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Two Vets Keep Grinding: Yuri Foreman, 40, Meets Jimmy Williams, Age 34, in Kentucky

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It’s a thing you are better able to understand the older you get. Whereas when you are young, and pondering the fight game, you likely found yourself puzzled when guys in their late 30s, or even 40s, wanted to keep going. Or when someone decided after a long layoff to come back.

When you get to “that age” yourself, and beyond, though, the “why” doesn’t nag you the same.

They do it because it’s in their blood, they want to try and re-visit past glories, want to test themselves to the max, prove doubters wrong, maybe also because it’s not easy making ends meet, and people do work in the fields that they know, even if the field sometimes doesn’t treat them so well.

Tomorrow (Saturday) night in Louisville, Kentucky, a 40 year old man who thought he was all done with boxing in 2017, after getting kayoed, and a 34 year old man 0-4-1 in his last five outings will step into the ring, both surging with adrenaline fueled by the continuation of following their passion and their dreams.

Yuri Foreman wants to win another world title, Jimmy Williams wants to show the fight game that he’s no mere journeyman who can be called upon to show up in shape, and lose.

“I’ve been in boxing nineteen years, it feels weird when I say that. I turned pro in 2002,” said Foreman, the man trying to come back, to give it one last, best shot at making the climb to a peak.

Yuri Foreman wants to recapture some of his glory days buzz.

“But once my manager passed on, things were rocky. There wasn’t the same support.”

Foreman turned 40 on January 24; he had thoughts, after Erislandy Lara bettered him on Jan. 13, 2017 in hand speed, mobility, energy, too many ways, in 2017, that he was done with the game.

“That whole preparation, I kept telling myself, ‘I’m ready.’ But during sparring, I knew I was not as sharp as I once was. My coach then, Pedro Saiez, told me, ‘You look good.’ But I was not believing it. In the locker room right before the fight, I didn’t feel right. I was saying even then, I could have done better, if I had not been training people while getting ready for the fight. I was an awful feeling, I had to brush it off, try to psych myself up.”

There wouldn’t be enough psyching up; the native of Belarus Foreman trained full time for the fight against an A grade ring technician in Lara for just two weeks. You can chalk some of that up to, if you want to, the fact that he lives in Brooklyn, where the rents are high and most everyone has to work OT to make the ends meet. “But training for two weeks fully, that was not living true to the art of boxing,” he continued.

Foreman had split with his wife, and, yes, the timing of that didn’t help him as he got prepped for the PBC bout against Lara. Foreman then he met someone, a woman named Shoshana. They formed a tight bond pretty quickly, and, in fact, ended up getting married in a ring at the famed and fabled Gleason’s Gym, in DUMBO, not too far from where Foreman lived at the time, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“I told Shoshana after the Lara fight that I’d reached the end, but I never stopped training, because it became part of a life habit. We met, and she became a tremendous support. And she told me, ‘You are not done.’ She’d say, and it was almost like a mantra, ‘You are not done.’ And that spirit was contagious. She re-flamed the spark that was still there  just a bit.”

Shoshana wanted to be more than just polite support on the side. She wanted to help choose the best path when the trek got tough.

You can well understand Yuri Foreman feeling drained and ready to more so embrace a new vocational turn. “In the ring with Lara, it was not so much feeling the punches in the first round, it was the quickness and the timing,” Foreman tells me with a directness that tells me he’s made peace with how that bout transpired. “I had abandoned, I didn’t have my own style, what I do. In the ring, you see punches, but you don’t react, for one reason or another. My timing wasn’t set properly,” he continues.

I asked about the ending.

“The stoppage…In my head, I was crazy disappointed, I don’t know…I felt shame, maybe. I knew I should not be ashamed. Was I grappling and wrestling with how it felt when the other man is clearly better in that moment? There was a guilt and shame. In the locker room, the cut man took off my gloves, and he told me, ‘You’re only 37, you got two or three more in ya.’ But I was not even responding. And does it hurt your ego, your identity? I was hurting. In grappling with it, that’s the right word, 95 percent of people feel such obstacles, but they don’t face it. They want to forget it. The brain is a mechanism, you have memories, and you don’t want to experience them. But it’s a black box, you don’t want to open it, or you will feel.”

We spoke about the common distractions, the food, the phone, etc.

When you lose, some people edge away. Not because they are all bastards, but more so because they don’t know what to say. They don’t want to indulge in the emotions, a possible unease in the air, so they make themselves scarcer. “My two dear friends at Gleason’s, Doug Vannoni, and Bruce Silverglade, they were there for me,” said Yuri Foreman, who decided that he didn’t want his BoxRec to stay stuck at 35-3.

Not coincidentally, on Dec. 6, 2017, Foreman moved in with the woman he’d marry in that Gleason’s ring on June 24, 2018, Shoshana Hadassah. I know the date because she knew the date, for the record, she was on the call we did on Wednesday. “I remember,” Shoshana said, “because it’s my mom’s birthday. And the day he became a vegan.”

Foreman remembers that occasion as a turning point. When more kindling got added to the fire, you could say. “I kept working out, ran, I was lifting weights, at Gleason’s, at the park.”

And then another batch of kindling came to him. He called his old trainer, Joe Grier. Grier had been there when he beat Daniel Santos, and won the WBA junior middleweight crown on Nov. 14, 2009. He also knows that it’s impressive in itself that Foreman kept chugging when life handed him barbed lessons. “He was there from the beginning, we won the title, then the Miguel Cotto fight (June 5, 2010), he went into retirement. We were joking on the phone. I said, ‘I heard you are back training people.’ And he said, ‘They do keep on asking. But if you come back, I’m with you.’ That was in January, 2018. Joe is more than just a trainer, he’s my personal Buddha. Sometimes you’re tired, sometimes the inner flame has just a little spark, and in twenty seconds with Joe he turns this spark into a ferocious fire storm.”

If you know the Yuri Foreman story, you know for years he studied to be a Rabbi. He hasn’t drifted from his faith, but he tells me that he understands a concept of universal spirituality. “That’s accessible to everyone, and Joe is not Jewish, he is Christian. He’s not converting me. But he brings Bruce Lee into it, he talks about spirit animals. He’ll talk about the cobra and will compare that to the jab, in the ring. And it’s all very contagious.” Yuri spent most of 2018 training, and re building some of the lost spirit, and some of the ring identity that had pieces splinter off over the years.

The decision got cemented. And it wasn’t a solitary endeavor, or a case where Shoshana just helped nurture dimmed embers. She dove in with him. Foreman started making some rounds, reaching out to potential managers, possible promoters. “It was disappointing,” he admitted. “The meetings were not favorable.” So many demoralizing meetings in 2019…

“Some of the people have a dark side, an ulterior motive,” Shoshana said on the phoner. “They were looking at a big name, but as someone who could be a steppingstone. And Yuri needed to be protected, and to feel safe.

“I’d tell Joe about a meeting, he’s very protective, he’d say, ‘Nope. Bye.’ And then we finally got something lined up, it was for March 2020. And then the shit hits,” Yuri Foreman said.

One vet will fall back on March 6, and have their optimism stash diminish. (Photo by Jared Sher)

COVID slid into NYC, and made the rounds, the stealth assassin preying on ignorance and understandable prophylactic optimism and an unearned perception on national exceptionalism. Some Chinese virus can’t and won’t pierce our bubble, people thought to themselves, while the virus played tag.

“You’re it.”

Plans for a comeback fight were put off. Grier, a New Jersey resident, is 70, Foreman wasn’t going to do anything to make things riskier for him. Months dragged on, it became clear that the virus wouldn’t be quelled by the fall. Foreman kept working, kept hunting for a framework for a comeback that made sense. Another trusted team member, Ilya Mesishchev, helped him sift info. He found it, in Future Promotions, a boxing promotional company in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ex pro Dereco Murray’s love for prizefighting didn’t drain after he fought off a blood clot in his brain in 2009. In 2011, he switched to the promotion side. On Dec. 5, 2020, Foreman stepped into a ring, no head gear, to fight for a prize. At the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage in Louisville, Foreman met 11-9 Jeremy Ramos, and no, it wasn’t a gimme situation where an easy mark was put in front of him to knock down, help get some confidence back.

Shoshana insisted that he stop training clients at Gleason’s, that he devote ample time to get really ready for the fight. She works as a plastic surgery physician’s assistant, at a pediatric practice, and yes, business has been smashing for the last year. All those kids, at home, running about, while parents are trying to do Zoom calls, or sibling are doing half-ass babysitting….You get the point, Shoshana has been doing her thing to keep kids from having to go to the ER.

“My phone kept ringing and I kept stitching! It was mayhem,” she said. “Schools closed, kids home going nuts.”

The Ramos fight could’ve put out a nascent fire in some athletes. The foe was over the weight, so it was a super middleweight versus a middleweight. “It was one month short of four years away, it felt good to be back, shedding off that rust. Ramos is very tough, durable. He had a hard punch. I went eight rounds, I moved on my legs the whole time,” Yuri Foreman said. He got the W, took a week off to rest, and then called matchmaker Harry Barnett, to talk about following up with another bout in short order.

A date got selected, and some possible foes were discussed. A solid name got chosen. Jimmy Williams. 34 years old, with a 16-5-2 record.  Jimmy’s not on a win streak, but he will be in shape, and he will not be an easy out, I don’t think.

“Is this seen as a 50-50 fight? I never like ‘what’s my chances,’ projecting or expecting, like all victories, before the fight I respect the opponent, his willingness to get into that ring,” Foreman told me. “My game plan is to win. I don’t look to compare skill sets, and if he is younger and has been busier, well, I haven’t been idle, sitting on my ass. I’ve been training my ass for a long time!”

What does Williams (below) think of this faceoff?

“We sparred back when I was a kid when I trained at the Joe Grier Boxing Academy in Paterson, New Jersey,” Williams said.

“Joe was the one who gave me my nickname, ‘Quiet Storm.’ Yuri is a true world champion. I basically have come from nowhere to share the ring with a world champion. What we’re doing is what boxing is all about. It’s not about age; he’s 40 and I’m 34. Age doesn’t mean anything. I’m not a top dog, which is probably why they offered me the fight, but I’m a real fighter who will be in with a world champ. This is my world title fight! Win, lose, or draw, I’ll be fighting a world champion. I’m not scared of anybody. It’s not about money, it’s who I am, and I always step up to the challenge. This is going to be a great fight.”

Williams comes from the football field; he played cornerback at Southern Connecticut State University and was invited to several NFL tryout camps, coming close to making the cut with the Oakland Raiders.

“I’ve always been a boxer at heart,” Williams continued. “So football was easy for me. It was great getting calls from NFL scouts. I walked away from football for boxing. I’m a former Division II college football player fighting a world champion. I knew when it was time to leave football, but I’m not ready to leave boxing yet. I don’t need to box. I’m educated, work in the community, and I’m a father. I’m blessed to be boxing and I’ll know when it’s time to hang up my gloves.”

Jimmy didn’t box until after his mother, Belinda, was murdered in 2008. Her case hasn’t been solved. He lost his father to cancer, so yes, he’s had hurdles to overcome along this way.

Sounds like he might be re-vitalized, like Foreman. “This fight for Jimmy is by far the biggest of his career,” Williams’ manager Ryan Roach said. “It’s a must win to get him back on track. He knows what he has to do. He made a move to Veloz Boxing in Rhode Island and he’s a different fighter from what he was in his last two fights. Just being around ‘Boo Boo’ (world champion Demetrius Andrade) and those guys there has Jimmy where he needs to be for this fight.”

Williams has been with Jimmy Burchfield’s Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) since he turned pro in 2013.

“We have a close relationship,” Burchfield said. “I turned him pro, got him on national television a few times, and even attended his wedding. I’m very proud of him. He’s been tremendously loyal to CES as we have to him. This is a great opportunity…He has a new trainer, Brian Johnson, and Jimmy has been driving back and forth from New Haven to Providence to train. I think he’s in the top shape of his life, because he knows the importance of this fight. He deserves to have this opportunity.”

The West Haven, CT resident works full-time as a truancy officer in his city’s school district, and does boxing as his side hustle. He thinks Foreman is looking past him, especially since he lost four of his last five. In his last outing, Williams met 11-22 Esteban Villalba on December 5, and dropped a decision after six rounds.

Williams explained, “When you go to Mexico to fight, people know you aren’t going there to lose. When [Foreman] saw that, he probably thought, ‘Jimmy’s done,’ but I’ve got a lot left. That trip (to Mexico to fight Villalba) changed my whole life. Win, lose, draw – it didn’t matter. I just needed the confidence to know I fully recovered from the previous fight and could finally put it behind me.” He referred to his Oct. 7, 2020 clash against Brandun Lee, which ended violently in round one.

His coach, Brian Johnson, age 50, spoke on the clash. “Is this a 50-50 fight? To be honest with you, I don’t know,” Johnson said. “Every fight with me, we don’t try and leave it with the judges. I think in every fight we’re the underdog. He’s ready, had really good sparring, and was in the presence of world champions his whole camp, Demetrius, Rashidi Ellis, Mark DeLuca. This isn’t the James of the past.” He said that we are going to see a persistent jab from Williams. “His confidence is back, his speed, his timing. God don’t make no mistakes, and some plans are bigger than us,” he told me on Friday, after Williams made weight, 152.8. “My prediction? I predict fireworks and “the newwwww.”

The vacant American Boxing Federation USA super welter title is for the taking in Kentucky.

The Foremans, who live together now in Crown Heights, Brooklyn,  flew to Kentucky on Thursday morning. The fighter’s weight settled in a sweet spot, he hit 153 on Wednesday, and has marveled at how weight cuts done right can feel so different.

“I read the articles,” Shoshana stated. “The right amount of carbs, proteins, how much water, coconut water because the salt content is higher, he gets a little more bang for the buck from this manager!”

“It’s funny, I was losing weight on, I don’t know, that plan from “Raging Bull,” the fighter offered.

On Saturday, Yuri Foreman is to fight Williams in Kentucky and the weight max is 154 pounds. Before he got all current, with his managers’ program, he’d be doing the sauna thing, and have to work hard to drain down the week of the fight.

I wasn’t sure if the boxer wanted to go much beyond Saturday, but I had to ask, if just to try and satisfy my curiosity. What’s the aim here? What’s Foreman coming back for? “George Foreman came back and won that title at 45,” he said. “I have five years to think about it!”

“No, but there is a long term goal,” his manager/wife points out.

“I want to win the title back,” Yuri Foreman said.

He pictures it happening at 147 pounds, that seems a good fit for him, he thinks, because now he is getting to this weight backed by science, not saunas.

“And it’s my job to help clear the way for him,” Shoshana said, “let him feel free to work and fulfill his goals in the industry.”

The last time the Foremans came back from Kentucky, they were beaming when they looked at the door to their residence. Friends and rooters in the Crown Heights community had taped congratulations messages to welcome home the ex champ.

The ex, and maybe future champ. Jimmy Williams has a vested interest in messing up momentum, though.

But we’ll not try to look too hard to see that much further down the road. Sounds and seems like Foreman’s fire is building and he has “support staff” with him that perhaps increases his chances at ascending to where he gets another title shot.

“Yeah, my wife as my manager,” Foreman finished, “and what she’s bringing to the table… it’s something that’s been missing from my table for a long time.”

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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