Boxing: Mystery man cut bout short

By Patrick McKendry

Sonny Bill Williams was struggling to stay on his feet in the 10th and final round of his fight against Francois Botha. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams was struggling to stay on his feet in the 10th and final round of his fight against Francois Botha. Photo / Getty Images

It was the eighth round. An unidentified man loomed up next to Francois Botha's corner man, Hardy Mileham. The fight against Sonny Bill Williams was 10 rounds, not 12, he said.

Mileham quickly told his fighter: "They've cut it down to 10 you've got to open up. It's make or break." During the 10th round, the ring announcer told the crowd there were 90 seconds left in the fight.

"Sure enough, this was match fixing," an angry Botha said in his dressing room afterwards. "How can you cut 15 seconds [from the final round]? How can you cut two rounds? That's called match fixing.

"It's a 12-round fight. This boy has never gone past six or seven rounds. So I'm going to get him. I was pacing myself, pacing myself to finish strong and boom, it didn't happen.

"They were the two rounds I really needed to finish him off.

"We should protest it. How can you bend the rules, because he's a superstar in rugby? He's a superstar here, he should be winning, everyone wants him to win, his management.

How can you bend the rules and cut it down? It's unheard of, you can't get away with it."

The Australian newspaper reported that Australian National Boxing Federation vice-president Alan Moore, a ringside judge for the bout, had no idea it had been shortened.

"When the ring announcer said over the loud speaker that it was the last round, that was the first we [judges] knew of any change," Moore was quoted as saying. "Any international title fight is meant to be fought over 12 three-minute rounds. I have no idea what happened."

However, ANBF bout official John Hogg said yesterday that the reduction to 10 rounds had been agreed just before the bout began (see story, p6-7).

There was no doubt Williams won the fight on points, as scored over the 10 rounds. There seemed equally no doubt that a rampaging Botha - the 'White Buffalo' - would have won if, as everybody thought, the fight was over 12 rounds. Williams seemed almost out on his feet, so much so that there was some credence to be given to the claim that if the referee had stopped Williams from clinching and Botha had been able to move away, Williams would have fallen down.

Williams claimed the vacant WBA International heavyweight belt with a unanimous points decision over 44-year-old Botha at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre - but the majority of the 4000 crowd booed Williams out of the ring, after the fight went only 10 rounds.

There were also allegations that the final round was 15 seconds short, as Williams, who was out on his feet after a devastating late barrage from Botha, desperately clung on for what will now be seen as a dubious win.

Williams' sixth and most impressive professional fight will be tarnished by the scenes in and out of the ring. Both men were deducted points by referee Tony Kettlewell - Botha in the ninth round for hitting after the break and Williams for holding in the 10th.

The New Zealand TAB has called for an inquiry. TAB spokesman Mark Stafford told Newstalk ZB the shedding of two rounds was unacceptable.

"Absolutely it was," he said. "In fact, we went to great pains to double check and triple check that it was 12 rounds because [in] a Sonny Bill fight, this has happened before so we're pretty annoyed about it."

Botha suggested dark forces could be at work, saying the WBA must order a rematch to protect its integrity. There appeared to be no WBA representative at the bout.

Botha, who had a graze on his nose and a cut over his right eye, added: "I got screwed. He was out on his feet. All I had to do was push him away and he would have fallen down.

"I was chopping him down and one more round, bo! Timber and then, boom, he would have gone down!

"It's bullshit, you can't do it. There are rules and regulations. It was in the press conference, on the programmes; a WBA 12-round international fight. You cannot change it.

"He's a big boy [but] he never hurt me. He had a good jab but he doesn't do enough. I told him, because I talk always. I told [Williams] 'listen, you're showing your punches'."

Williams appeared exhausted afterwards from the blows he took at the hands of a man who has fought 60 professional bouts and against the likes of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis.

He claimed he thought it was a 10-round fight, just as his New Zealand Professional Boxing Association title fight was.

"My whole preparation was geared for 10 rounds," he said. He also tweeted yesterday that both camps knew it was a 10-round affair.

"First morning after the fight it's sinking in what a great night it was. We both knew it was a 10 rounder b4 the fight! WBA interntionalbelt!!," he posted.

Earlier, his controversial manager Khoder Nasser was involved in a heated argument with the Botha camp in the South African's dressing room. Storming down the corridor with the WBA belt over his shoulder, Nasser shouted at Botha and Mileham: "Who won the fight? You know who won the fight. Ah, wake up."

Security staff were poised to intervene and the shouting and confusion continued until Nasser walked out.

Nasser said later: "My understanding was that it was a 10-rounder. Now if it was a 12-rounder, that's just a total misunderstanding."

Asked about the allegations the 10th round was short, he said: "I haven't seen that but the TV will tell you. If you think that I'm dictating that bullshit, well you can check that out. From our side of the camp, we feel that there were a lot of things happening in the ring that were totally illegal.

"You saw it for yourself. Double-handed [punches] at the back of the head, hitting after the break. That was happening in the 10th round because the guy got desperate and very dirty."

He added: "If there was a misunderstanding, it's a misunderstanding. Sonny would have prepared totally different [for 12 rounds]. And Sonny wouldn't have been like that in the last 30 seconds if he wasn't hit in certain positions as well that were totally illegal."

Botha said of his penchant for hitting with both hands behind Williams' head: "You know what? It throws your opponent and it messes you up. Through the years, you learn this and I do it in a certain way so the ref doesn't see it. You could see how dirty the fight was getting."

Further muddying the already murky waters, Nasser said he wanted a WBA official at the fight but none could attend.

"The local commission would not allow any WBA officials," he said.

When asked which commission he was referring to, given there was no authority in Queensland, Nasser asked him to do his own research, adding: "If you want to butt in, pick your words carefully."

When asked why there were 12 ring cards at ringside, Nasser replied: "That's normal."

Pressed again about the timekeeping in the final round, he prefaced his departure with: "Who's got the belt, mate? See you later." APNZ

- APNZ

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