ST. LOUIS – Before the marriage between boxing and HBO, boxing fans could watch their favorite fighters on regular network television. It was during that era that lifetime boxing fan, promoter and filmmaker Earl McWilliams Jr. developed his love for boxing.
He calls that time “the good ole days.”
Watching the likes of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard on television was a family tradition passed on from his father. Today, one step into his home and it will be instantly clear where his passion lies. His home is a boxing fan’s mecca, with photos representing some of the greatest fighters and fight moments in the history of the sport.
McWilliams jokes that those iconic photos, some which include a photo of him with the legendary Joe Frazier, “came with the home.”
McWilliams’ passion for boxing, however, did not end with a mere reverence of the greats. He fueled his love first by working as an amateur fight judge and, ultimately, by becoming a boxing promoter.
His company, Elite Boxing Promotions, sponsors boxing events throughout the city and county. McWilliams will tell you that while the boxers themselves receive the accolades, it is the trainers who are the unsung heroes of the sport.
One of those trainers, the late Ben Stewart – dubbed the “Guru” in local boxing circles – was the inspiration for McWilliams’ film “Road to the Pros.” Steward, a fixture at Wohl Recreation Center on North Kingshighway Boulevard, died late in 2018 but was a central figure in the film.
McWilliams notes that although the film centers on boxing, he sees it as a human interest story as much as a sports story. Acknowledging the importance of a bond between athletes and coaches, “Road to the Pros” explores the unique relationship between a boxer and his trainer.
The film also pays homage to history. St. Louis has long been a source of boxing champions, and McWilliams cites an impressive Hall of Fame-laden list that includes Henry Armstrong, Archie Moore, Sonny Liston, the Spinks family and Devon Alexander. Those names and more reflect St. Louis’ rich boxing legacy. McWilliams believes that his film, which showcases emerging fighters, will help to build on that legacy, but he notes that a revival in corporate sponsorship is critical to its future.
Boxing has long been lauded for its ability to attract youth and create a new path of opportunities. McWilliams says that giving young people positive goals to aspire to and potentially diverting them away from crime – perhaps even to a Hall of Fame career – is one of boxing’s best attributes.
“Road to the Pros” will air at the Brown Hall Auditorium on the campus of Washington University on Sunday, July 14, at 8:30 p.m. as part of the Saint Louis Filmmakers Showcase.