Isiah Ike Williams (1940-1955)

By Ted Sares on May 13, 2013
Isiah Ike Williams (1940-1955)
Ike Williams was named to Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.

“If you have ever seen a Warner Bros. fight movie, circa 1940s, you know all you need to know about the life and times of Ike Williams…”

“He could have played piano with boxing gloves on.”—Ringside reporter as quoted in Bert Sugar’s Boxing’s Greatest Fighters

The late 1940s-1950s could well be seen as the early part of modern boxing’s historical landscape. And who better to be the exemplar for that great boxing period than Ike Williams?

Unfortunately Williams was one of television’s late coming sports stars when the medium was in its infancy more than a half a century ago, but his name was familiar to anyone who followed boxing back then. His amazing career—which included being blacklisted—and also being shrouded in controversy as a result of his association with Blinky Palermo and Frankie Carbo—was nothing less than brilliant. A vicious body puncher, Ike was super skilled, fast, game, and could hit hard with devastating power in his right hand. In short, Williams blended graceful moves with deadly power and the combination resulted in an atomic cocktail.

During his long and productive career, he won the lightweight championship of the world. Amazingly, his second pro opponent, Leroy Born, had 85 fights under his belt. Along the way, Ike defeated the likes of Kid Gavilan, Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery, Sammy Angott, Juan Zurita, Johnny Bratton, Tippy Larkin, Charlie Salas, Freddie Dawson, Joe Miceli, Gene Burton, Lulu Constantino, Dave Castilloux, Lester Felton, John L. Davis, Livio Minelli, Eddie Giosa, Fitzie Pruden, Enrique Bolanos, Bobby Ruffin, Vic Cardell, Cleo Shans, Ralph Zanelli, and many more. Ike made his home in Trenton, New Jersey but duked throughout the country, particularly in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Ike was a fixture at Madison Square Garden (13 outings), The Arena in Philadelphia (26 bouts), and at smaller arenas throughout Jersey such as Laurel Gardens in Newark, the Waltz Dream Arena in Perth Amboy, and arenas in Trenton (12 bouts). Fittingly, however, his last bout was a win over Beau Jack in 1955 in Augusta, Georgia (Ike’s home state), ending a legendary career that began in 1940.

Ike gained notice when he twice beat Sammy Angott in 1944. One year later, he earned recognition as NBA lightweight champion with a second-round knockout of Juan Zurita. He unified the lightweight crown in 1947 by knocking out fellow Hall-of-Famer Bob Montgomery. Ike then made five successful title defenses before losing the lightweight title to Jimmy Carter in 1951. Williams engaged in numerous non-title fights, many of which were more dangerous than his title defenses at a time when the lightweight division was chockfull of incredible fighters.

Ike testified during a Senate investigation in 1960 into organized crime and boxing that his manager Blinky Palermo kept most of his ring earnings. Williams also testified that he was offered bribes to throw his fight against Jimmy Carter and the second fight against Kid Gavilan. He said he refused the bribes. After Williams lost his lightweight title, he continued to fight the best in the world, meeting hyped and slick Chuck Davey to whom he lost under somewhat suspicious circumstances, stylish Gil Turner, and rugged Carmen Basilio. He retired in 1956 after scoring a knockout over Beau Jack (91-24-5) whom he fought four times. Jack retired after that loss. Ike’s official final record was 127-24-4.

Williams was named to Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. He was also Ring’s Fighter of the Year for 1948. Ike was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 1971, Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1978, World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1983, and finally the IBHOF in 1990, thus more than validating his amazing ring achievements, but more importantly his integrity.

Bill Kelly said in The History of the Sweet Science, “Ike Williams was more than a world-class fighter to me. Ike was a mythic. Ike was quite simply – with apologies to Benny Leonard, Henry Armstrong, Lew Jenkins, Beau Jack, Jimmy Carter and Bob Montgomery and even Roberto Duran – the best lightweight fighter who ever lived.”

Said Jim Murray in 1991 in the Los Angeles Times, “If you have ever seen a Warner Bros. fight movie, circa 1940s, you know all you need to know about the life and times of Ike Williams. He could have been a model for ‘Golden Boy.’ ‘Body and Soul.’ A great part for John Garfield. It had everything – the Mob, the would-be fixed fights, the title, betrayal, heartbreak. The fight game in all its glory. It wrote itself. Ike was something to behold when he first climbed into the prize ring in his native New Jersey.”

In his last interview with Bill Kelly, Ike stated, “A broken marriage after the money ran out. My daughter, Barbara Ann, died of pneumonia in 1958. She was only 10. Most of my friends disappeared when the money ran out. And now, I’m broke and desperately need work. I know I could be a good trainer or referee. But boxing doesn’t take care of their own. It’s money. Look at me; no one will give me a job sweeping floors in the gym.”

Ike Williams died in Los Angeles of natural causes in 1994 at the age of 71. We will never see his kind again.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. The Thresher 05:12pm, 10/26/2016

    Thank you Ms. Davis. Makes it all worthwhile.

  2. Evelyn Davis 01:41pm, 10/26/2016

    This is so great. Ike Williams is my cousin by marriage. He married my father’s niece, Virginia. I was always so proud to have a celebrity in my family. My father is Harry J. Davis, born in Trenton, and lived in Bristol, PA until his passing.  My father was an amateur boxer and boxed at Madison Square Garden.

    I’ve been working on the Davis family tree and am so glad to find this site!

  3. Ted 10:46am, 05/21/2013

    Wow, you have me beat. My first one was watching Anton Raadick fight Tommy Bell or it might have been Satterfield waxing Art McWhorter. I started watching in the late 40’s.

  4. beau jack 08:26am, 05/21/2013

    Ted, I’m so old that my blood type has been discontinued ! I hate to talk about my age because whenever a pal of mine mentions his age he seems to kick the bucket…But as a young kid I remember vividly the first pro main event my dad, an ardent boxing fan took me to. Beau Jack the young sensation against Tough Terry Young in 1942, at old St Nicks Arena NY. I was hooked on boxing since then…

  5. Ted 05:48am, 05/21/2013

    beau jack, you just might be older than me!

  6. beau jack 08:13pm, 05/20/2013

    Yes Mike, I was at that brutal fight in Philly in 1948, when Ike Williams battered the game Beau Jack so badly that we in the crowd shrieked for the referee to stop the fight,one minute before the referee finally did stop the bout with the enormously brave Beau Jack, out on his feet and pinned helplessly in a corner…In fact Ike williams shortly before the end pleaded for the referee to stop the slaughter. I will never forget that fight, I as a youngster saw in Philly…I also saw at MSG Beau Jack against Bob Montgomery in a night selling War Bonds…My biggest thrill was when my dad and I saw the great left hook artist Al Bummy Davis flatten Bob Montgomery with in one round in 1944…Al Davis was a 1-8 underdog in that upset…A couple of weeks later at MSG Davis hit Beau Jack on the button with his vaunted left-hook, but Beau Jack took the blast and won every round of the ten round bout….As a youngster I loved going to MSG most every Friday night to see great fighters fighting the best contenders available unlike a Floyd Mayweather of today…

  7. Ted 12:18pm, 05/15/2013

    Thanks Audley! I’ve got one coming that you will like, I am sure!

  8. Audley 12:07pm, 05/15/2013

    Michael’s comments on boxers dying broke made me think about musicians who met the same fate, especially from years ago. So many wanted to make a living using their talents so badly, they would sign ANY contract put in front of them and never received the money they deserved.

    Ted, great article, I always learn something when reading your stuff. Ike’s story is amazing.

  9. Eric Jorgensen 10:43am, 05/15/2013

    I always took it for granted that, had Ike Williams been allowed to give of his best throughout his career, his record would look quite a bit different than it does.  I very seriously doubt that that Angott loss was legit.

  10. Ted 08:58am, 05/15/2013

    Interesting observation.

  11. Mike Casey 07:10am, 05/15/2013

    Incidentally, fellas, the one thing I did notice in this picture is how NATURALLY fit these guys look. Not a cartoon muscle or an exaggerated six-pack in sight!

  12. Mike Casey 06:51am, 05/15/2013

    Yes, they were both excellent fighters, Tony. I don’t believe anything untoward was going on in that one. I think Angott just pulled out a great performance. Conspiracy theories were rife in Ike and Sammy’s era for obvious reasons, to the point where many perfectly legitimate results came under suspicion. Sammy was a devil of a man to fight and a tough man to knock down. Robinson couldn’t do it.

  13. Tony 06:35am, 05/15/2013

    Mike,

    —Thanks for that.  I’ve seen some discussion about the action you describe: Williams being injured early by a body shot and taking a beating until the stoppage.  I would have thought that that result would have caused people to give Angott credit for having more offensive ability than his rep suggests.  Williams hadn’t shown much vulnerability before that—at that time, he’d only been stopped by Bob Montgomery, late.  He didn’t get stopped again until years later, by Jimmy Carter.  And he fought plenty of tough guys.  So stopping him in 6 when he was still young was no small feat.  Yet I don’t seem to see that fight factored into Angott’s assessment much at all.

    —Since it seems like the fight isn’t given the regard it looks like it should deserve, I couldn’t help but wonder if the result was just dismissed as a fluke.  Or was it dismissed as something else?  I’ve never seen any opinion either way.

  14. Ted 04:49am, 05/15/2013

    Thanks, Mike

  15. Mike Casey 03:43am, 05/15/2013

    Tony, Ike suffered a torn abdominal muscle in the first round of the third Angott match from Sammy’s body blows. Apparently, Williams took quite a beating after that until the fight ended in the sixth. Then again, I remember asking my father how Angott beat Pep, and dad intimated that he had some help from a certain brotherhood.

  16. Ted 05:02pm, 05/14/2013

    I’m working on article on this as we post, Michael.

  17. Michael Hegan 03:21pm, 05/14/2013

    Ike Williams is another reason why the sport of professional Boxing should insist on some kind of a pension plan…coming out of the promoter’s end.
    Nothing would stop Boxers from investing or seeking after ring careers…..look at the Klitschko brothers and what they have done with their winnings.

    ...But ...like all the other big time sports…Baseball…Basketball…Football…a continuous effort is made to see that these athletes have something at the end….

    Boxing…needs more work on this….....Joe Frazier died broke….and he’s just the most famous…..not the only one by a long shot.

  18. Ted 01:24pm, 05/14/2013

    Don’t know Tony

  19. Tony 07:08am, 05/14/2013

    Great article, and a wonderful picture as a bonus.

    Does anybody have any sense of the consensus at the time and the historical assessment of the significance of the third Williams-Angott fight?

    It would seem that, whatever the result, the fight would have been considered noteworthy as a match between two guys with tremendous resumes.  Looking back from today, without having been around at the time, the outcome sure seems to be one that would have been hard to predict, and one that would have provoked some discussion.  Yet I’ve seen very little said about it.

    Anyone seen any take on why that might have been?

  20. johnny yuma 07:07am, 05/14/2013

    Funny as it sounds, IKE was one of the most underated greats of all-time. Just look at the list of great fighters he beat. I don’t know why Beau Jack Seems to get more ink.

  21. Tex Hassler 01:49pm, 05/13/2013

    Ike’s victory not once but twice over Sammy Angott says about all you need to know about him. He defeated a bunch of great fighters when there were an amazing amount of truly gifted and highly skilled fighters. In Ike’s era if you were not connected with the wrong people you probably would never get a title shot so let us not hold that against him. Thanks Mr. Sares for another excellent article on an excellent fighter.

  22. Eric Jorgensen 01:18pm, 05/13/2013

    I think Ike Williams is tremendously under-rated today.  I wouldn’t make him an underdog against any lightweight in history except Roberto Duran and MAYBE Henry Armstrong.

  23. Eric 12:42pm, 05/13/2013

    Looks like Jake LaMotta was still trying to make weight in that photo. Suck in that gut, Jake.

  24. Ted 11:36am, 05/13/2013

    Mike, you are so right re: Beau

    And poor Ike was yet another great boxer who died broke.

    Now back on the road again and yes that photo is one to put on my Facebook photo page.

  25. Ted 11:34am, 05/13/2013

    Charlie, all of his awards erase that guilt by association I would guess. He was inducted into more Halls of Fame than Carter had pills.

  26. Ted 11:32am, 05/13/2013

    Thanks Irish, this is about how far I track history as I saw Ike fight on TV.

  27. tED 11:30am, 05/13/2013

    Dollar, I am on the road so I have to slow down.

  28. kid vegas 10:15am, 05/13/2013

    My God, do you realize who is in that photo???

  29. Charles Farrell 09:22am, 05/13/2013

    Do you realize that three of the top ten fighters of all time are in that picture?  And Ike Williams and Joe Louis too. Imagine a photo of seven fighters where Joe Louis is only the fifth best.  And Jake LaMotta the sixth.

  30. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:30am, 05/13/2013

    Ted Sares-Dang! You’re getting better with every outing! Which reminds me…Ike was everything Bill Kelly said he was….. right up to the part about Duran. Ike had all the skill and will in the world…but Roberto was an entirely different animal….who ate his opponents alive along with their skill and will.

  31. dollarbond 07:18am, 05/13/2013

    Ted, you need to slow down.  I have seen you in this machine mode before.  Put her in second gear. LOL.

  32. cnorkusjr 06:28am, 05/13/2013

    It is a shame that a great talent will always be associated with the names of Palermo and Carbo. Like the article insinuates, “He deserved better.”
    Great photo at top of piece.

  33. Mike Casey 05:20am, 05/13/2013

    Beau Jack could never praise the talent of Ike Williams enough - Ike all but begged the ref to stop their ‘48 title fight when Beau was taking a terrible beating.

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