The Night The Tiger Roared
By Ted Sares
I suppose a good title for this piece might be, "The Greatest Fighter Nobody Ever Heard About," but that's not the angle I am going to persue. I'd rather concentrate on a fight and a fighter in an attempt to extract some measure of excitement from what I witnessed on television from the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas on December 11, 1976. They almost pulled a Heidi at the end, but thankfully I was able to see this bout to its amazing conclusion. Now I just got through watching the video again, but I can't really believe what I saw...................and I thought I had seen just about everything. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Roy "Tiger" Williams was a classic Philadelphia fighter except for one thing. Most of his wars were fought in the gym and Roy was known thoughout the boxing world as the toughest gym fighter around and someone you might want to spare with to prepare for a rough fight. In Zaire, for example, Ali sparred with big Roy and told the media that Williams was bigger, stronger, tougher, and hit harder than Foreman. Probably hype, but maybe not. Roy was both big (6'5) and scary looking. He also had great hand speed, threw punches in combinations, and had a short and deadly left hook that he launched with incredible speed. To make scarry matters even scarier, he made a loud grunting sound everytime he threw a punch.
Williams was always known as a very moody, temperamental person and much of this may have had to do with treatment he received from Ali, for it was rumored that Ali abused him physically in sparring and verbally in camp. Williams also thought Ali owed him money and that he and Ali sparred 10 rounds two days in a row, both trying to hurt the other and at the end. Ali paid the Tiger what the he wanted. At any rate, Roy was feared or avoided by most of the fighters of his era. Perhaps with better handling and management he could have been a top contender or beyond. Though he haunted the gyms, he did have a stamina problem that probably could be traced to poor conditioning.
The following quote from Ernie Shavers book, "Facing Ali," attests to Roy's reputation: "Ali had a sparring partner named Roy "Tiger" Williams. He said, 'If you beat Tiger Williams, I'll give you a shot.' I knew Tiger Williams. He was a tough, tough guy. So I made my mind up I would knock this guy out........." And that brings us to December 11, 1976 at the Aladdin.
The bell rang and Ernie started strong and hit Roy with some of his patented bombs but the Tiger was going nowhere. He had never been stopped but he had never faced a fighter with Shaver's one punch power. As the fight progressed, a ever-so-subtle change occurred around the 8th round as Ernie began to tire and the Tiger began to snap his punches off with more authority all the time grunting with each punch................uhuu, uhuu, uhuu. (Ernie had built up his upper body with weights and commentator Jerry Quarry suggested such a technique could tighten up Ernie's muscles and tire him out.)
In any event, the Tiger was beginning to roar. The ninth round saw a big change both ways. The Tiger started strong and landed a number of solid shots He seemed in charge but then tired midway though the round and Ernie came on, bombing away and Roy had to hold on and regroup. With about a minute to go, it happened. Roy snapped off one of the hardest left hooks I have ever seen and staggered Ernie who was now in big trouble. After some follow-up shots, Shavers looked ready to go as Tiger mixed short left hooks with two or three short right leads on top of Shaver's shaven head. Ernie had no answer and likely was saved by the bell. He staggered back to his corner a very tired boxer. The crowd, which included Joe Louis, was up and roaring; they were anticipating the kill. Clearly, this was the Tiger's time.
The last round began and Shavers came out visibly exhausted while Williams appeared confident and ready to end matters and finally emerge as a serious heavyweight contender. He quickly moved Ernie into a corner and applied brutal, non- stop punishment until the Referee called a standing 8 count. Tiger thought the fight had been stopped, turned around and raised his hands in victory but when he turned back to see a determined Shavers still standing, his spirit visibly sagged. Still, he came on and hit Shavers with blows that would surely have knocked out anybody else. Then, all of a sudden, Ernie started to connect with some medium hard blows to Roy's body which slowed him down. Then Ernie connected with one of his deadly uppercuts with Tiger on the ropes and it straightened him up. He was now hurt and Ernie sensed it. He moved the Tiger into a corner and began throwing his own bombs. Roy Tiger William could not withstand the ferocious onslaught and the Referee now gave him a standing eight, incredibly the second in the round! Ernie stood poised, albeit exhausted, and ready to go. As the referee ordered Roy to begin fighting he took a step forward, hesitated, and then collapsed in the corner a beaten man. Ernie sagged over the ropes too tired to celebrate. The fight was over. Ernie had won, but the Tiger had indeed roared.
As Shavers would later say, "......I trained hard. The first eight rounds, I was ahead on points. He came back in the ninth and the beginning of the tenth, and damned near destroyed me. But I knew I had to win for the Ali fight. They gave me a standing eight count, asked me questions, asked my name, where I was fighting, who I was fighting? I said Las Vegas, Ernie Shavers, Roy Williams. So I knew then, I had to go on the chin and stop him. He came forward toward me and I stepped in and hit him on the chin and I hurt him. And that's when God gave me the strength, and I stopped him."
Roy would close out his career with seven straight wins, 6 by ko. His final record was a decent 30 wins (22 by ko's ) and 6 Losses. Among his opponents were the capable Harold Carter, Larry Holmes, Jimmy Young, Jeff Merritt, Bob Stallings, and Henry Clark. I believe he nows lives in Las Vegas. Shavers, of course, got his fight with Ali...............and God knows he earned it. He would finish with a marvelous record of 74 wins (an astounding 68 by ko), 14 losses and one draw.
Arguably, Ernie Shavers might have been the best heavyweight who never won a title. On the other hand, Roy Tiger Williams might well have been one of the best fighters nobody ever heard of.
"I wouldn't drive through Philadelphia because I didn't want to take a chance on running into Williams." Ernie Shavers
Ted Sares is a syndicated writer who can be reached at [email protected].