Presque Isle’s Heavyweight Champion
During the early 1940s the fight game was very popular in Maine and especially Northern Maine. Presque Isle had its own local fighter who gained prominence not only locally but around the state and New England. Gil “Bunny” Williams a 1936 graduate of Presque Isle was one of the most talked about fighters in the state in 1941. He had rocketed into the boxing limelight with impressive heavyweight victories over Danny Needham, Vic Martin, Leo Daigle, Ike Thomas and many other prominent Maine fighters.
Williams who was a large man weighing in at slightly over 200 pounds was managed by Lloyd Poole and promoted by Forest Fleming of Bangor. Williams made his pro heavyweight debut by defeating Al Sargent of Ellsworth in two rounds. Williams won his second straight pro fight by with a three round kayo of Al Robertson of Bangor. Roberts was knocked down three times by Williams, on the last knock down he tried to get up but fell out of the ring.
On Sept. 2nd, 1941 Williams stopped Sailem Thomas of Waterville in the fifth round. This set up a rematch between the two fighters that was held at Ginn’s Pavilion September 10, 1941. This was the feature match of a four fight card at the Pavilion. Interest in Williams fighting ability had picked up tremendously as he had battered his opponents to the canvas in short order. His trainer, Lloyd Poole had been coaching Williams in the Jack Dempsey style of fighting, meaning hard short jabs and no stalling. Eight hundred boxing fans jammed Ginn’s Pavilion (many others were turned away) to see the “Pride of Aroostook” pick up his fourth straight win. In the third round Williams unleashed a smashing left hook that sent Thomas sprawling to the canvas where he was counted out by referee Dunc McDonald of Bangor. Thanks to Williams boxing was making a comeback in the potato capital.
Gil William’s fifth fight was held October 2nd at the Opera House in Presque Isle where he took on Lionel Daigle who was the top heavy weight from the St. John Valley. Williams and Daigle battled to a six round draw in front of 700 fans. At this time it was getting difficult to line up fighters for Williams since the army had taken so many young men into the service. He was not quite ready for the best of heavyweights but he was better than the average fighter. He was considered a great prospect who was tough and a real hard puncher. Several scheduled fights were cancelled as a result of injury to some fighters and for a lack of available facilities in Presque Isle. In early November Williams did defeat Jerry Martin a St. Francis prospect in Bangor. Early in the fourth round Williams nailed Martin with a jolting right to the chin, followed by rights and lefts to the head and he went down for the count.
By some Maine sports writers Williams was being considered Maine’ heavyweight champion. He was Maine’s bid for the New England heavyweight title. The big fighter searched Maine in vain for opponents in his weight class. Williams was scheduled to fight Al Roberts of Bangor Dec. 17th in Caribou’s Rudy Theatre. The fight was later cancelled when Roberts came up with a sore right fist. In late December of 1941 Rocks Young Maine’s Boxing Commissioner declared Gil “Bunny” Williams Maine’s Heavyweight Champion. This would be the highlight of the young fighter’s career and he went on to defend his crown against the best fighters in Maine and New Hampshire.
In 1942 Williams was still having difficulty getting fighters to step into the ring with him. He had been improving immensely as a fighter and it was believed he had a good chance of moving up the fighting ladder.
In January of ’42 Maine’s heavyweight champion Gil Williams knocked out Louie Flowers of New York in the third round of their scheduled six round bout held at the Exposition Building in Portland. Williams had Flowers in trouble in the second round and early in the third landed a terrific right to the jaw of Flowers bouncing him off the ropes and onto the canvas where he was counted out. Flowers had trained with several leading contenders and was rated a promising boxer throughout New England.
Williams also defeated Armand Roy the New Hampshire heavyweight champion. Williams broke his right hand in the second round but went on the gain the decision over the versatile Roy.
Austin Goodwin sports editor of the Portland Sunday Telegram had this quote about the Maine Heavyweight Champion. “The sturdy Presque Isle potato farmer, Gilbert Williams, has all the natural assets to make him a top notch heavyweight according to experts who have watched him in action. The 200 pound youngster is perfectly built with broad shoulders, fine chest, small waist and race horse legs and best of all he has guts.” He also indicated that he did need some schooling on the finer techniques of fighting.
On August 4th 1942 Williams would face his toughest foe of his career in Danny Needham of Bath at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds. The 205 pound champion defended his title successful when he won a ten round decision over Needham before a record crowd of 1500 people. The fight was held outside in autumn weather and threatening skies. The fight was sponsored by the Presque Isle Fire Dept., promoted by Lloyd Poole assisted by Johnny Chaisson; Linwood Chase and Ansil Adams were judges and Dunc McDonald refereed the bout.
Gil entered the service in January of 1943 where he served until 1946. Following his discharge he went back to the boxing ring and worked at R.W. Wight Furniture Co. He fought three more fights, one of his verdicts was over Patsy Devine from Boston, a former New England heavyweight title holder, and it appeared the Gil was ready to climb the boxing ladder. The fight held at the Air Base saw Williams get knocked down twice in the second round only to bounce back in the fourth round to knock down Devine four times. Referee Rufus Bernard stopped the fight giving Williams the win. He recorded one more victory and was then challenged by Charlie Babcock of Bangor for his title. The fight drew a capacity crowd of 1200 at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds. Gil won the first round continually scoring on long lefts. The second rounds saw Babcock using left jabs to the jaw and right crosses which eventually knocked Williams down at the end of the round. William’s handlers did not let him answer the bell for the third round ending the fight. This was the last bout of his career and he retired from the boxing game. He felt that he had lost strength in his legs and it was time to get done. Many wise ring followers had stated that if the war had not taken so much out of Williams the Presque Isle battler could have gone a long way in the boxing game.
In the early years of his career Gil worked on his aunt’s farm, the Presque Isle Police Department and for a heating contractor on the air base. While in high school he was a four year member of the Future Farmers of America and was the FFA state president. He married Elizabeth “Betty” Adams September 2, 1946. Gil and Betty had five children; Mikel, Deborah, Scott, David and Pam. He was in the reserves and was called back to active duty in November of 1950. The U.S. Air Force which was his occupation until he retired in 1974 as a Chief Master Sgt. after 30 years service to his country. He and his family returned to Presque Isle where he worked at Potato Service Inc. as Packaging Manager and completed his B. S. degree in accounting. In 1981 his wife, Betty, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Gil later remarried and had a daughter Andrea. He moved to North Carolina in 1985 where he now resides with his daughter Samantha. He worked for Furniture Foundation in 1988 for a brief time and worked for Aus-Ben Industries as maintenance supervisor and retired for good in December of 2001. Gil said he got into boxing because his father was a great boxing fan and would listen to fights on the radio. He and trainer Lloyd Poole talked him into fighting. The high point of his career was winning the state championship, it was the longest and toughest fight he had. He also won the silver glove program which was sponsored by the Bangor Daily News. I was informed that Gil “Bunny” Williams is still in great physical condition and enjoys bowling several times a week.
I wish to thank the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library, The UMPI Library, Gil’s daughters Deborah and Samantha, and his sister-in-law Joanne Garland for their contributions to this article. If you wish to comment on the article call 207-764-1217.