Big Jim Williams From Prisoner To World Champion


Jim is one of the first black men to establish himself and a world record holder in powerlifting. Jim Williams said that he bench pressed 600 lbs (272 kg) before learning about steroids. He has been lifting weights since 1966. Furthermore he has done 25 powerlifting meets and won 21 of them!

Jim Williams is a great powerlifting legend that is all but forgotten. He is unknown to today’s new generation, and that is a tragedy; he never gained the respect or notoriety he deserved!


James Talbot Williams was born on February 25, 1940 in Scranton, Pa. He was the youngest of five children. Jim spent his whole life in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The below picture shows young Jim with mother Sarah and father Ernest, Sr. 

Jim revealed that mom was the boss of the household and big enough (5’10″/178cm; 200lb/90kg) to handle a quintet of lively boys. His size and strength came from ma’s side of the family with several uncles almost seven feet tall. He said his father stood only 5’/150cm.

During Jim’s early years he spend most of his summers at his aunt’s house in Belleville. He would take a short bus ride with his brothers. His favourite activity during hot summer would be playing, swimming, and the favorite eating.

He was always large and athletic, and at age 12 he weighed just over 200lb/90kg. He attended Scranton public schools, and graduated from Scranton Tech. He excelled in football and track and field. In the shot put, he reached the State Finals four times, taking one State Championship. After high school he had a tryout with the Houston Oilers of the old AFL. Jimmy was an athlete.

The Big Guy admits other kids willingly gave up their lunch money in exchange for protection (from him). Jimmy’s ABC’s were: ass-kicking, brutalizing and coercion. His frequent tardiness earned him after school detention. This became a normal part of his curriculum. He’s write on his tablet 1000 times – I WILL NOT BE LATE FOR SCHOOL.

Pumping Iron Behind Bars
In 1961 he got involved in big trouble. The young Jim Williams wanted to earn money fast. Thus he used to earn money on the street. His decisions he made at a young age were just naive and stupid. When one door closes another door opens. So the seed is planted and his way as the world’s strongest benchpresser is paved. Big Jim got sent to the state Penitentiary in Philly. Thus he started to lifting weights and it was there he started to developing training theories like “High Volume”. Most prisons aren’t well equipped. Only the most necessary like a few plates which go only up to 100kg. There is no other way to train than high volume.

Jim could overhead press 225lb/102kg and bench 240lb/108kg, but felt that was inadequate. He found himself a cubyhole and did incline presses solo. This attracted the attention of some of the “brothers”. He was fooling around with 275 for sets and reps. One gnarly dude named “Herb” was especially interested. Herb could press 275lb/124kg and bench 390lb/176kg. They urged him to join their clique and show this stuff. After much prompting he performed for them. Eyeballs were popping when James did a 300lb/136kg military press and 405lb/183kg bench. Later he was transferred to another facility – Rockview. There he increased his Military Press to 325lb/147kg.

Big Jim Williams Military Press trainingWhen paroled in 1962 he returned to home turf – Scranton. His first wife was fed up, so he took up residence at the YMCA. At the same weight room where he hoisted his first barbell he got encouraged.

Jim Williams powerlifting meet street clothesEx-Director Carl Bolen saw Jimmy’s great untapped potential and took him to his first power meet in 1966 at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The Big Bear had no lifting costume – they allowed him to lift in street clothes. At 260 bodyweight he did 455lb/206kg bench, 400lb/181kg squat, 550lb/249kg deadlift – 1405/636kg! Jim’s power seed was now planted. His power grew and flourished like a weed.

The next few years he backslided into his old bad habits. He got into a number of jams which stifled his powerlifting progress. The long arm of the law reached out. They lowered the hammer – it was back to the slammer. Behind bars there is nothing productive to do. Some cons made license plates. Others played games like drops the soap. Jim lifted weights! The muscles grew in places where most men didn’t have places. The toughest of the tough gave him a wide berth. A story about Jim, fabricated or real, goes like this. One day in lockup they wouldn’t let him out to hit the iron. Jim bent the bars and they thought he’d escaped. Later they found him grinding out benches in the workout area. The guard who lifted weights himself was so impressed that he said nothing of the incident and even arranged for Jim to get more training time.

While incarcerated he got his squat and deadlift up to 600lb/272kg and his bench up to 455lb/206kg.

Big Jim stats:
upper arms -24″/60cm, forearms – 17″/43cm, chest 60″/152cm, thighs -35″/88cm, neck and calves – 22″/55cm. He weighed in at his heaviest – 345lb/156kg, and he was the biggest man there. His deltoids measured 12″/30cm across from front to back – the size of bowling balls.

Big Jim and John Kuc

Big Jim Williams and John KucEarly 1971 Eastern USA Open
Jim set an official American total record: 2075 (650lb/294kg bench, 760lb/344kg squat and 665lb/301kg deadlift). His bench weighed 635 on the scales for another American Record. About this time he met a 242lb lifter from nearby Kensington who had totaled 1800, John Kuc. Kuc drove down on weekends to train with the big Man. Kuc had an average squat, low bench and a big 750 deadlift. They became steady training partners. What an awesome pair they made. John was inspired with the big man’s strength. Jim like-wise was motivated by Kuc’s relentless motivation. Working together they formed the dynamic duo of the superheavy revolution.

John Kuc Jim Williams 1971 AAU World Powerlifting Championships

Both men went Superheavy at the 1971 Junior Nationals. Jim’s confidence was sky high. He has absolutely no fear of the heavy weights. He opened with a stupendous 650lb/294kg bench, but bombed. Kuc went out also via a 710lb/322kg squat on depth. Jim took to the showers good naturedly, but Kuc threw a tantrum and punched out some lockers. It was Jim who calmed him down and convinced big John what he’d been telling him all long – SQUATLOWER

The 1972 World Championships Zembo Mosque Auditorium Harrisburg
1972 Men’s Senior Nationals (2 weeks ago) John Cole had posted a monster total – 2370 (SQ: 905lb/410kg – BP: 585lb/265kg – DL: 885lb/401kg). He’d weighed 283 and looked good for much more. Undaunted they awaited his arrival. A new baby and business commitments kept Cole at home. Everyone was disappointed.

John Kuc Psyched Up John Kuc was loaded for bear and wanted no socializing. He even growled to big amiable Don Reinhoudt who offered a smile and a handshake. Big Jim was more congenial and developed lasting friendships with his competitors. He was prepared and had no fear of big weights. Kuc was “on” that day and history will show that he won with 2350lb (SQ: 905lb/410kg – BP:600lb/272kg – 845lb/383kg). He was behemoth at 310lb/140kg.

Jim and John used to training together. If you train with the best it must certainly rub off. In a short span of time with Williams, Kuc’s bench climbed from the mid four hundreds to 600lb/272kg this day.

When it was announced that Williams would commence with 630lb/285kg the crowd responded vociferously. Jim rammed up the monstrous barbell like a little boy toy. It would have crushed anyone else. He called for 675lb/306kg, and the crowd really erupted. The clock ticked down. Jim made the platform with only 15 seconds remaining. The time factor was pressing. With only one minute left to complete the lift he eased his massive body onto the bench and took the handoff. Gears reversed and the mother of all mother “loads” slowly descended to his massive chest. In that instant time froze. Seconds lasted what seemed an eternity. The crowd was dead silent. The signal came. Like a giant spring coil released, the bar was launched skyward. Up and up. The massive lats contracted. The monstrous deltoids erupted with power. His mighty chest flexed, with those incredible pectorals boosting those stupendous arms as the branched upward, quivered, strained and finally locked out! The Big Giant stood with tears in his eyes as the crowd gave him a five minute applause- so well deserved!

Pat Casey had smashed the 600lb/272kg barrier in 1967 and was years ahead of his time. Yet, now in the span of less than one and a half years Williams had surpassed Casey’s 617lb/279kg ceiling six times: 628 – 635 -655 – 660 -675 and in 1972 he was attempting to bust through the 700 barrier!!

Jim took to the bench; they grew quiet. With power no man on earth had yet witnessed, he took the weight to the chest. The signal finally came. He blasted history’s biggest payload of iron up three-quarters of the way. The impetus slowed; he strained and the gravity took over controls as the bar drifted back to his chest. The crowd roared their approval long and loud. Everyone screamed until they were hoarse.

1972, this was the last time big Jim stepped into the competition arena. His lifting activities were circumvented by personal problems. Jim slipped back into his old habits. Had he stayed on the straight and narrow path he’d have emerged into a beautiful garden. Trees bearing luscious fruits were his for the taking but instead he once again bit into the forbidden apple. Prior to his impending imprisonment he recorded some truly remarkable lifting far surpassing his best in competition.

Jim later saw the light and does not lament his destiny, but rather that he was never credited with holding a world record even though his 660 in 1971 and 675 in 1972 were performed at the World Championships. Was this a case of personal discrimination against Jim? He certainly believed that, especially since he’d heard Kuc’s squat and deadlift called world records.

How great was Jim’s 675 lift, that was credited as an American record but not a world record? The USPF became the US organization of powerlifting when powerlifting separated from its former guardian, the AAU. They wanted to have complete control of their own destiny. His great lift survived all comers in this the major organization until Anthony Clark finally surpassed it in 1994 with 683lb/309kg. How does that grab you? This cleary shows the significance of Jim’s performance back in November of 1972.

Big Jim’s Mental Attitude and Personality
How do I become as strong as Big Jim? To become as strong as him you need a strong body and your mind should be hungry for the heavy weight.
Big Jim wrote a book and he described his mental attitude with Bruce Banner’s (Hulk) transformation. When Bruce Banner becomes angry, harmed, or life is in danger, he turns into the musclebound Hulk.

Big Jim wrote this:
“Similarly speaking, it’s like that of the fictitious “HULK”! Upon fear, he was able to transform himself into a human muscle. The only difference is that I have been able to do this for years, in reality, before the invention of the hulk. I don’t mean that I change colors, but I achieved that art of commanding my muscles and my total output of strength. I’ve seen times when I was through lifting, that I ached from my head to my toes, from a maximum to failure training session.”

Bob Lacey, original member of the Weightmasters said about Jim this: “Jim Williams was a man with passion for life, lifting and his family. I recall training sessions when he would warm up with 315lb in the bench, and finish up with a 675lb or 705lb lift (Raw lifting). Jim was a pioneer of the BIG BENCH, and set a standard for those who followed. I am proud to have known Jim”

He wasn’t just talented in sports. Jim was also artistically gifted. He drew pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other famous personalities.

Jim Williams drawings Arnold, Ghandi and Kennedy

Overview about Jim’s benchpress records

1969 Men's Senior Nationals Don Cundy and Big Jim Williams

On 30th August,1969 Jim became only the second man in history to achieve an official 600lb bench press,with lifts of 600,730,675-2005 in placing second to Don Cundy at the USA Senior Nationals in York,PA – the bench press weighed out at 601½lbs for a new meet record.

Jim Williams vs Pat Casey

On 15th February,1970 he recorded a new National bench press record of 628lbs at the Junior Middle Atlantics meet, breaking the previous mark set by Pat Casey in 1967. Later that year, Jim failed his deadlift attempts at the USA Senior Nationals in New Orleans after having benched 615lbs for another meet record.

Jim Williams John Kuc Hugh Cassidy 1971 Championships

Early in 1971, Jim increased his National bench press record to 635lb/288kg at the Eastern Open USA Championships in Scranton,PA – his total of 2075lbs was also a new National record for the super-heavyweight division. He finished the year on a ‘high note’ by placing second to Hugh Cassidy at the inaugural World Championships in York, PA with lifts of Bench: 660lb/290kg, SQ: 800lb/362kg, DL: 700lb/317kg -2160,losing out on first place only by being the heavier man – once again,the bench press was a new National record.

On 6th May, 1972 Jim achieved his all time best competition squat and total at the Senior Middle Atlantics in Bordentown,NJ with lifts of BP: 655lb/297kg, SQ: 855lb/387kg (actual weight-860), DL: 725lb/328kg -2235;the total being a new National record.

Last but not least, on 11th November Jim placed second to his training partner, John Kuc,at the 1972 World Championships in York with a fine performance of BP: 675lb/306kg, SQ: 825lb/374kg, DL:725lb/328kg-2225 – the bench press again setting a National record which stood for two decade until broken by Ted Arcidi in 1985. To be sure, Arcidi used an early (and very flimsy) version of a bench Shirt (the Original Blast Shirt by Inzer) and if one were to examine the footage of his Press, there was no discernable pause whatsoever. All of Big Jim’s Presses were done with a minimum of a 2 second pause on the chest.

Unfortunately for Jim though, for some inexplicable reason the IPF never recognised his poundage as a world record.

Big Jim Williams died in his hometown of Scranton, P.A. He had battled diabetes for over 12 years. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Pat, and five children. Jim was born and lived almost all his life in Scranton. He had many nicknames, The Scranton Superman’, ‘King of the Bench Press’, ‘ The Big Black Bear of Scranton’, ‘Chimes’, but for most he was just Jimmy.

Powerlifting USA
Jim Williams Book

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