But he wasn't that accomplished. I've heard all the anecdotal support for Williams but outside of Terrell, he just didn't beat an elite heavy, let alone stop one. Even "names" like Bethea and Miteff were on fumes by the time he got to them.
Miteff was the # 7 ranked heavyweight in the world, and in line for a title shot against Patterson(according to the press) when Williams crushed him.
That's beside the point
Williams faced 3 elite fighters of his time. Ernie Terrell, Sonny Liston, and Eddie Machen. There is also substantial prove he was ducked numerous times by top level fighters including Floyd Patterson in 1964(who refused a WBA elimination match with Williams)
Let's judge on how he did vs the elite fighters he did fight
Sonny Liston I- One of the best slugfests of the decade. He broke Liston's nose in round 1, staggered him a few times, and backed him up. Liston eventually battered Williams in rounds 3 to win the war. Few could defeat a Prime Liston in the trenches. I commend Williams here for giving Liston one of his tougher fights in his prime. After this fight, Liston said "No one wants to fight Cleveland Williams. He hits just as hard as me."
Sonny Liston 2- See example 1. Liston did batter Williams in even worse fashion this time, perhaps because he knew what to expect this time around. But not before Williams got in some wicked triple left hook combinations.
Eddie Machen- Draw. AP had williams edging the fight on points. The fans also thought Williams won. It was a very close fight, Williams landed the harder shots and hurt machen in round 8. Machen in his prime had a difficult style for anyone, let alone a "slugger". I think Williams fighting on even terms with Machen showcases his underrated ability. Machen could have exposed Williams as a limited slugger, but Williams proved he had the necessary speed and stamina combined with his power to compete with an A level counterpuncher in his prime.
Ernie Terrell I- Terrell was a future WBA champion in his prime. A 6'6 skillful, awkward boxer with a terrific left jab, and a great chin. Williams corned Terrell in round 7 and battered him without mercy until the referee stopped the fight. Terrell would not be knocked out for another 10 years after this fight.
Ernie Terrell II- A terrific fight between two very athletic big men. Terrell won the split decision, however the AP card had Williams winning the fight. I also had Williams winning the fight. Williams knocked Terrell down in this fight, landed the harder punches, and kept a high pace. Terrell scored well with his jab and boxed well on the outside. Terrell beat a lot of good fighters during this period in easy fashion, so Williams being able to give Terrell this much trouble in 2 fights speaks of his ability to fight at an elite level. Ernie Terrell(a proven world class operator) had 2 opportunities to expose Williams as less than elite fighter, and failed miserably.