D.A. loses to defender - in boxing ring, not court

District Attorney Seth Williams (right) shows he's unaccustomed to being on defense as he takes a straight left to the nose from defense lawyer Tariq El-Shabazz at Temple's Liacouras Center.

Any number of defense lawyers, not to mention adversaries in the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, might have welcomed the opportunity to lace up 16-ounce gloves to go mano a mano with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Alas, the task of stepping into the ring Saturday night at Temple University's Liacouras Center for three 90-second rounds with the prosecutor fell to Tariq El-Shabazz, a defense lawyer who is an old friend of Williams.

El-Shabazz emerged the winner by decision, despite Williams earlier confident predictions.

That two prominent lawyers would subject their middle-aged legal minds to the concussive forces of each others' fists might seem like a throwback to a time of extrajudicial score-settling.

This was all for charity.

The Battle of the Barristers was part of a "Night at the Fights" fund-raising event that partnered the Joe Hand Gym with the Urban League, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, United Way, and other nonprofits benefiting young people.

Organizers said they sold about 3,000 tickets.

"I haven't fought since I was 19 and in boot camp in the army," said Williams, 49, who weighed in at about 200 pounds. El Shabazz, 52, said he dropped about 16 pounds during training and weighed in at about 180.

The lawyers boxed according to Marquess of Queensberry rules. No low blows. No ear-biting. No injunctive relief.

The Pennsylvania Eastern Regional Golden Gloves Championships were also on the card, along with a number of musical acts, including Brotherly Love, El DeBarge, Low Cut Connie, Tana Black, and Chill Moody.

The aim was to create a night of mirth and diversion, for a good cause.

Robert Keyes, who is chairman of the board of the Urban League and the vice president/general manager of Enterprise Holdings, is also a boxer and pitched the idea of doing a fund-raiser for his nonprofits that included boxing.

Williams, who has posed for a magazine cover and for TV during a recent fixation on fitness and weight loss, trained with the legendary Philly fighter Bernard Hopkins.

"I'm going to win just by defeating my fears and getting into the ring," he said.

El-Shabazz was a Gold Glove boxer as a youth, but returned to the gym in recent months to train.

He compared boxing to courtroom work. "It's the same thing," he said. "Litigation is all about preparation."

In the spirit of the charity event, Williams and El-Shabazz were working under self-imposed gag orders on trash-talking.

"I predict a knockout," Williams said ahead of the bout, his hands taped for the fight. "We're knocking out hopelessness. That's what this is all about."

There was no knockout, in a pugilistic sense. Despite some fancy footwork by the D.A., El-Shabazz demonstrated a little quicker hands, and the judges awarded him with the decision.

Williams said he did not plan an extensive recovery period. He is scheduled to wake up early Sunday to take on the Broad Street Run.

amaykuth@phillynews.com

215-854-2947@maykuth