Boxing: Danny wins a battle of the mind

The Alan Hubbard verdict
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The Independent Online

A kiss for Danny Williams. The kiss of life for heavyweight boxing? While proposing to his long-term partner in a Rocky-esque postscript to his greatest-ever victory, Williams might have reflected on the words of the former British middleweight hero Terry Downes a generation back.

"How does it feel to beat the great Sugar Ray Robinson?" Downes was asked after outpointing the then 40-plus all-time great. "I didn't beat Sugar Ray," responded Downes. "I beat his ghost."

Williams later offered somewhat similar sentiments after his shock destruction of Mike Tyson, yet he showed that when he gets both his head and his punches together he is still the best heavyweight in Britain, and can still be one of the best fighters in the world.

This Danny Williams did not bear even a passing resemblance to the one who only a few months ago inexplicably surrendered his British and Commonwealth titles to another far less illustrious Michael, name of Sprott. That was a night when he not only lost a fight but in boxing terms seemed to have lost it altogether, failing to come to terms with either his opponent or his own state of mind.

Throughout his career Williams has been something of a fistic enigma, looking a potential world-beater in the gym but too frequently less than ordinary when it mattered.

But this really was an extraordinary transformation, and one that at least livens up what has become a dormant division both in Britain and in the United States.

Williams has projected himself as a future opponent for any one of a fistful of so-called world champions, while his promoter, Frank Warren - who had hinted at such an outcome if Williams survived the opening rounds - has a ready-made headliner should he entice Williams to meet the winner of the Audley Harrison-Matt Skelton fight due to be announced this week for 9 October.

One of the great truisms of boxing is that the last thing any boxer loses, whatever his age, is his punch. And now that Tyson has obviously lost his, he surely has lost everything.

Those he flung at Williams in the first three minutes would have flattened any heavyweight when Tyson was at his peak, but the years of torrid living had drained the venom. They didn't even stun as the ex-champion went from sharp to shot in the space of three rounds.

It was almost as if he had lost faith in his ability to deliver a knockout blow. Curiously, in training he apparently had been seeking reassurance from a sparring partner that his punches were actually hurting.

Ominously, Williams talks of a possible return, which suggests it may be a contractual obligation. Yet it was one Tyson never took up after the Lewis going-over. Now, for his sake as well as boxing's, we must hope Williams has finally seen him off.

One of sport's supreme ironies is that in the city where one great heavyweight journey began half a century ago, another surely has ended.

Louisville's own liked to tell how he shook up the world. Danny Williams didn't quite do that. He merely shook up the shell of Mike Tyson. However, now it is just possible he has the world at his fists. But most of all he needs to keep his head.