Cleveland Williams

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World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Cleveland Williams
Alias: Big Cat
Birth Name: Cleveland T. Williams
Born: 1933-06-30
Birthplace: Griffin, Georgia, USA
Died: 1999-09-11 (Age:66)
Hometown: Houston, Texas, USA
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 6′ 3″   /   191cm
Reach: 80″   /   203cm
Boxing Record: click

Trainers: Al Silvani, Bill Gore, and Billy DeFoe (1968)

Cleveland Williams Gallery

Career Review

  • Born on a farm.
  • Noted for his knockout punch.
  • Turned pro in the Southern hicktown league.
  • Ran up an impressive string of knockouts.
  • Overmatched early in his career and suffered a brutal knockout loss to Bob Satterfield on Miami Beach.
  • Was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop. Lost a kidney and went from 218lbs. to 145lbs.
  • Was able to return to the ring and earned a title shot against Muhammad Ali.
  • Made an unsuccessful comeback in the late 1960s; marked by knockout losses to Mac Foster and Al Jones.
  • Won his last 3 fights.
  • Reportedly fought in the Bahamas in the early 1970s, but it turned out to be another fighter named Cleveland Williams.
  • Had kidney problems later in life.
  • Featured on the cover of the Nov. 1966 The Ring magazine
  • On September 3, 1999, while crossing the street, Williams was hit by a car. He died on September 10, 1999 in Houston.
  • Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
  • Find a Grave

Altercation with Texas Highway Patrolman

On the night of Nov. 29, 1964, Williams's car was stopped near Houston by a highway patrolman, Dale Witten, who said he was speeding. According to the police, Williams resisted arrest, and the officer's .357 magnum revolver went off in a struggle. The bullet moved across Williams's intestines and lodged against his right hip.

Williams always maintained that while he had been drinking, he had not been drunk and was driving normally. Witten proceeded to drive Williams to an area of Houston that Williams later described as "tough on black folks." As this was segregation-era Texas, Williams became alarmed and Witten drew his .357 magnum on him. Still in the car, Williams tried to grab the pistol and was shot in the lower abdomen.

Williams lay in the street for some time while the police and local whites decided what to do with him. He eventually reached a hospital.

Williams underwent four operations over the next seven months for colon damage and an injured right kidney, which was removed in June 1965. Doctors did not take out a bullet that had broken his right hip joint and caused partial paralysis of some hip muscles.

"It is a miracle that he is not in braces," his surgeon, Dr. Don Quast, said two years later.

After being released from the hospital, Williams was charged with driving while intoxicated and aggravated assault on a peace officer.

Williams lost almost 60 pounds off his 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound frame, but he regained strength by tossing 80-pound hay bales on a cattle ranch in Yoakum, Tex., owned by his manager, Hugh Benbow.

In May 1965, Williams was arrested after his wife called the police and said he threatened her and was waiting outside of her place of work with a pistol. Williams was charged with carrying a pistol.

On August 13, 1965, Williams pleaded no contest to the three charges against him. He was assessed concurrent 30-day sentences in jail and fined $50.

He returned to the ring on Feb. 8, 1966, in Houston, receiving a 10-minute ovation from his hometown fans that began when he walked down the aisle and didn't conclude until he appealed for quiet with a finger to his lips.

The Houston Post said it was "the greatest single ovation ever paid one man in Houston athletics."