Carl Williams was so nearly in the right place at the right time in both his fights for the heavyweight championship of the world. "The Truth", as people who knew him liked to call him, lost on points over the ancient distance of 15 rounds to Larry Holmes in 1985. The ringside experts and fans in Reno that night overwhelmingly believed Holmes had lost for the first time in 48 fights, but the judges denied Williams. Holmes lost for the first time in his next fight.
In 1989 Williams was back in championship contention and was matched with arguably the best version of Mike Tyson in Atlantic City. Tyson, like Holmes, was undefeated at the time, feared and viewed with equal amounts of respect and disgust. It was known that away from the ring his life was in dangerous turmoil and that was just one of the reasons Williams had to sign a contract giving the promoter, Don King, three options on his future fights. Somebody once quipped that in Atlantic City that week it was the only time that King and the truth had ever been in the same room.
"We wondered about Tyson's life and believed that if he could fall apart outside the ring then he could fall apart inside the ring," Williams recalled, and with his coach, Carmine Graziano, he devised a bold plan to fight Tyson with fire. It was too bold but it was the right plan. " We knew that Tyson could be manipulated," Graziano insisted.
Tyson caught Williams with a perfect left hook, which is a simple counter to a lazy jab, in the opening round of a furious fight and Williams crashed heavily to the canvas. He beat the count, seemed to nod to the referee that he was fine but instead it was stopped after just 93 seconds. Tyson lost for the first time in his next fight when Buster Douglas put in place The Truth's risky plan.
"Tyson told me straight away that he knew that I could continue and he was right," Williams said. "I met great champions when they were great champions but I knew how to beat them."
Williams had started to box late after an early life wasted on the streets of South Jamaica in Queens. He won the New York Golden Gloves titles in 1980 and 1981 at a time when being the "Gloves" champion carried weight. However, he was forced to move away from his neighbourhood and live on his own at a motel in White Plains, New York. The move saved him.
"There are two roads in life that a man born with nothing can go down," Williams said one night in 1990. "There is the straight road – and believe me that is the hardest – and there is the other one and believe me that is the easy one; I picked the straight one and became a boxer. It has never been easy."
In the ring Williams had exceptional timing and a fantastic jab but he was vulnerable when caught by heavy punchers, often in fights where he had been suckered into slugging and not using his finer skills. It was his misfortune to peak during the great days of Holmes and Tyson, a neglected but in many ways golden spell for heavyweight boxing, and had he been born 10 years later he would have surely won a version of the heavyweight title.
Williams was in hard fights with world champions Tim Witherspoon, Trevor Berbick, Tommy "The Duke" Morrison, Mike "Hercules" Weaver and an odd affair in Birmingham with Frank Bruno. He was also involved in great scraps with leading contenders James "Quick" Tillis, Bert "Smokin" Cooper and Jesse Ferguson. He met men who could really fight at a time when securing a world title fight only came through victories and not from the glowing testimonies of the deluded that masquerade as influential in the modern business.
Williams finally retired in 1987, having lost five of his last nine fights. "I should never have taken the last fight," he told me. He ended the fighting part of his life with 30 wins from 41 fights, and away from boxing he continually slipped under the fight game's radar. There was talk of mystery advisors "losing" – a beautiful boxing euphemism – nearly a million dollars of The Truth's money.
Williams worked on the door at various clubs in New York and had a job for a couple of years as a security guard at Ground Zero. He remained a lost fighter from a lost generation of largely forgotten fighters; he would often tell people that they were mistaken if they asked if he was The Truth. He died of oesophageal cancer.
"I never heard The Truth complain or cry about the Holmes fight or the Tyson fight," said Mike Marley, formerly of the New York Post, for whom he covered The Truth's big fights. "There are heavyweights still talking about where it all went wrong, but The Truth was not one of those guys. He was just a regular guy."
Carl Williams, boxer: born Belle Glade, Florida 11 November 1959; one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased; died New York 7 April 2013.