Boxing: Williams' battle plan to shock and awe

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The Independent Online

Tonight, at the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands, Audley Harrison and Danny Williams will do what they do best in front of 15,000 fans in a fight that has altered the way many people look at the boxing business.

The promoter Frank Warren, who is in his 25th year in the sport, has given the fight a simple label and it is one that has several meanings. Warren has called the clash between Harrison and Williams for the vacant Commonwealth heavyweight title "at last" and he is clearly referring to having persuaded the pair to meet, but for the British public the tag has another meaning because at last there is a fight that matters and that people know about.

Williams, for some odd reason, starts as the underdog against Harrison, who has clearly persuaded the bookies through the use of careful soundbites that he will win. On paper Williams has far too much experience and punching power for the untested and unbeaten Harrison but clearly not many people are bothered about the facts and the statistics.

Harrison is amazed that people can imagine he will lose to Williams and has talked boldly about the different ways that he can dominate. He claims he can win on points by being cautious and by a knockout if he steps forward.

Williams, at the same time, is equally shocked that anybody, especially the sport's experts, would think Harrison has enough experience, stamina or desire to beat him. Williams has been open with his tactics and has simply said that he will walk forward following big shots from the very start.

The pair have been on course to meet for more than four years and during the past two years their gentle exchange of words has intensified to such a degree that Williams, who in the past has been accused of being too nice for the dirty business, decided not to sit next to Harrison at a press conference. It later transpired that his mother, sensing a flare-up, had banned him from sharing the same room as his opponent.

It is indeed an odd fight that is strangely reminiscent of the first night that Michael Watson met Chris Eubank back in 1991. At the time Eubank was struggling to attract a thousand people and Watson was struggling to attract half that amount. But when they were paired a magical chemistry occurred and about 15,000 people paid to watch.

Williams has never been an attraction but he has always been a good pro and has developed into one of the world's better heavyweights. Harrison was an attraction after he won his Olympic gold medal in 2000 but by the time he left Britain in the summer of 2004 he was no longer a ticket seller.

Warren put the pair of them together and something happened that appears to have shocked him. The fight has become one of the biggest in the past 40 years and it is no secret that if the month was July and not December, tonight's meeting would be outside somewhere in front of more than 40,000 people.

Harrison does have the advantage that all protected fighters enjoy in the days and hours before they meet their first genuine opponent. He is fresh, virtually untouched by the fists of the 19 men he has so easily walked through during his brief career. Williams has had a torrid few years suffering heavy defeats against Sinan Samil in 2003 and Vitali Klitschko in December last year.

Not surprisingly it is the defeats in Williams' record that Harrison keeps referring to during his insistent rambles about victory. He is convinced that Williams has nothing left and that he will be able to look exceptional ending the career of his one-time friend.

But Williams is equally insistent that Harrison is now fully aware that he has taken on too dangerous a task. Williams appears truly to believe that he will finish the fight in two or three rounds and that is what makes tonight's fight such an intriguing pairing. If Williams is wrong and Harrison is still on his feet, moving cleverly by round five, then it will be increasingly likely that at the end of 12 rounds the Olympic champion's hand will be raised.

So much has been written about Harrison and Williams that it is easy to forget that the British heavyweight champion Matt Skelton defends his title against John McDermott in the nominal chief supporting contest.

The winner could in theory fight the winner of the main attraction, but in reality the victor of the Williams and Harrison fight is unlikely to look back at the British title and is far more likely to have his eyes set on the West and the lights of Las Vegas.

There is one other attraction on the bill and that is the four-round light-welterweight fight between last year's Olympic idol Amir Khan and Sheffield's Daniel Thorpe, who will be looking for his fourth win in his 14th fight of 2005.