Sonny Bill Williams has the big fight he has craved but says a few in his camp, manager Khoder Nasser, included, are worried about the threat 120kg American Clarence Tillman III poses.
All Black Williams, with four from four during his "professional boxing'' career, has finally got an opponent worthy of the name in Tillman, who he will fight for the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association title at Claudelands Arena in Hamilton on Wednesday night.
While Tillman will more than likely be comfortably outpointed by the vastly fitter Williams, at least he has some boxing pedigree, having professionally fought 21 times for 11 wins (eight by knockout).
Williams' previous opponents included a sickness beneficiary and a forklift driver and all had one thing in common - they gave the term "journeyman'' a bad name.
Tillman has said that Williams hasn't fought anyone worth talking about and even Australian Olympic boxing team captain Luke Jackson, an amateur, has got in on the act, recently telling journalists: "Sonny Bill Williams is a joke.
He's a good footy player.
They're just putting him on with guys who don't know how to fight and try and make him look good.''
It is all part of the Nasser's masterplan to mould Williams into an athlete equally as comfortable in the ring or the field, be that a rugby union or rugby league one, but Williams has looked frustrated at the canon fodder so far lined up for him.
To Tillman's jibe, Williams replied: "Well, here it is, I'm fighting him. We'll have to wait and see, you know. I'm confident in myself and my ability. A lot of people in my camp, Khoder for instance, didn't want me to take this fight, thinking that I'm rushing myself. I don't know, I think it's time to step up. I just feel confident after training with Tony [Mundine] for the last six to eight weeks that I've improved enough to take on that challenge. Big risk but big reward.''
First, the reward - claiming the vacant NZPBA belt and seeing his pro boxing career continue on an upward curve. The risk - a loss, or worse, being knocked out, could seriously jeopardise not only his fight plans but also his rugby career.
Tillman, a late replacement for Richard Tutaki, who was pulled from the fight after being arrested on serious drugs charges, was on the fringe of the American Olympic scene for the 2008 Beijing Games, but his best boxing days are behind him. The 34-year-old Auckland resident's other sidelines are acting and modelling.
Still, he has a size and height advantage over 108kg Williams and it is understood Nasser is particularly worried about his right hand.
"He's a big man, taller than me. He's about 15kg heavier than me and he's got experience,'' said 26-year-old Williams. "He's got a pretty lethal punch, so I'll definitely have to be aware of that and take a game plan in there. That's what we've been working on with Tony.''
Williams has been training twice a day, five days a week with Mundine, the father of Australian interim WBA light middleweight champion Anthony "Choc'' Mundine - another in Nasser's stable.
He said the step up in class had provided added motivation and, on the eve of the Super Rugby season with his new Chiefs team, said he had never worked as hard before a fight.
"For myself with this boxing fight, there is that element of being embarrassed and being knocked out, but there is also that element of `look, I can do it'.''
Mundine senior, however, was one member of the Williams camp not prepared to follow the party line, saying he wasn't too bothered about Tillman or his right hand.
"He'll be there to upset Sonny,'' Mundine said. "All fighters will want to upset Sonny to make a name for himself because he's a star. [Tillman] is slow, slow.''
What about that knockout punch? "He's got a good right hand, but only if he can land it. We'll see what happens on the night.''
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick