Born: August 2, 1923
Died: September 5, 1994
Ike Williams was born August 2, 1923 in Brunswick, GA and moved to Trenton with his mother when he was 8 years old. Ike endured constant teasing for his thick accent and as a result shied away from contact with other boys. That changed, quite literally, after he took up boxing as a teenager. Small and slender, he became a star baseball player and track athlete at Trenton High School, while continuing to train under Jesse Goss at a neighborhood gym.
At age 15, Ike won the 1938 Golden Gloves tournament in Trenton as a featherweight. He turned pro before his 18th birthday, doctoring the paperwork to circumvent New Jersey’s minimum-age requirement. His first fight was in 1940 as a lightweight. Ike combined a powerful right hand with impressive foot- and hand-speed. By the end of 1941, he had begun what would be a 32-fight winning streak. It ended in January 1944 against former (and future) lightweight champ Bob Montgomery.
By this time, Ike was fighting in the top East Coast venues and was under the management of Connie McCarthy. However, McCarthy was unable to line up top-ranked opponents. Finally, in 1945, Ike got a bout against Juan Zurita—recognized by some organizations as the lightweight champ. Fighting Zurita in his home town, Ike stunned the crowd with a second-round knockout. In the ensuing riot, Ike had his just-won championship belt stolen at gunpoint.
Ike hoped his title would produce better-paying fights. When it did not, he tried to jettison McCarthy. McCarthy rallied the Boxing Managers Guild in response, and effectively blackballed Ike from prizefighting. Ike dug himself a deeper hole by (unsuccessfully) trying to unionize his fellow boxers. He would go more than a year before getting a chance to defend his lightweight title.
It was at this point that Blinky Palmero entered the picture. Palmero became Ike’s manager and used his organized crime connections to break the blackball. Eventually he was able to arrange a unification bout with Montgomery, who claimed more prestigious lightweight titles. The two champions met in Philadelphia in August 1947 and pounded each other for five rounds, bringing 30,000 fans to their feet. Ike landed a thunderous right in the sixth round, sending Montgomery to the canvas. The referee stopped the fight, awarding Ike a technical knockout. Ring magazine named Ike 1947 Fighter of the Year.
Unfortunately, there was a price to pay for doing business with Palermo. Four years later, Ike was called before a Senate investigative committee on organized crime and he testified that, on occasion, he had carried opponents past a certain round at the behest of his manager. On other occasions, Ike later revealed, he was offered five- and six-figure bribes to take a dive but steadfastly refused.
Ike held on to his title into 1951. During that time he scored a pair of impressive 15th-round knockouts, over lightweight stars Beau Jack and Jesse Flores. Unfortunately, the money fights were at a higher weight class, so Ike bulked up to fight welterweights and junior welterweights for fatter pruses. This made it harder to make his weight for lightweight title defenses. He finally lost his belt to lowly regarded Jimmy Carter. Ike’s career went downhill quickly after that. He retired in 1956 with a record of 125–24–5 with 60 knockouts. Most historians place him among the Top 5 lightweight champions.
Ike had set himself up reasonably well for life after boxing. He owned two income-generating apartment buildings in Trenton, as well as a large home. Unfortunately, he lost them all within five years. He picked up a few too many checks, made some dumb loans and was a lousy gambler. He ended up working in a warehouse and living in a room at the YMCA. In a remarkable stroke of fate, Ike’s willingness to stand up to the powers in boxing during the 1940s earned him the admiration of Muhammad Ali, who did his best to help him in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, Mike Tyson did the same. Ike moved to Los Angeles in his late 60s and passed away in 1994 from arterial sclerosis. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and, in 2005, the City of Trenton erected a statue to honor his legacy.