Anti-Sonny Bill Williams bandwagon pure nonsense

by The Listener / 21 February, 2013
Boxing aficionado Sir Robert Jones joins the chorus of condemnation.
Muhammad Ali is floored by Henry Cooper in 1963
Muhammad Ali is floored by Henry Cooper in 1963, but went on to win. Photo/Getty Images.

Like commuters on the Tokyo subway, those getting on the anti-Sonny Bill Williams bandwagon aren’t put off by the fact that it’s already awfully crowded.

Australian heavyweight Alex Leapai, who appeared on the undercard of the recent Williams/Francois Botha fight/fiasco, squeezed on at the last minute. A self-appointed spokesman for real boxing people who “make huge sacrifices to win real fights”, Leapai accused SBW’s manager, Khoder Nasser, of staging a “joke” fight.

Speaking of joke fights, Leapai’s bout with American Matt Hicks lasted less than a round, as did Hicks’s previous two fights.

In fact, only one of Hicks’s last seven fights, all of which he lost, went beyond the second round. On that occasion – a case of delaying the inevitable if ever there was one – he was stopped in the third.

Hicks’s capitulation didn’t come as a complete surprise since beforehand he seemed more interested in the ring girl in the little black dress than his upcoming assignment. His performance confirmed it.

The Williams/Botha bout was, literally and figuratively, 10 times more of a contest than Leapai/Hicks. If Leapai is so concerned about boxing’s credibility, he could do his bit by not fighting no-hopers.

While the chorus of condemnation has performed with gusto, one voice stood out: that of property magnate Sir Robert Jones.

Dismissing Williams as an idiot and Botha as a geriatric, Jones said that if SBW took up tennis, he would be matched with “elderly women and fat chaps who have never held a tennis racquet. Then they dig up some tennis player who’s actually dying of cancer who won Wimbledon or was a Wimbledon player in 1966, and give it all this hype. That’s not a bad analogy.”

Actually, Sir Robert, it is. Botha is 44 and some distance from being a finely tuned athlete. He has, however, had 60 professional fights, including several tilts at the world heavyweight championship.

As a boxing aficionado, Jones would know it’s not that unusual for fighters, especially in the heavier weight divisions, to box on well into their forties. George Foreman regained the world title at 45. Archie Moore was 39 when he won the world light heavyweight title; he then retained it for almost a decade. The only man to fight both Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali, Moore was a month short of his 49th birthday when he was knocked out by the latter.

Jones’s complaint about the “invasion of a pure sport by impure people” was equally extravagant given that, historically, pure professional boxing is a contradiction in terms.

Ali is the most widely admired athlete of all time and by popular acclaim something close to a saint. Saved by the bell after being felled by Henry Cooper’s thunderous left hook in 1963, Ali was illegally revived between rounds by smelling salts administered by legendary trainer Angelo Dundee. Dundee later claimed to have cut one of Ali’s gloves, thereby delaying the restart and giving his man time to recover his senses while a new pair was procured.

In the second Ali/Sonny Liston fight, Liston was counted out in the first round after copping what Ali claimed was a “phantom punch”, the secret to which he’d learnt from the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, via comedian Stepin Fetchit. The consensus was that this amounted to putting an implausible gloss on an innocuous jab and that Liston, who had underworld connections, had taken a dive at the mafia’s behest.

The phantom punch was never heard of again. As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …
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