Anthony "A.J." Williams works in science by day and in the sweet science by night.
He's accustomed to the good-natured verbal jabs he takes about his pursuit of a boxing career.
"They actually just make jokes about it all day every day," the 26-year-old fighter said of his colleagues at Parexel International, a bio/pharmaceutical services organization, where he works as a research technician in Baltimore.
"When I was an amateur, I had to be clean-shaved. So I came into work with a pencil mustache looking like I was someone's father. But they are all actually pretty excited about watching me fight."
They'll get that opportunity Friday, when Williams, a Cockeysville resident, makes his professional debut at the "Salisbury Slugfest" at Wicomico Youth & Civic Center on a card presented by Jake the Snake Promotions. He'll fight Issa Coulibaly of Washington.
Williams was captain of the Penn State boxing team and placed third in the National Collegiate Boxing Association tournament in 2010, earning All-America status.
Since moving to Baltimore, he has trained with Jake "The Snake" Smith at Baltimore Boxing in Fells Point.
"As long as he trains hard and he's in the gym he's going to be all right," said Jeff Passero, one of his trainers. "He's a good boxer with fair power but needs to continue just working on his conditioning for this next fight.
"Since he's turning pro, he's getting serious now about coming to the gym. It was probably difficult for him at first trying to balance school with training, but I think he is very focused on being the best boxer he can be now. He's lost his last couple of fights, but I told him the only way you're going to get better is if you train hard. If you don't train like the best you're not going to beat the best, but he's definitely motivated to turn pro."
Williams, a middleweight, uses his 6-foot-4, 160-pound frame to his advantage, smothering opponents with his length and combining it with his powerful right hand.
"He's tall, and his reach is the best thing working for him," said Jerome Featherstone, a fellow Baltimore Boxing club fighter. "When he uses his length, he's so tough to get into."
Williams has fought 20 amateur bouts during four years in the ring.
"I need to work on everything," he said. "My biggest thing right now is working on my jab and just being confident and really sitting on my punches, transferring all of my power from my legs to my hands. That way I can be a lot more powerful when I'm in the ring."
Williams is influenced by fighters such as Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns, who overwhelmed opponents with power, and Floyd Mayweather Jr., who uses speed and defense to outbox fighters.
"Before the night of the semifinal match that I had at nationals I watched a couple of Tommy's fights. I pretty much try to embody their style and do everything they did," he said.
Williams' punching power can sometimes be difficult to sustain through a 10-round fight because of his injury history. Williams has had six knee surgeries, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in both joints, tearing a meniscus in his left and dislocating his right. The damage was done not in the ring, but while playing basketball, which he did for one year at Sussex Technical High in Georgetown, Del., near where he grew up in Frankford, and two years at Penn State Schuylkill.
"I've had fewer injuries in boxing than I've had in basketball," he said.
One type of injury that concerns boxers is brain trauma.
"I haven't had any concussions yet, thank God, but I feel like the injuries and stuff that pros develop are more because of overuse and not getting out of the sport fast enough," Williams said.
"I feel like if I start having concussions and things like that I will get out of the sport immediately, because no amount of money is worth my health. So I feel like it's more of a longevity thing. If your speech patterns start changing, it's time to get out."