Between he and his brother, Marcus, also a professional fighter, Quinton Willis describes himself as the “mellow one.”
That is, until he’s asked whether or not his upcoming opponent, undefeated junior middleweight Khiary Gray, has ever faced anyone of his caliber. Willis didn’t even need to hear the rest of the question.
“No,” he said matter-of-factly. “Not at all.”
While it doesn’t quite register as “trash talk” — at least not what Gray is used to — it’s obvious the Fort Myers, Fla., vet carries a cool, quiet confidence into his upcoming Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) Northeast Title bout against Gray on Friday, May 13th, 2016 in the eight-round co-feature of “THE BATTLE FOR THE CAPITAL,” presented by CES Boxing at Twin River Casino.
Limited seated 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.
On paper, Willis (10-3-1, 5 KOs) faces long odds against the undefeated, reigning champion from Worcester, Mass., who sports a 12-0 record with nine knockouts — seven in the opening round — but the 32-year-old right-hander is coming off a strong camp, aided by both his brother and father, Larry Willis, who helped break down Gray’s extensive video library.
“Normally I have to go in there blind and just rely on my own talent,” Willis said, “but now we kind of know what he wants to do and what kind of fighter he wants to be.
“A lot of times he’s deceptive in doing the same stuff over and over again, but, at the same time, it’s different, and he tries to tweak it. We’re just trying to pick up on the habits he does consistently. It’s definitely different getting some film we can work off of. Normally, we don’t get that benefit, so it’s a big thing.”
Willis’ manager, Damian Walton, upped the ante, predicting the possibility of a short night for Gray if he doesn’t respect Willis’ punching power.
“This dude Gray ain’t fought nobody like Willis. He ain’t seen nobody like Willis,” Walton said. “We’re coming to their house to take that belt. We’re not coming to lay down. We’re not going to make it easy for him. We’re coming to give him eight rounds of hell. To be honest, it might not even go eight rounds.
“He better bring his ‘A++’ game. He ain’t ever fought no one that hits as hard as Quinton Willis. He’ll have to be ready for that. It ain’t going to be no fun and games in there. I caught a little interview and [Gray] is a little too comfortable for this fight. That’s a problem for me. This is the real deal right here.”
Gray, who actually rivals Willis in his reserved, laid-back demeanor, hasn’t had much to say since the fight was announced in late March, simply pointing out he knows little about Willis and doesn’t seem too concerned with finding out more. He’s equally unfazed by the talk emanating from Willis’ camp.
He heard it last year from Kenton Sippio-Cook, who went to sleep in just under three minutes, and again in February from Cameron Rivera, who never even made it up the steps, derailed by a broken wrist two weeks before the fight.
“Everyone can talk, but it’s about what happens in the ring. That’s how I see it,” Gray said. “Once someone gets punched, their whole game plan goes out the window. We’ll see what happens.”
Willis has won his last three while Gray enters next Friday’s bout having just gone 10 hard rounds with Nicaraguan challenger Eduardo Flores in February, the first time he had gone the distance since his third pro fight in November of 2014. Flores was the last-minute replacement for Rivera, agreeing to the fight less than 36 hours before the weigh-in.
With no background information to digest — Gray didn’t even know what Flores looked like until they stood face-to-face at the scale — Gray found himself learning on the job in what proved to be his most challenging, yet rewarding, victory.
“The knockouts are great, but I want people to see more than my punching power,” Gray said. “I want them to see my boxing. I want them to see my angles. I want them to see my different styles.
“[Flores] was a veteran, so he knew what he was doing. I was prepared for that. I felt great. I felt like I could’ve gone two more rounds.”
He might need the stamina against Willis, who has never been stopped and has boxed 58 rounds in 14 fights, compared to just 30 rounds for Gray in 12 bouts.
Born and raised in a boxing family — “I was in the gym when I had a snotty nose and Pampers on,” he says — Willis works well alongside his father and brother, the latter of whom is 16-4-2 as a pro, by keeping his cool when tempers flare in the gym.
“My dad and my brother are a lot more alike,” Willis said. “Me, I fight, come to the gym and train, and they argue. I’m just the one that laughs and keeps working.”
The film study might give him an edge, but Willis considers it a moot point once the bell rings.
“Honestly, everything is cause and effect with boxing,” he said. “No matter how much you film you get or don’t get, everything is going to be different once you get in that ring, regardless of whether or not he’s seen me fight or knows how I like to fight. Once we get in that ring, he has to adjust, I have to adjust. It’s people playing chess.”
Added Gray: “There’s not much tape on him, just some sparring sessions and what he’s been doing at his gym. It doesn’t bother me. I prepare for any style and any type of opponent.”
On May 13th, it’ll come down to who executes, not who watches the most film or pounds his chest the loudest. The battle lines have been drawn in what figures to be the toughest test of each fighter’s respective career.
“I feel a lot better from my last fight to this fight,” Gray said. “I’ve gained an idea of what it’s like to go the distance and how I came out of it, so this will be just another fight for me.”
“THE BATTLE FOR THE CAPITAL” is headlined by an All-Providence super middleweight showdown in the main event between “Mr. Providence” Vladine Biosse (15-7-2, 7 KOs) and “The Pride of Providence” Peter Manfredo Jr. (40-7, 21 KOs).
On the undercard, unbeaten New Haven, Conn., welterweight Jimmy Williams (10-0-1, 5 KOs) faces St. Petersburg, Fla., veteran Manny Woods (15-4-1, 5 KOs) in a six-round bout.
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 and 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 super lightweight bout against Skowhegan, Maine vet Josh Parker (0-2-1).