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Former Jazz All-Star Deron Williams explains why he's stepping into the boxing ring

Deron Williams of Utah Jazz answers questions from journalists after a training session at the Palacio de los Deportes, in Madrid, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009. The Utah Jazz will be looking to get the NBA back on level terms against Spanish opposition when they face Real Madrid in a preseason game on Thursday.

Deron Williams of Utah Jazz answers questions from journalists after a training session at the Palacio de los Deportes, in Madrid, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009. The Utah Jazz will be looking to get the NBA back on level terms against Spanish opposition when they face Real Madrid in a preseason game on Thursday. (Daniel Ochoa de Olza, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Once the fight was announced, Deron Williams naturally began hearing from his former NBA teammates and rivals.

Most were supportive of the former Utah Jazz All-Star, wishing him well ahead of his debut match. Some, though, had a question: Why in the world is he doing this?

"There's been people like, 'You're fighting Frank Gore! What are you doing? What are you thinking about?' But you know, that's OK," Williams said Tuesday during a press conference in New York City promoting his fight against Gore, the former All-Pro NFL running back, that'll take place Dec. 18 during the undercard of the Tommy Fury-Jake Paul match.

So why is Williams doing this?

That answer to that goes all the way back to when he was a 5-year-old boy growing up in Dallas, Texas.

That's when his mother first signed him up for wrestling. He was an energetic kid that had some athleticism; it seemed like a good fit. The young Williams, however, didn't see it that way — at least not at first. Every weekend was the same. His mother would have to drag him across the mats as he kicked, screamed and cried to try and get out of it.

He was scared to wrestle, but since the dues had already been paid, his mom wasn't about to let him quit.

To be fair, his fear was understandable. He spent his entire first season losing match after match, and soon the feeling of his shoulders being pinned against the mat became all too familiar. He'd come in crying, get pinned and leave — not the best time for a young child.

So his mother expected him to give up the sport after that first year, but a surprising thing happened: He wanted to keep going.

About halfway through his second year, something clicked. He was no longer the kid who was easy to pin.

"I was just like, I'm not going to do this anymore, and I kind of turned into a little animal," Williams said. "So I think, a year and a half of getting beat up and pinned every time out on the mat kind of made me tougher."

That toughness has stayed with him.

In his prime, he was one of the most bruising point guards in the game, using his size to barrel into the paint. That helped him garner multiple All-Star nods — including two while with the Jazz — and help lead Utah to a surprising Western Conference Finals appearance in 2007.

Life after basketball has consisted of training in the MMA octagon, so much so that he came a part owner of Fortis MMA, one of the elite gyms in America.

After training and sparring with so many fighters, the natural next step was an official bout. So when he got a call asking if he'd be interested in fighting Gore, he thought the opportunity was too good to pass up.

"If I didn't take it, I feel like I'd be kicking myself for not jumping on that opportunity for the rest of my life," Williams said. "So here I am."

Both men are treating this seriously. Yes, it has all the making of a made-for-PPV celebrity bout — an NBA All-Star vs. an NFL All-Pro. However, the two athletes don't see it that way. Gore said he's been training boxing every offseason of his long career and Williams has been training MMA for six years. Williams even had an MMA fight lined up a couple of years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that.

While neither fighter knows what their respective future holds in the sport, they want to make it clear they aren't getting into the ring to make a quick buck. To them, this is very real.

"He's been training for years. I've been training for years," Williams said. "I've been doing a lot of MMA, but a lot of the work that I've done is boxing. So it's not new to me. I've sparred with a lot of guys from our gym, a lot of killers from our gym, and I'm excited about this challenge."

Former NBA players, however, don't have the greatest recent history in the ring. Just last year, Nate Robinson was severely overmatched and knocked out in the second round by Jake Paul. Gore, though, isn't doubting Williams due to that.

"I'm not looking at what Nate Robinson did," Gore said. "This man (Williams) is different. He's been doing MMA for six years. So I gotta respect that. He's been wrasslin' since he was a kid. I gotta respect that."

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