7-01-09 Phil Williams part 1
The Drill Speaks – Part II
On his Life, Fighting, and being “Directly Related”
By: Laura Zink
Photographs By: SnapLocally.com
Everything I do is Directly Related to the Inner-city: people who come from a struggle. That’s basically where I came from, so I am showing my Love and Loyalty to these people. I have love for people who are going through those struggles. Everything I do is directly related to helping out those people.
Phil “The D.R.I.L.L.” Williams
In 2003, after just 4 amateur bouts, Phil Williams entered the USA Boxing State Amateur Championships in St. Cloud. His friends, encouraging his boxing pursuits, had given him a new ring name for the occasion. This tournament would be the first time he fought under that name in public. On the first day of the tournament, Williams had Jon Schmidt’s nose bloodied by round 3, earning Schmidt a standing 8 count and resulting in a victory decision for Williams. The next day, Williams beat his next challenger, Chad Tostenson, resulting in another victory decision. After those two victories, the Minnesota Amateur State Champion of 2003 would be known as “The Drill.”
It’s not exactly standard boxing protocol to generate a professional ring name as an amateur, yet Phil Williams has used his moniker, “The Drill,” for 29 amateur fights…and through 12 professional ones.
But just as his ring name was established with untraditional timing, so too were the beginnings of his boxing career. It all began about 10 years ago, when a 22 year old Williams was working as a barber at New Dimensions of Hair in Minneapolis. That day, Williams put down the clippers and thought to himself:
Man, I’m fittin to find me a gym today…
For many involved in the sweet science, picking up boxing at the age of 22 would seem a late start at best, and unpromising at worst. But for Williams, the choice he made that afternoon was fostered from a lifetime of struggle, of change, and, of course, of fighting. Life in the inner-city afforded Williams neither the time nor the leisure to go down to a boxing gym to train. For Williams, life had always been a constant race against time, and by the age of 22, Williams knew that he was lucky not to be in jail…and luckier still to even be alive.
“I am the only male that’s out,” Williams commented about his family in North Minneapolis, “I’m the only male that is free enough. Everybody else is either locked up or they dead. If I could show you my family tree, three of the relatives would be on the one tree and the next two, they are just my homies. But all of them are all buried under the same tree, all next to each other like back-to-back-to-back. 24 years old. 24…actually three of them died at 24. Something about that number 24. I don’t know. They don’t make it to 25.”
And while life in the inner-city had taken so many of his friends and family, Williams survived and became a wiser man for it. To Williams, his experiences and his struggles are all directly related to the man that he is today. Perhaps this is the reason why Williams turned his ring name, which was once only a rhyme, into an acronym. Today, the moniker speaks to his over-arching ambition for both his life and his boxing: Directly Related to the Inner-city with Love and Loyalty.
Phil Williams’ inner-city experience began the day he was born in Queens, New York on July 17, 1977. His mother, a young, rebellious, and roaming spirit, was his only parent. He never met his father, nor did he ever know his name. Before Williams was even 5 years old, his mother took herself and her son on a year-long road trip which would end in South Minneapolis. They would stay there for the rest of Williams’ childhood. Quickly thereafter, Williams’ mother met a new man, and had a son by him, Williams’ half-brother, who would be later known as “Rev.”
Being separated from his mother’s family in New York, Williams’ half-brother’s family soon became his. His brother’s father, who Williams admits today was something of a “career criminal,” became one of the influential male-figures in his life. One of the things that he taught Williams from an early age was the necessity of fighting.
“The thing was that my brother’s dad and that whole side of the family, they all would fight,” Williams said, “All they did was teach us how to fight. Fight, fight, fight. It was like, ‘I been fighting people. You can’t run. You always got to fight boy!’ He would teach us how to fight…and I was little. They made me fight all the time. Even when I was waist high, he would punch me in the chest. You didn’t get a whopping. You would get punched in the chest, or in the arm, or in the leg, or something like that. That was how we were raised up.”
But it wasn’t just at home where Williams learned the necessity of fighting, everywhere outside the house, similar lessons abounded.
“Well first of all, they like to fight,” Williams explained about the people he grew up with in South and North Minneapolis, “All the time arguing. Everything is real competitive. Everything that you do, it always resorts to some type of conflict. Football, sports, especially basketball. We would always start some type of conflict because that’s how you grow. Everywhere you go, there is so much tension going on. You go home and you deal with so much stress. And by the time you go outside all you learn is that you want it take it out on something. Everyone has so much aggression going on that they always try to start some type of conflict.”
“Always growing up, where ever we were at, it was a combative mode,” Williams continued, “It was always who was tougher than who. And I always could box. In the neighborhood all the kids would get together and we would slap box. I always had a big forehead, and I was always muscular. And because I had a big forehead and I was so big, everybody called me Sugar Ray Leonard. They thought I looked like Sugar Ray, so I always took on the Sugar Ray. When I was boxing, I was always trying to do what he was doing.”
Based on these formative experiences, it is not hard to understand how Williams became drawn at a very early age to professional boxing. One of his fondest professional boxing memories dates back to when he was 9 years old. In April of 1987, Williams watched the Sugar Ray Leonard/Marvin Hagler fight.
“I couldn’t wait for the Sugar Ray/Hagler fight even though I was going with Hagler,” Williams mused, “I was fighting like Sugar Ray, but I liked Hagler. I was going with him, and I was mad that Sugar Ray won. And even today I still got it 8-4. I got 8 rounds for Hagler. It should have been a 15 rounder. Hagler wanted the fight so bad that he basically let them [Sugar Ray’s team] make up all the rules. They fought with 10 oz gloves in a big ring and it was a 12 rounder. So basically, it was all Sugar Ray’s rules.”
Even though he was only 9 years old when he saw that fight, Williams learned by what happened to Hagler that there were two kinds of fighters: one kind of fighter he wanted to be…and the other kind, he didn’t.
“Hagler? I just like the type of man he was,” Williams explained, “When he went into that ring and he was in shape, he just keeps on comin’. No matter what you do to him, he just keeps on wanting to fight. You couldn’t knock him out. You couldn’t hit him with a brick and knock him out. And just the way he looked. He was intimidating and he was fierce. He didn’t play no games in the ring. He didn’t mind fighting anybody. There was nobody that he would turn down. And he would just keep on coming…non-stop. He didn’t play any of those games or boxing around.”
“He fought Duran and Hearns and he beat Duran and Hearns, and I thought he won the Sugar Ray fight, too,” Williams reflected. “But they tried to play him because he didn’t have the kind of charisma that Sugar Ray had. If he had the charisma that Sugar Ray had he could have been a much better fighter than he was…as far as marketing. But other than that, he was a straight fighter. Fighters like that are the ones I really kinda draw to, more than the made-up fighters. I can’t stand the made up fighters. Like De La Hoya, they gave him everything. Like Roy Jones. I don’t like Roy Jones too much.”
And while Williams figured out that he didn’t like made-up fighters, he figured out something much simpler that he didn’t like: the way his mom cut his hair.
“We didn’t go to the barber shop once,” Williams explained. “Our mom used to cut our hair…a bowl-cut. So I got tired one day of my mom cutting my hair, so I cut my own hair. And when I started cutting my own hair, I started cutting the hair of my brother. Then I started cutting hair of the people in the building and people who stayed in the neighborhood, and I started getting like 5 dollars for it. And I could draw designs in the back of your head because I could always draw. So I been cutting hair since I was a shorty, like 10 or 11.”
“What I did then, is what I do now,” Williams reflected. “Fighting and cutting hair. That’s all I ever did my entire life.”
Knowing Williams today, his two most important gifts were revealed to him by the age of 11. One could say that this was the point in Williams’ life where his life experiences began to become “directly related.” By the fifth grade, he worked as an amateur barber, and as for fighting, he had already proven that he was a force to be reckoned with.
“I definitely fought a lot in elementary school,” Williams remembered. “Elementary school, junior high school…as a matter of fact, in fifth grade they were calling me the toughest kid in school. The thing was I always wanted to fight the toughest kid in school to figure out who the toughest kid really was. I always tried to fight him first. That’s how we came up. If you fought the toughest one, then you would be the toughest one. That was the proper heritage thing.”
But Williams would not get to test this “proper heritage” in the ring until nearly 12 years later. And until he would be able to make that decision to step into the ring, Williams would keep practicing “proper heritage” on the street. Before he was even 11 years old, Williams was introduced to gangs.
“Even before I moved over to Northside, I was affiliated because of family members,” Williams explained about his first experiences with gangs, “The people that you grow up with is who you call your family. People I was growing up with were always claiming gangs and stuff like that, so we were affiliated because of family. Even when I moved up to the Northside, we stayed connected because coming up with them, we called each other family because we knew each other better even than our own family. That’s why I have family out here now. It’s because I was raised up with these people.”
“Over south, there’s a lot of Bloods over south,” Williams explained further. “There was a lot of Bloods over there, but I was never really with them. I know a lot of them from growing up and I still know a lot of them now, but a lot of them are in jail and other things happen, too. But some of them are still out there. We see each other and give each other a handshake or whatnot because we grew up with each other before stuff got real serious. Before when you grow up in the gangs, it was all about fighting. Growing up a little bit more, it started turning into shooting. You got your friends shooting at their friends. It’s people you know, so you are like, ‘Wow.’ It gets real ugly when it comes to that. Especially when you have a small community, everybody knows everybody. So if you grew up on one side of town, and now you move to another side of town, you have friends that are on opposite sides of this…and don’t like each other. But, it was like, I don’t want to be trading off for one side for the other. So, you really got to know what you are getting yourself into when you start getting into this stuff, man. We were people coming from the outside trying to get in…and that’s when people get hurt.”
When Williams was 15 years old he, his mother, and his half-brother moved to North Minneapolis. Not surprisingly, his life experience up to this time had already made him feel old beyond his years. And just as he was beginning to get “inside” with the people in his new neighborhood, Williams had his first son. He was 17 years old.
“Being out and having to do a lot of stuff at an early age, I felt like more of an adult before my time,” Williams said, “So when I was 17, I felt like I was grown. I felt that I could make money and take care of my kid, so I didn’t panic at all when I was having him. I just kept doing what I was doing. I thought if I can make money and take care of my son, that I was good. What I didn’t understand was that I had to be more of an example at the time. I was still getting in trouble back and forth, and I did some short stints in jail, but I wouldn’t get long time at all. I was getting caught for all types of little stupid stuff. I had a couple of weapons charges on my record there. I think I went to jail 3 times just for weapons. The first time I was 18.”
Very quickly afterward making money whatever way he could took precedent over his education. Williams dropped out of high school at 17. But he did not fall out into obscurity. In fact by the time he was 18, his face was on every news channel in the greater Twin Cities Area. Phil Williams had made headlines. And what was all this media attention for?
“It was an ugly incident,” Williams responded. ““We were just hanging out downtown because everyone was hanging out down there. At that time, downtown always something was happening. Some type of shooting or something crazy going on down there. There were rival gangs and all down there. That night, there was a lot of shooting going on.”
“Once the shooting started happening, everybody started dispersing,” Williams explained about the events that evening. “There was a white dude, one bullet hit him right in his ass. That man pulled his pants down about a hundred times. Shots was fired and he was standing on the corner pulling his pants up and down over his ass. Then there was a bullet that bounced off the wall and hit a girl in the head, and there was a dude that got shot in the knee. They let the girl who got shot in the head and the dude who was shot in the leg go to the hospital. So they ended up being cool. They ended up being all right, but the one dude, his leg is still messed up to this day. He got caught right in his knee cap…so he still has a funny walk.”
After the shooting that evening, Williams was arrested by the police and taken to jail. The next morning when the guards turned on the television in the quad of Hennepin County Jail, Phil Williams saw himself on television being pushed into a cop car.
“I saw myself on channel 4, 5, 9, and 11. I tried to curl. I was trying to hide my head,” Williams laughed, “I was getting pushed into the car and I thought, ‘Oh man!’”
“I saw the footage the next morning at about 6 o’clock in the morning…whenever it was that they turn the tv on in the morning,” Williams said. “When you are in the quad they turn the tv on for you. All they let you watch is news anyway. We were all laughing.”
“There was another dude that got caught for another shooting, but he got caught further down the highway,” Williams further explained about his experience in jail. “He was shooting at somebody and he tried to get away from the police. He was trying to get away on the highway, and the car ended up turning over. So he was in there too and when he saw it, we ended up all laughing at it. There were two shootings in the same night, and me and this dude ended up getting locked up together. He did his shooting an hour before in the parking lot. So the police was already down there because they were looking for him, too. We got there about an hour after he did. So when they came down, we were standing on the corner. There was a lot of shooting going on down there right on the corner by Pizza Luce. That’s where most of the shooting happened…right there.”
Williams was released shortly thereafter due to a lack of evidence. But before he had a chance to explain himself, the neighborhood, his family, and even his old high school had gotten the newspaper reports which blamed him for the events that evening. At his old high school, Patrick Henry High, the principal held an assembly to discuss the crimes. But the biggest message of the event, and the one which got back to Williams, was the principal’s admonition to the students and their families:
You don’t want to end up like Phil Williams.
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