Boxing: Beard row is a storm in a shaving cup for Williams

It turns out that the threat to the big fight here on Saturday night was more than anything a storm in a shaving cup. Danny Williams, Britain's challenger to the World Boxing Council champion Vitali Klitschko, said that if necessary he would withdraw from the contest if he was required to shave, or even trim, his beard contrary to his Muslim beliefs.

It turns out that the threat to the big fight here on Saturday night was more than anything a storm in a shaving cup. Danny Williams, Britain's challenger to the World Boxing Council champion Vitali Klitschko, said that if necessary he would withdraw from the contest if he was required to shave, or even trim, his beard contrary to his Muslim beliefs.

However, his promoter, Frank Warren, was emphatic yesterday when he arrived here. He said: "If it comes down to it, I'll go out and buy a razor and do the job myself. Don't worry, Danny will be in the ring on Saturday night. It's the great chance of his life."

The Nevada Athletics Commission's executive directer Marc Ratner confirmed that the crisis, such as it was, was over. He said: "We will be looking at Danny's beard, but I don't envisage the fight being off."

Williams had been emphatic that he would not compromise his religious beliefs. "I can trim my moustache but I cannot touch my beard," he insisted. "If they ask me to shave or even trim it, there won't be a fight. My beard has been like this for a while now. I don't like it, but I believe it's the way it has to be, and I will not touch it."

Ratner had already tried to downplay the potential glitch, saying: "I haven't seen anything like a full cowboy beard, but we've had boxers fight unshaven. [Evander] Holyfield had a little stuff on him."

Thirty years ago, the former world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier faced a similar dilemma to the one that had appeared to be facing Williams when he fought Britain's Joe Bugner. The British Board ordered him to trim his beard and Frazier, whose protests were to do with vanity rather than religion, agreed.

For Williams the stakes were considerably higher. Were he to defy Warren, apart from the chance to fulfill his dream of being world heavyweight champion, he would also forfeit a pay night estimated at £1.2m.

Klitschko's camp had not appeared to be taking the issue too seriously, either. Bernd Boente, representing the Ukrainian, said there would be no protest from the champion.

"It doesn't worry Vitali at all," he said. "All that would concern us is if Williams had a horseshoe in his glove."

Yesterday, he was more concerned with trading psychological blows. "Klitschko has a yellow streak in him," he said. "He does not like it when things get tough. His heart is definitely a weakness and it is up to me to expose it once again."

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