Manny Woods has heard all about the so-called tough fight cities in the United States, among them Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York and even Providence, R.I., the home of five-time world champion Vinny Paz and The Contender star Peter Manfredo Jr.
Next Friday, Woods (15-4-1, 5 KOs) hopes to show New Englanders what his home state, Florida, is all about when he faces undefeated New Haven, Conn., welterweight Jimmy Williams (10-0-1, 5 KOs) on enemy turf.
“Down here, it’s either kill or be killed, man,” said Woods, a St. Petersburg native who enters his Friday, May 13th, 2016 at Twin River Casino with back-to-back wins under his belt and victories in five of his last six fights.
“There’s so much talent around here where I’m from. You have no choice but to get better being from this area.”
Though it often fails to get mentioned among the notoriously celebrated fight regions, Florida has produced a copious amount of talent over the years.
Multi-division world champion and all-time great Roy Jones Jr. was born in Pensacola, located in the northern part of the state just east of Louisiana. Former Olympic medalist and three-time world champ Antonio Tarver hails from Orlando, 100 miles east of St. Petersburg. Keith Thurman, the reigning World Boxing Association (WBA) welterweight champ, lives just 24 miles north in Clearwater and Ronald “Winky” Wright, a former two-time junior middleweight world champion, spent his entire career in St. Petersburg despite being born and raised in the nation’s capital.
Woods never had to look far for inspiration during his first few years as a pro and now, after spending most of his career in the southeast United States fighting in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the 29-year-old right-hander heads north next week to showcase his talent in front of a new audience.
“I’m bringing St. Pete to the house,” he said. “You can expect a lot of excitement.”
For Williams, the 29-year-old former football player turned boxer, this will be the toughest test of his young career. Woods is giving up nearly three inches in height, but is adept at fighting on the inside and working the body, which may be his key to success against the taller, rangier Williams.
“Many Woods brings a lot to the table,” Williams said. “It’s definitely a step-up fight for me. I think it’s a fight that will show what kind of level I’m on.”
This is perfect timing for Williams, who returns for the first time since December and just the second time in the last 15 months due to a hand injury that sidelined for almost all of 2015. He looked a bit rusty in his recent win over awkward, defensive-minded veteran Chris Gray – also of Florida – but is on the precipice of turning 30, an important milestone for all fighters looking to see where they rank among their peers.
“I think this is the fight that will show my fans and give me the confidence I need to keep taking those steps,” he said.
When he turned pro at the age of 26, a late start by most standards, no one really knew what to expect from Williams, both short- and long-term. He had dedicated most of his 20s to football, even earning tryouts with the NFL and CFL before a groin injury derailed his dreams of playing professionally. He returned to his first love, boxing, and debuted in 2013 as the swing bout on a nationally televised NBC Sports card.
With a heavy workload in his first year — six fights in just 10 months — Williams progressed rapidly. He learned from his only blemish, a majority draw against Greg Jackson in 2013, and hasn’t lost since. With his 30th birthday coming up in September, now’s the time to take that next step and see how he measures up against a fighter with a comparable resume.
Even with a minor setback last year stemming from his knockout win over Eddie Caminero momentarily slowing his momentum, Williams’ goals haven’t changed.
“I still want to become a world champion one day and whoever I have to fight to get there, I’m willing to take that path,” he said.
Woods’ manager, Damian Walton, has made it clear his fighter is no stepping-stone. Woods heads to Rhode Island just six weeks after his most recent win, so while he hasn’t had much time to recover, he’s also sharp from having stayed in the gym since beating Elias Espadas on April 1st.
“Manny, taking this fight on the short notice we took it on, people think that’s a negative,” Walton said, “but it’s really like a positive for Manny because he’s one of those types of people where when he’s got that push and drive in him at the right time he just wants to keep the train going.
“To be honest with you, when the fight first came up I was kind of against it because of the time. He said, ‘Man, look, I’ve already got this drive and momentum going. Let’s go get that.’ That’s that lion champion spirit that Manny’s got up in him. You tell Williams he’s going to have to bring his ‘A’ game or it’s going to be a long night for him.”
On a stacked card with so many pick-’em fights, Williams-Woods has Fight of the Night potential written all over it as both combatants take a step up in competition.
“I don’t get too caught up in that trash talking, but I work hard,” Woods said. “I’ve got kids at home. It’s either kill or be killed. I work hard, I bust my own. I put the work in, so come next weekend when that bell goes ‘ding!’ it’s going to be me and him and we’re going to give the fans a show.”
CES Boxing’s May 13th card is headlined by the intra-city, all-Providence super middleweight showdown between “The Pride of Providence” Peter Manfredo Jr. (40-7, 21 KOs) and “Mr. Providence” Vladine Biosse (15-7-2, 7 KOs).
Limited tickets for “THE BATTLE FOR THE CAPITAL” are priced at $46.00, $66.00, $151.00 (VIP) and $201.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club.
Standing room tickets are also available for $46.00 directly through Twin River Casino and can also be purchased online at www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change and tickets are non-refundable.
The Manfredo-Biosse headliner at “THE BATTLE FOR THE CAPITAL” is one of nine fights on a stacked card featuring two title bouts in addition to the professional debuts of two accomplished amateurs from Worcester, Mass.
Worcester’s Khiary Gray (12-0, 9 KOs) also returns on May 13th and puts his Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) Northeast Junior Middleweight Title on the line against Fort Meyers, Fla., vet Quinton Willis (10-3-2, 5 KOs) in an 8-round bout while undefeated Springfield, Mass., junior welterweight Zack Ramsey (7-0, 3 KOs) steps back into the ring for the first time since 2014 to face 20-fight vet Issouf Kinda (17-3, 7 KOs) of New York in a six-round bout.
Regional standouts Nick DeLomba (8-1, 2 KOs) of Cranston, R.I., and the undefeated Freddy Sanchez (7-0, 5 KOs) of Worcester face off in a 6-round bout for the vacant New England Super Featherweight Title.
The May 13th undercard also features a six-round rematch between Stoughton, Mass., super featherweight Travis Demko (4-0, 1 KO) and Mohamad Allam (2-1, 1 KO) of Holyoke, Mass. The two faced one another in September with Demko winning by unanimous decision in a 4-round bout.
Also returning to Twin River, unbeaten Framingham, Mass., lightweight Julio Perez (4-0) faces Providence’s Cido Hoff (0-0-1) in a 4-round bout. Worcester’s Kendrick Ball Jr. makes his professional debut in a 4-round super middleweight bout against Providence’s Tunde Odumosu while fellow Worcester native Jamaine Ortiz debuts in a 4-round bout.