He was born and fighting under the name of Wesley Watson, Jr. before changing his name to Bilal A. El in 2007 accepting Islam while in the military and legally changed his name.
Bilal A. El was inducted into The Delaware Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame, Inc. Class of 2017. Better late than ever but his mother brought this to my attention recently while at the Arcadia Re-Hab in Wilmington, DE, visiting my friend well known boxing man Dave Ruff. I did an article on Watson back in July 13, 2011 when writing for Doghouse Boxing and gave her a copy.
Watson was born in Wilmington, DE, the oldest of five siblings, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1982 after a James H. Groves High School graduation. He served in the Army from 1981 to 1987 as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, NC. Watson became a heavyweight boxing champion on the Ft. Bragg Boxing team. Notable achievements include FORSCom Boxing Championships 1984 to 1987, All Army Champion 1984 to 1987, Armed Forces Inter-service Champion 1984 to 1986, USAABF National Boxing Championship 1985 and was on the International Olympic Boxing Team against USSR and Argentina in 1985.
Among Watson’s teammates were Ray “Mercilus” Mercer (WBO Heavyweight champion 1991), 36-7-1 with 26 KO’s as a pro, “King” Kennedy McKinney (36-6-1 with 19 KO’s, IBF Super Bantam 1992-94 and WBO super Bantam 1997-98), Anthony “Hollywood” Hembrick (1988 Olympian, 31-8-2 with 22 KO’s as pro), Andrew “Boxing” Maynard (1988 Olympic Gold Medalist, 26-13-1 21 KO’s as pro), and Al “Ice” Cole (IBF Cruiserweight champion 1992-95, 35-16-3 with 16 KO’s).
“He (Watson) was tough and the first guy I saw in the Army that could box. I was the heavyweight and he was the super heavyweight. He had more experience than I did. We sparred many times and at the time he was too big. He was one of the nicest guys though,” said Mercer.
Watson was the 1985 1985 AAU champion and the 1988 runner-up. He defeated Alex Garcia (40-6-1 with 29 KO’s as a pro) with earlier and then lost to him in the tournament. Watson was 6:04 and around 230# boxing as an amateur.
Those who knew Watson on his Army team had plenty to say. “He had all the attributes, size and height. He was a good fighter and the first champ out of Ft. Bragg in 1983,” said McKinney. “He had a great amateur career. He went from scratch to becoming a National Champion in 2 1/2 years. He was always so calm. He would let the smaller guys pick on him even though he was much stronger,” said Alfonso Smith. He was the assistant coach to Hank Johnson.
After being Honorably Discharged in 1987, Watson decided to box as a professional recording 17 wins, 3 loses and 13 KO’s. “In the Army I had Hank Johnson, Kenny Adams and Alfonso Smith for coaches. It was an honor serving under them along with Charles Mooney (1976 Olympian). They were the best. When I turned professional Frank Slaughter was my manager. I turned pro in the south in Bristol, TN,” said Watson. That area was known for their speedway racing.
Head coach Kenny Adams one not to mince words said this of Watson, “Very nice, tough, and if he had the killer instinct he would have been a world champion.” He should know having trained eighteen of them. The 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist Andrew Maynard said of Watson, “Big guy, dependable, leader and won the national championship. Just a nice guy.”
Watson won his first ten fights with eight KO’s a pro. He then lost to contender Bernardo Mercado, 32-4, from Colombia, South America, in Bristol, TN. Mercado had too much experience for Watson. Watson would win his next five fights before meeting former WBA world champion Michael “Dynamite” Dokes, 38-2-2.
A month before Watson’s fight with Dokes he took a job as Muhammad Ali’s bodyguard at the James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock bout in Fayettville, NC. “That was so much fun working for the champ”, said Watson.
In Watson’s seventeenth fight five months later he lost to future WBO Heavyweight champion Mercer, 12-0, his former Army teammate. Coming back five months later from losing to Dokes to fight Mercer was a major mistake by his management. “This was not a good managerial move on Slaughter’s part. I had an exhibition with Cooney just four weeks before the fight with Mercer,” said Watson.
After Watson’s loss to Mercer he was inactive for almost six years. before returning in December of 1995 scoring a knockout and in his final fight in April of 1996 scoring another knockout. That last fight was the only time he ever fought in his hometown of Wilmington, at the big Kahuna Nightclub.
One of Watson’s biggest wins was over the Southern champion southpaw Danny Sutton, 26-15, coming off the canvas in the ninth round to take a decision win.
While boxing as a professional Watson served as a body guard for World champion Muhammad Ali at the James “Bonecrusher” Smith vs Donovan “Razor” Ruddock match. To remain active in boxing, he sparred with top contender Gerry Cooney in an 8-round exhibition in 1989. In 1990, he spent three to four months in the UK working with future world champion Lennox Lewis.
I was introduced to Watson at the Bains Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington where Dave Ruff worked. He was kind enough to come in and talk to the kids there. I have not heard one negative thing about him. I know the kids really took to him.