Boxing: History shows odds weighted against Williams ruling the world

Those who cannot shake the nagging hunch that a thrilling, meteoric year has finally left the hero of Brixton, Danny Williams, dangerously exposed beyond his class when he steps into the world heavyweight title ring here tonight must now believe they have fresh reason for doubt.

Those who cannot shake the nagging hunch that a thrilling, meteoric year has finally left the hero of Brixton, Danny Williams, dangerously exposed beyond his class when he steps into the world heavyweight title ring here tonight must now believe they have fresh reason for doubt.

It lies, inevitably, in an astonishing historical fact. Williams, who stands merely around six feet tall and is a good six inches shorter than the champion he challenges, Vitali Klitschko, is at 19st 4lb the joint heaviest fighter ever to dispute boxing's most prestigious prize, a distinction, if that is quite the word, shared with only the "Ambling Alp" Primo Carnera, and the obscure Jamil McCline.

These are not statistics that speak of supreme boxing achievement. They tell of battles against the odds imposed inequably by nature.

Carnera beat Tommy Loughlin, a world light-heavyweight champion, 70 years ago. McCline lost to the International Boxing Federation world champion, Chris Byrd, last month.

Unsurprisingly, in the laboured process neither of them had the inclination or the ability to launch the quick infighting around which Williams' entire strategy depends against the World Boxing Council title holder, Klitschko, who has weighed in 20 pounds lighter than his opponent at 17st 12lb.

None of this has provoked a moment of reflection in the Williams camp, but then it wouldn't, at least not publicly, and it is certainly true that his trainer, Jim McDonnell, has said throughout the 10-week training build-up that his man would come in over the 19-stone mark.

"It is what we expected," says McDonnell, "and no one should doubt that Danny is in tremendous condition. He did something that amazed me the other day. He ran 24 100 metre sprints with just 15 seconds of rest between each one. He is going to war and he is perfectly prepared, mentally and physically...."

Williams added: "I feel better than I have ever done before a big fight. I feel good in my mind and my body. I know I'm going to win."

It is a bold assertion and it has to be. Williams, who is 15 pounds heavier than when he beat the profoundly mediocre Michael Sprott 15 months ago, and seven pounds more than when he lost to him last January, is going against both a fighter who has been occupying an entirely superior class of conflict in the last few years and one of boxing's more basic laws of physics.

This says that superior stamina tends to be the gift of men with the more evenly distributed weight and Klitschko, who is just two pounds heavier than when he troubled Lennox Lewis so deeply 18 months ago, seems much better equipped for the longer course - a direct contradiction to the claims of Williams and McDonnell, who also assert that the Ukrainian is critically short of weight in the area of his heart.

Klitschko dismisses such charges, saying: "I am both a fighter and an athlete. I understand my body and weight is never a factor. I get fit to fight and it is as simple as that. There are various ways to win a title fight and they are dictated by the situation you find. I know that I can win a fight early or late, I will still have the ability to knock out Danny Williams at any stage and if he doesn't believe me he only has to look at my record." That, within the last two years, records TKO victories over Vaughn Bean, Larry Donald and Corrie Sanders in the 11th, 10th and eighth rounds respectively.

For Williams, a crucial question: will he be able to produce such late venom after carrying more than 19 stones under the draining heat of the television lights?

At the weigh-in there was one clear reassurance for the fans who gathered around to wish him luck. When he stripped down at the Mandalay Bay Events Centre there was no hint of softness in the body mass of the man who applied the last rites to Mike Tyson's ravaged boxing presence in the summer and when his weight was announced the effect was surprise rather than dismay. He was five pounds heavier than when he beat Tyson.

When the then reigning world champion James "Buster" Douglas stood on the scales down the road at the Mirage Casino hotel 14 years ago there were gasps and outright mocking laughter. He had ballooned since his own, rather more sensational defeat of Tyson a few months earlier in Tokyo, and he paid a cruel and unavoidable price when he sprawled out on the canvas in the desert moonshine after a crisp right cross from Evander Holyfield.

Unlike that of Williams, Douglas's flesh sagged and Holyfield's veteran trainer, Lou Duva, pound for pound the owner of the most savage tongue in boxing, sneered: "Douglas will go down in history as the only guy who put on weight in a sauna... the problem was he kept ordering room service."

No such charges of gross self-indulgence can be levelled at Williams, but as he seeks a much more noble place in the annals of boxing than Douglas it is impossible not to speculate on the effects of his extra bulk if Klitschko successfully negotiates early rounds which his opponent will try to turn into a maelstrom.

With his superior reach - in real terms that is, rather than the detail of the tale of the tape which was based on the measurement of Williams' much broader shoulders - and basic upright style of jab and right cross, Klitschko is much better equipped to fight at long range and this means that Williams will be obliged to take early risks.

There is also the psychological factor which which can reveal itself truly only after the first bell. Williams insists that victory over Tyson has banished all of those demons which overwhelmed him so catastrophically in the last fight with Sprott. But he says it quickly and moves on, and you wonder at what point he might engage the truth that this is indeed a leap into new and dangerous terrain. Klitschko is a serious man and formidably equipped fighter. He may lack the inspiration and the talent of one of the great ones, but he has nurtured all of his ability. Unlike Tyson, he confronts Williams around the peak of his powers - and without a great cargo of regret.

Lewis, who is here as a commentator, has tried to endorse his compatriot and Williams says that he is grateful for the former champion's advice. But most disturbingly Lewis says: "There are a lot of things that go against Danny in this fight and it is no fault of his own. One of them is height. Just like when I boxed Mike Tyson and he was 5ft 7in or something and then my next fight was against this guy Klitschko, who is 6ft 8in. Most of my career I boxed shorter guys, now I'm fighting a guy who is punching down at me, which is very difficult. When Danny goes in he definitely has the height advantage against him." Against this problem, Lewis points out Klitschko weaknesses, his "bleeder's" skin and what some see as a certain lack of resolution if things go wrong.

What isn't in doubt is that Williams faces his toughest rite of passage. He acknowledges that in a few hours' time he will never have felt so lonely, saying: "My family are staying at the Luxor Hotel and I don't speak to them. I only text them. I've banned my wife from calling me. It touches me when I speak to them. It upsets me. My wife sees me on the posters but she cannot touch me. Being away from family, helps me to be the person I need to be when I walk into the ring. That is a vicious person. In the past I've been told there is not enough devil in me in the ring and that's maybe because I've been around my family, and been happy and content."

Contentment, you have to fear, may have to wait, its loss balanced against a purse of £1.2m - wealth beyond the dreams of the desperately underachieving fighter who less than a year ago heard boos in his ears when he failed against a man called Sprott.

The instinct here is that Klitschko will retain his title around the fifth round. Maybe he will have blood on his face, but he can wipe that away - as he did after driving Lennox Lewis into the truth that it was time for him to end a great career. That, more than any litmus test of the scales, will be the most persuasive credential of all in the ring tonight.

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