Boxer John “Spidey” Williams is ranked 41 in his weight class in the country. He is also a poet. “I wanted people to understand and listen to my words rather than just think I’m a fighter,” he says. “A lot of times they say boxers are not thinkers.” (Photo: Briana Duggan, WFAE)
By Briana Duggan | WFAE
Boxing requires physical strength, to be sure, but a boxer’s words can also pack a punch.
Perhaps the best known wordsmith is Muhammad Ali, who is known for his clever rhymes, like in 1974 when he said, “I have rustled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale, I done handcuffed lighting, thrown thunder in jail. One local boxer – John “Spidey” Williams – also embraces poetry.
Every boxer needs a stage name. Joe Lewis was known as “The Brown Bomber,” and Roberto Duran was “Hands of Stone.” When it came time for Williams to name himself, he decided to combine his two passions, what he calls his “two forms of release.” He became Spidey “The Boxing Poet” Williams.
Williams is one of the area’s best boxers. At last check, BoxRec ranked him 41st in the country in the light welterweight class, which is 140 pounds and under. By day he works and trains in a gym in southwest Charlotte, but at night he’s often in front of a small crowd, performing his poetry at local open-mic nights.
On this evening, he’s at Poor Richard’s Bookshop, a cozy second floor space in uptown’s Brevard Court. Williams stands in front of a younger crowd of a couple dozen, introduces himself, and launches into his first poem, a piece dedicated to his 7-year-old daughter.
“I don’t know where to begin, I feel as empty as space between paper, and pen. Face left gazing at my life, like this can’t be the end.”
Williams’ poetry doesn’t pay his bills; boxing does. So after he finishes, he makes his rounds promoting his upcoming fight. And in what his friends say is typical behavior, he gives a wink, lifts up a shirt and shows off his washboard abs.
He has fun with his poetry, but Williams takes his work seriously. He has self-published five books of poetry and says he’s written over 1,300 poems.
He goes out to poetry events several times a week, although his coach prefers he takes a break when a fight is coming up.
“My coach always tell me, ‘Spidey, I need a beast not a poet in the ring,’” Williams says. “And I tell him poetry is a whole different feeling. It’s the greatest feeling when somebody comes to you and says ‘I love your words’ or ‘I needed that poem.’ That right there is the best payment you can ever receive.”
He started boxing as a personal challenge about seven years ago, when he was 22.
“I was watching Felix Trinidad against Winky Wright,” Williams says. “I always bet on boxing, and I always loved the sport. And I was losing money, ‘cause my guy that I bet on, Felix Trinidad, was losing. And I say ‘I can do better than that.’”
Williams certainly has a following. About 200 came out to his latest fight, where he was the main event. Many dressed in “Team Spidey” t-shirts, which are often cut and tied into different fashions, or altered into dresses. People are enjoying themselves, but the reality is boxing is a tough business. After all, you’re getting hit in the face for a living.
“My coach tells me, ‘Spidey, if you can win with just a jab, win with just a jab,’ because we don’t know how much damage your head is taking.”
Williams makes about $950 from this fight, plus a little more in “Team Spidey” t-shirt sales. The mother of three of his children, Scarlet Price, takes in the show a few rows back. She says boxing money is like any hustle, “you have your up days you have your down days,” she says, “but it’s all worth it in the end. It shows your kids how to work and how to grind and that things don’t come easy, but if you’re determined and have a dream, live it.”
Williams wins the match, which brings him to a record of 11-2-1. He puts on his shirt, steps off the stage and then reconsiders the whole shirt thing.
“Too many cameras to be having a shirt on,” he says, “too many cameras.”