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Williams must bring more than toughness

12/8/2004

This sport is not for everyone.

No matter how athletically gifted an aspiring young boxer may be, if the kid
can't take the physical demands of training or the pain and punishment that
is dished out in the ring, he or she won't last very long in the fight game.

Natural talent is a wonderful gift, but toughness is what ultimately counts
in professional boxing. The Klitschko brothers perfectly illustrate this
rule. Vitali Klitschko, who defends his WBC heavyweight title this Saturday
at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, is by far the less talented of the two
brothers. He doesn't have the speed, reflexes, physical strength, punch
variety or fluidity of his younger brother Wladimir, but he's got plenty of
toughness -- that's why he's the champ.

Danny Williams is getting a crack at Klitschko's heavyweight title for one
reason -- he's tough. When he's hit with a good shot he may wobble, he may
fall down, but then the fight is on.

Williams, a 31-year-old native of Brixton, England, once suffered a badly
dislocated right shoulder during the early rounds of a British heavyweight
title match. Despite incredible pain, Williams fought on with his right arm
limply hanging to his side, using only his left, eventually scoring a
one-armed, one-punch stoppage of his antagonist (Mark Potter).

This boxing writer acquired a tape with three of Williams' fights -- the
Potter win, his one-round annihilation of Kali Meehan and his sixth-round
TKO loss to Sinan Samil Sam -- a few weeks before his July bout with Mike
Tyson.

What impressed this young scribe about the big Brit was that even in the
loss to Sam, Williams (who claims he was suffering from shingles before that
fight) got up from three knockdowns and was fighting to stay on his feet
when the referee waved the European heavyweight title match off in the final
seconds of the sixth.

Word had it that Tyson, who had just declared bankruptcy, trained seriously
for Williams and was approaching his pre-Holyfield shape and form by fight
time. That may have been true, but a fighter's toughness goes beyond his
physical conditioning. When all the sparring, roadwork and strategizing is
done, a fight often comes down to mental toughness.

This Internet boxing "expert" asked himself if Tyson, at age 38, was willing
to keep pounding on a 260-pound fighter who refuses to stay down or concede
defeat? Even in his prime, would Iron Mike continue fighting if his right
arm popped out if its shoulder socket early in a bout? Hell no. Tyson said
he couldn't continue against Williams when his knee was injured during the
entertaining slugfest.

Williams, who stopped Tyson in the fourth round, ain't buyin' it.

"May God forgive me, but I do believe he quit," Williams said at a media
roundtable held at the Mandalay Bay the Saturday before last. "He walked out
of that ring without a limp.

"He was throwing punches with mad power the whole time."

Williams, 32-3 (27 KOs), took every shot -- teetering and tottering in the first
round -- but he punched back with the same "bad intentions" that Tyson got
off with. Obviously, the Brit was not star struck when facing the former
Baddest Man on the Planet.

Many prize fighters around Williams' age, heavyweights in particular, grew
up idolizing Tyson. Not Williams, who was forced into the toughest sport
when he was 8 years old after his father had a dream that he would one day
become a world champion in boxing.

England-born Lennox Lewis, who will be part of Saturday's HBO PPV broadcast
team and has been openly supportive of Williams, is not one of the Brixton
man's heroes, either. Not that Williams doesn't respect both Lewis and
Tyson; he does, but he admires the fighters of yesteryear more than those of
this era.

"The old-school fighters were always my heroes -- Marciano, Pep, Charles,
Walcott, Joe Frazier, Larry Homes," Williams said. "I like the toughness
they had. It seems like fighters these days give up too easily."

Part of Williams' pre-fight preparation is to visualize himself going
through the kind of ring trials his heroes engaged in -- Rocky Marciano
stopping Ezzard Charles after his nose was almost split in half, Willie Pep
taking a bloody 15-round decision over Sandy Saddler after Saddler brutally
knocked him out in their previous bout, Frazier refusing to concede an inch
versus his more talented rival Muhammad Ali in all three of their meetings,
Holmes getting up from a right-hand bomb from Earnie Shavers and out-pointing
the KO puncher.

"I see myself getting hurt, fighting through the pain barrier and fighting
back," he said. "I see myself getting knocked down and getting right back up
and fighting back even harder. That way if it happens for real, I'm ready
for it."

From fantasizing as a reluctant amatuer to visualizing as an adult pugilist,
Williams has transformed himself into one of the toughest heavyweights in
boxing.

But being able to take a lot of punishment is not going allow him to beat
Klitschko. That attribute didn't help Corrie Sanders, whom Klitschko beat
this past April for the vacant WBC title. All being tough did for the
game-but-outgunned South African was earn him bloody beating for eight
rounds.

Williams has to bring more to the table than his toughness.

Physically, he's a match for Klitschko. While the WBC champ has a 6-inch
height advantage, Williams is in fighting shape at 260 pounds, which is 10
to 15 pounds heavier than Klitschko's fighting weight.

Technically, both men should mesh well, as both heavyweights have their
flaws. Williams keeps his left hand by his hip, practically inviting right
hands (and guess which punch is Klitschko's best?). Klitschko is almost void
of any kind of inside offense, making him vulnerable to in-close battle and
body shots in particular (and guess what kind of attack is Williams'
specialty?).

The question in this fight is whether Williams is mentally ready to fight
the best heavyweight in the world for the biggest prize in all of sports?

In January of this year, Williams lost his British and Commonwealth titles
after dropping a decision to someone named Michael Sprott. Even he admits
that he's gone from "being a zero to a hero with one fight."

What bodes well for this unlikely heavyweight title challenger is his
attitude. He has not allowed the Tyson victory to go to his head. Williams
has gained confidence, but he remains grounded.

He sees the Tyson KO for what it was -- a breakout fight. He knows that
Saturday's contest is the pinnacle of his chosen profession, and that
Klitschko will be a far more formidable opponent than the 38-year-old former
champ.

"The Tyson fight was great -- it was a springboard to the top of the world --
but this is the real deal; this is where I will prove myself," Williams
said. "I believe I have to be better than I was for Tyson to beat Vitali
Klitschko. The Danny Williams that beat Tyson won't beat Klitschko."

Both Williams and his trainer, Jimmy McDonnell, claim he is in the best shape,
physically and mentally, of his career. They expect nothing less from
Klitschko.

"I think being a world champ has made Klitschko even tougher; he wants to
stay there," Williams said. "He won't want to let go of it."

No, Klitschko won't let go without a fight; not without a tough, tough
fight. Williams knows -- and seems to relish -- this fact.

"I see it being a real good fight," he said. "No 'nice boxing' here; a lot
of in-fighting; a lot of blood."