It’s his biggest fight to date. In fact, a loss and it’s curtains on a career.
Even Sonny Bill Williams himself has a realistic view should South African Francois Botha walk away the victor in Brisbane on Friday night, and claim the vacant WBA International Heavyweight belt. Lose, and it’s over.
"If I'm beaten I don't see a future in the sport,” says the former All Black.
It may seem a harsh reality. Especially considering that Botha has a fight rap sheet that includes some of the world’s best pugilists – Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield. He's boxed in smart company.
Undercard to Williams V Botha, February 8
- Light Welterweight - Waylon Law v Jezze Carrasco
- Middleweight - Jarrod Fletcher v Kiatchai Singwancha
- Super Middleweight - Bilal Akkawy v Paul Edwards
- Heavyweight - Alex Leapai v Matt Hicks
- Heavyweight - Daniel Baff v Peter Brennan
- Cruiserweight - Quade Cooper v Barry Dunnett
- Heavyweight - Sonny Bill Williams v Frans Botha
- NB – Order of the bouts may alter from shown. First bout is scheduled for 9pm NZt.
And some may gloss over SBW’s words, instead prodding fingers aplenty at previous statements that were shot from the hip and haven’t exactly produced the follow through.
Surely, you’d think, that a loss to a man who has fought the likes of Tyson isn’t bad enough to cut a career off at the knees before it’s actually even begun?
After all, the White Buffalo is no muppet – knocked out in the 12th round by Michael Moorer; lasting five with Tyson; down in the 8th against Shannon Briggs; and the same with Wladimir Klitschko and Evander Holyfield. He can rumble.
But a loss to Botha, now 44, and an end to a boxing career after what would be only six fights isn’t about a boxing record; the all-tainting ‘L’ following the string of five ‘W’ earned against paltry opposition.
It isn’t even about being beaten by a boxer that has seen his best times in the ring. And it’s definitely not about what most think it’s about – Sonny Bill’s ego.
It’s about time. And to be fair, it’s probably a bit about money, too. Or at least, ‘career’ and earning potential.
Time is not on Sonny Bill Williams side. Not if he wants to climb to the heights in the boxing world that he demands of himself. Not if he wants to achieve personal goals that the athleticism he’s been endowed with allows or gives chance to. He dreams a dream, and his prowess gives him the opportunity to shoot for those stars.
I hear you saying, “But he’s only 27”. Unfortunately for Sonny Bill Williams, his physique and his athleticism and his natural abilities are also his Achilles heel. He does a lot, good. Very good.
You see, right now, if Williams was to step into the ring on Friday night against the quality of a Klitschko, then they’d be carrying the Kiwi out again well before the closing first round bell had a chance to ring.
And that’s no blight on the man, nor on his abilities. That’s boxing.
To reach the levels in the fighting world that SBW dreams of takes time. A career is chiselled. Etched. Stone chips fly from every single training session, every absorbing, all-encompassing piece of preparation. They amass. Over time. And what is left at the end is a mound at a boxer’s feet that props up a fighter with impervious technique, power and the required mental precision, not to mention endurance and fortitude to beat the very best. It builds a strength that’s needed when you’re all alone in the ring and getting pounded. And it gives you a way out, without being carried.
Enter a Klitschko at this stage of his boxing career and you’d witness a massacre.
SBW’s professional career is only three years old. He just hasn’t put in the time. Not the boxing ‘soak’ time that’s needed at the top.
A loss to Botha in Brisbane would mean the pathway to being that fighter – to creating that – would be so long and require so much giving that any other thoughts of rugby or rugby league would have to be seriously re-examined. To get to the top from skittled on the canvas would require other ‘codes’ to suffer. His pocket would take a hit too. To carry on in the ring after a loss just would not be practical, not when you can dine with ease – gorge even – at other tables.
In fact, the man he’s fighting – Botha – is the perfect example of split decisions. He’s a man that had been forged on a diet of kickboxing. He too – a freak of athleticism that provided him with the option to switch to boxing. It was a chance to earn the big bucks on an even bigger stage. And his career has been hampered by time, or lack there of it in the ring at foundation stages. Those who have beaten him though were armed with the ability to call upon that time as if by second nature. Because it was engrained from the start.
If a youthful Botha and his five-year kick boxing career had been spent, instead, entirely inside the boxing ring… well, you can imagine.
Botha has fought some tough – the very best – opponents. But that was last millennium.
But win. Beat Botha. Take home the WBA International Heavyweight belt (the New Zealand heavyweight title that SBW holds was vacant too, by the way) and Williams has cracked the lid on a different kettle of fish altogether. He’ll suddenly be a blip on the boxing radar. His name won’t be in lights, but he will at least register on a bigger stage. If only he can avoid Botha’s ‘punching chance’. And make no mistake, this man has knock-out power (60 F, 48 W, 29 KO, 8 L, 3 D, 1 NC).
The early part of Williams’ sporting career was littered with the taking of poor options.
You get the feeling, by his statement mentioned earlier, and by his willingness to let go of a dream should the stars not come into line, that he now has someone in his corner – in his ear – playing smart. Perhaps the only thing vacant nowadays were the titles.
If you’re an All Blacks fan though, it might be worth considering just who you’re barracking for and imagine what a SBW win will mean.
It seems that the fresh-faced kid that did a runner on the Canterbury Bulldogs to eat frogs legs and garden slugs is no longer.
Time, I guess, will tell.