Boxing: Williams has to play right identity card

Harrison's nemesis needs to release fighter inside himself
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The Independent Online

In his two most notable performances, Danny Williams has put Mike Tyson on his back and Audley Harrison in his place. So you would think overcoming a crude clubber like Matt Skelton would be a relative doddle when Britain's two leading heavyweights meet at London's ExCel Centre on Saturday.

At stake is Skelton's Commonwealth title, previously held by Williams, but it will be decided this week whether the British crown is up for grabs too. The Board of Control have lifted the domestic championship ban imposed on Williams when he belatedly pulled out of a scheduled encounter with Skelton last July, citing flu.

Skelton suggested Williams's withdrawal might be a form of bird flu - of the chicken variety - labelling him "a bottle job". Bottler, no. But Williams is a complicated character who can let his own mind get more on top of him than his opponents. He will show up against Skelton, but which Williams will it be? The confident Brixton banger or the punch-shy introvert whose mind is in freeze-frame?

No such complexities with Skelton. He is all heart, hustle and muscle, while Williams, with an orthodox pedigree stretching back via championship level to the amateurs, has the skill, the punch and above all the experience to win. All he needs to do is put it all together on the night.

But with Williams nothing is ever that simple. Even his victory over Tyson was put into perspective when the giant journeyman Kevin McBride also humiliated the washed-up ex-champion.

Williams was then himself dismantled by Vitali Klitschko, and so brutal was the beating that you wondered at the wisdom of the hugely likeable Londoner continuing his career. But the scars healed and Williams's humbling of Harrison leaves him still harbouring ambitions to collect a world title. Yet he will be back to square one if he loses to a fighter who, for all the breathless assaults of 18 unbeaten contests, is still a 38-year-old novice.

Williams will know that Skelton, in spite of his technical limitations, will be braver and busier than Harrison. Yet he admitted he did not prepare as professionally as he should have done for the former Olympic champion; similar laxity would prove foolhardy against a man who, unlike the hesitant Harrison, will not take a backwards step.

The fight could be a thriller or a stinker, depending on how effectively Williams counters Skelton's unskilled labours. The Bedford brawler is not someone to slug it out toe to toe with. Williams has to box clever, be as bold as he was against Tyson and as demonstrably dominant as he was against Harrison. That way he can at least win on points.

Amir Khan, who makes his sixth professional appearance, is already having to weather more punches outside the ring than inside, but he deals as ruthlessly with critics of his opponents as he has the fighters. "I can't win," he says. "If I knock him out in a round, he will be no good. But if I go the distance, I'll be criticised for that.

"But if I see the other guy's chin, I'm gonna hit it before he hits me." Jackson Williams, a 24-year-old from Norwich, is the other guy, though one hopes not just a fall guy. He is certainly a step up from the Belorussian battered in 75 seconds by Amir last month, with 12 wins in 15 bouts.

Williams lacks a troubling punch but originally learned his craft from Brendan Ingle, the trainer who honed the defensive skills of Naseem Hamed and Johnny Nelson. Williams is a trainee sports science teacher who runs ultra-marathons. He must hope his boxing boots are made for running, too.