the 1888 season opener for the town's new professional base ball team. In spite of abounding rumors, the winner was not the lithe figure of a young George Foreman.

There have been a number of excellent heavyweight boxers who came out of the greater Houston area to fight on the larger world stage, but none so famous and capable as these five men. To me, they will always be The Houston Area’s Greatest Boxing Heavies:

1. Jack Johnson (DOB: 03-31-1878 in Galveston, TX; DOD: 06-10-1946) Became first black man to win the heavyweight crown when he won a 15-round TKO to thwart the comeback of retired champion Jim Jeffries on 07-04-1910. Racism at the turn of the 20th century, fueled by Johnson’s libertine life style and his personal preference for the social company of white women both failed to win him many friends among that era’s easily threatened moral white majority as it served to inspire the title of “Great White Hope” that was then bestowed upon every Caucasian challenger to his reign as the heavyweight champion of the world. Career Record: 55 wins, 11 losses, and 7 draws, with 35 KO wins and 6 KO losses included.

2. George Foreman (DOB: 01-10-1949 in Marshall, TX, but grew up in Houston.) On 01-22-1973, he won his first heavyweight championship in a 3-round TKO of Joe Frazier, but then lost it again on 10-30-1974 to Muhammed Ali in an 8th round KO loss (his only one ever) in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle”/”Rope-a-Dope” match in Africa. Foreman later regained the heavyweight championship in an incredible AARP-like KO of Michael Moorer in 10 rounds on 11-05-1994.  Foreman then went on to become the most successful and wealthiest products pitch man in Houston heavyweight history. Career Record: Foreman’s career included 76 wins and 5 losses, with 68 of those wins coming by the KO route and only 1 ending in a KO loss.

3. Cleveland Williams (DOB: 06-30-1933 in Griffin, GA, but made his home in Houston throughout his boxing career and over the balance of his life; DOD: 09-11-1999) Lost a 11-14-1966 challenge in the Astrodome to champion Muhammed Ali by a TKO in the 3rd round. Earlier, “The Big Cat”, as he was known, won a 06-28-1966 TKO in 3 rounds over fellow Houston heavy Tod Herring. Career Record: 78 wins and 13 losses and 1 draw, with 58 KO wins and 8 KO losses in the bunch.

4. Roy Harris (DOB: 06-29-1933 in Cut-n-Shoot, TX ) Lost to Champion Floyd Patterson on a 13-round TKO, 08-18-1958. On 04-25-1960,  my  college roommate and I made a last minute decision to drive downtown to the old City Auditorium and catch the Roy Harris-Sonny Liston fight that was taking place live in Houston at the old Coliseum. Like most Houston fight fans, we were hoping that local boy Harris could pull a rabbit from the hat and take out boxing’s big bully of those times. As financially struggling UH students, we second-guessed ourselves all the way there about our decisions to spring for the five bucks each, plus parking, that it was going to cost us. To hype the pressure, our decision to go came late enough to put us in our seats at near or shortly after the start of the fight. We got there inside just in time to enter to the sound of a a long low groan.  As we reached eyesight of the screen, while we were  still walking in search of our seats, we quickly saw the reason for the local crowd’s sinking spirit. There was Roy Harris, laying flat on his back. As he struggled to his feet, the referee quickly called it: “The winner by a TKO in the first round, Sonny Liston!” OUCH! It was the fastest lost five bucks in my life, up to that point, at least. All of my other memories of Roy Harris the boxer are pretty good. Career Record: Won 30 and lost 5, with 9 KO wins and 4 KO losses.

5. Tod Herring (DOB: 07-02-1937 in Houston, TX; DOD: 07-15-1991)  On 05-14-1965, Herring accomplished the same end as did Cleveland Williams in his own challenge of champion Floyd Patterson. He also lost a 3rd round TKO to the reigning champ. Still, Tod Herring remains as the greatest, toughest boxer and fighter to ever come out of the Houston East End. He had a hard life, which included some penitentiary time for killing a man with is bare fists in a bar fight, but we understand from the comments of family and close friends that he had gotten his life together with his heeling soul before he died. Rest in peace, Tod. His career record was 37 wins and 6 losses, with 20 of those wins coming by the KO route and 5 of the defeats landing as KO losses.

Cleveland “The Big Cat” Williams.

April 8, 2010

Cleveland Williams of Houston.

They called him “The Big Cat” because of his athletic hand and foot speed and his paralyzing punching power. He seemed to have it all. Back in the early 1950’s, in fact, Cleveland Williams stood alone and tall (6’3″ & 195-230 lbs.) as Houston’s major hope for honor as home of the next heavyweight boxing champion of the world. A younger fellow named Tod Herring was still street fighting his way up, but Tod was several maturity laps behind the devastating force that The Big Cat had become by 1954.

Born June 30, 1933 in Griffin, Georgia, Williams moved his training base and home to Houston around 1957 after starting his boxing career earlier with a KO win over Lee Hunt in the 3rd round of a fight in Tampa on December 11, 1951.

Williams won his first 27 bouts, recording 23 of those victories by the KO route before losing a decision to Sonny Jones in New York City on September 24, 1953.

Cleveland then ran off another four straight KO wins, capped by an avenging 3rd round clobbering of Sonny Jones, before suffering his first KO loss, a 3rd round fall to Bob Satterfield in Miami Beach on June 22, 1954.

Following his second loss, Williams ran off another 12 straight victories over the next five years, finally signing to meet the monster Sonny Liston in Miami Beach on April 15, 1959. It turned out to be a turning point night in the boxing career of Cleveland Williams. Liston totally dominated the short match, taking it all on a 3rd round TKO of Cleveland Williams. Williams would later fight Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight crown, but he would never again come close to being seen as a serious contender for the crown after the first loss to Liston. The sentence was complete when Williams again lost on a TKO to Liston in a March 21, 1960 rematch in Houston. In the second match, Williams lost in the 2nd round, a round earlier than his loss in first loss to Liston in Florida.

On June 28, 1966, 33-year old Cleveland Williams finally squared off against Houston street brawler-bully Tod Herring in their mutual home town. The Big Cat still had enough to take out the younger Herring, winning in three rounds on a TKO and clearing the way for a heavyweight championship challenge of Muhammad Ali at the Astrodome in Houston on November 14, 1966.

November 14, 1966: Ali KO’s Big Cat Williams in 3rd Round of Astrodome bout.

Big Cat Dreams died quickly. Ali took charge early and hammered away at Cleveland Williams at will. The fight ended in the 3rd round as another KO win for Ali and the effectively sealed end-of-the-line for Cleveland Williams as a serious national challenger – although,  I am among those who contend that the real end to the world-serious career of Cleveland Williams came earlier – in the two fights with Liston.

Cleveland Williams would later defeat Terry Daniels in Dallas on May 11, 1972 in a 12-round decision that would give him the World Heavyweight Championship of Texas, but so what? By then, the man was 39 years old and fighting for a prize that few fans cared anything about. After two more meaningless wins in 1972, Cleveland “The Big Cat” Williams retired from boxing after his last bout of October 28, 1972. He had won most of his fights (80-11-1) and the hearts of Houston boxing fans along the way. That has to count for something.

Cleveland Williams died on September 11, 1999 at the age of 66.