With encouragement from Atlas, Williams rounds into championship form

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Thomas Williams Jr. was being interviewed earlier this month by Teddy Atlas when the ESPN ringside analyst revealed his 60th birthday is July 29, the day Williams challenges 175-pound champion Adonis Stevenson in a clash of southpaws.

Edwin Rodriguez and Thomas Williams Jr.

Thomas Williams Jr. looks on as Edwin Rodriguez falls to the canvas courtesy of a monster left hook. Rodriguez beat the count, but the referee deemed him unfit to continue, giving Williams his third straight win. (Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions)

“I want a birthday present,” Atlas told Williams while working a July 9 card highlighted by Mario Barrios’ unanimous decision over Devis Boschiero in Trenton, New Jersey.

Williams’ response: “I’ll give it to you.”

“Thomas’ two daughters were sitting behind me during the broadcast, and I had talked to them before they went to sleep,” Atlas said. “They’re beautiful children. No birthday present would be more special than to be able to tell them their father’s the light heavyweight champion of the world.”

Thomas Williams Jr. (20-1, 14 KOs) will get that opportunity when he challenges Adonis Stevenson (27-1, 22 KOs) at Centre Videotron in Quebec City (Spike, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). It will be Stevenson’s first fight since September and his seventh title defense, while Williams will be gunning for a championship for the first time.

“Me and Teddy have a good relationship. We talk on occasion, and he’s my teacher inside and outside the ring,” says Williams, 28. “Teddy wants a good birthday present, and I’ll be looking to give him that July 29.”

The bond between Williams and Atlas was born out of a career-low point for the “Top Dog.” It was in August 2014 when Williams took a 17-0 record into his fight with fellow southpaw Gabriel Campillo, a former titleholder on the back end of his career. The bout was televised on ESPN, with Atlas at his usual ringside post.

“I’m a fan of Thomas Williams,” Atlas said before the bout. “This guy has talent [and] is also TV-friendly.”

Williams dominated the first two rounds, then in Round 4, the narrative shifted when Campillo unleashed a series of punches, one of which opened a cut over Williams’ left eye and bloodied his nose.

By the fifth round, with Williams fighting on his heels and clearly rattled by the sight of his own blood, Atlas exclaimed: “He’s worried. … We are seeing the unraveling of a prospect right now!”

Thomas Williams has done what’s necessary to achieve that destiny and determine his fate. He’s doing the work, connecting the dots, and he’s on that journey. Teddy Atlas, longtime trainer and ESPN analyst

At the conclusion of the fifth, a discombobulated Williams returned to his corner, where his trainers asked the ringside doctor to examine their fighter’s eye. When the doctor determined it would be too risky to continue the bout, Campillo was declared the winner by stoppage, and Williams had the first loss of his career.

Before exiting the ring, though, Williams walked over to where Atlas was sitting, stuck his head between the ropes and apologized to the legendary trainer “for letting you down.” In return, Atlas offered Williams words of encouragement, saying it was up to him to determine how his career would unfold moving forward.

“I believe the Campillo fight was a blessing in disguise,” Williams says. “It definitely gave me the motivation to push harder. Anyone watching me can absolutely see that.”

Indeed, the lifelong resident of Fort Washington, Maryland, has rebounded with a trio of victories, the latest being a sensational second-round knockout of Edwin Rodriguez on April 30 that set up the showdown with Stevenson.

“I believe in karma, destiny and fate. Everything happens for a reason, including the loss to Campillo,” Atlas says. “I believe the Campillo fight had to happen for Thomas to be the fighter he’s become.

“Thomas has done what’s necessary to achieve that destiny and determine his fate. He’s doing the work, connecting the dots, and he’s on that journey.”

But can Williams end Stevenson’s three-year reign and deliver Atlas his desired birthday gift? The trainer/analyst believes Williams can with continued evolution, particularly by eliminating his propensity for throwing wide punches and hitting the deck.

For example, Williams traded first-round knockdowns before dropping and stopping Humberto Savigne in November, and similarly scored a first-round knockout of Cornelius White in January 2014, when White went down twice and Williams once.

Although rocked a couple of times by Rodriguez, Williams’ defense was tighter and his punches more direct and up the middle. More importantly, he floored Rodriguez without being dropped himself.

“With a puncher like Stevenson, Thomas has to be as concise and tight as possible with his offense, and [understand] there is no room for giving up defense for offense,” Atlas says. “He’s got to move to the left away from Stevenson’s power. But there’s always a second way: Catch Stevenson before he catches you.”

For full coverage of Stevenson vs Williams, hit up our fight page.

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