Boxing: Williams looks for the higher ground

Altitude training the secret weapon as Skelton awaits heavyweight grudge rematch in Cardiff
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The Independent Online

Heavyweight boxing is no laughing matter these days but the Commonwealth champion, Danny Williams, could not resist a chuckle as he revealed that for the past few weeks he has been preparing for Saturday's return title defence against Matt Skelton in an oxygen tent.

"So my training," he confided, "has really been intense." In tents. Geddit? Boom boom. Ah well, the old ones are the best, which is what the heavyweight division seems about these days. Williams is 33 next month and Skelton coming up to 40.

Joking apart, we must hope that there will be no repeat of any funny business at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday. When they last met, the referee, Terry O'Connor, himself a former heavyweight, appeared to give to a passable impression of Graham Poll, issuing numerous yellow cards but neglecting to send Skelton from the ring for a series of blatant infringements, including head-butting.

O'Connor seemed to lose control, and one now wonders whether the man in charge this time, the relatively diminutive Howard Foster, is physically big enough to manhandle a pair who will scale the best part of 40 stones between them.

Last time, Williams ended the ex-Bedford kick-boxer's 18-fight unbeaten run on a split decision. He acknowledges that this time it will be even harder. "Matt will come out more aggressively and I will have to box better. It will be a torrid fight at a torrid pace."

He admits he prepared inadequately for the February fight, but not this time. He has been sleeping and training in oxygen-fuelled tents which replicate a training atmosphere at 10-12,000 feet. One is even pitched over his bed. He explains that oxygen is pumped by a generator which he can regulate to whichever altitude he chooses. "Top athletes like Lance Armstrong and Paula Radcliffe have all used this system," he says. "It makes me feel like I am in Colorado. We boxers have been doing the same things in training that they did back in the Sixties. We need to step up and become more advanced, and this is the thinking behind it."

Skelton counters: "I haven't bothered with a tent, I've just been getting my fresh air by sleeping on a park bench." He argues that he did nothing "untoward" in the last fight. "This is a tough business. He goes on about it being a dirty fight with me fouling, but I don't think it was. Yeah, it was a bit rough and ready. If he expects someone to be polished and pretty then that's not me.

"I'll do what I have to do to get a result. Anyway, Danny wasn't blameless, turning his back and going over the ropes when it wasn't necessary. He's an old pro and he knows a few tricks, too.

Williams retorts: "What I will say is that if Matt tries those sorts of things again, he won't be the only one doing it. Whatever he does to me, I will do to him. That's my mindset."

For two big men who trade in unmitigated violence both are immensely likeable chaps, and it is hard to choose between them again. This time, though, one suspects Skelton may bulldoze his way through to reverse the last result, especially if Williams, the aggravatingly inconsistent conqueror of Mike Tyson, shrinks into his familiar shell of mental walkabout.

It has not been the happiest of weeks for Amir Khan, who is facing a charge of dangerous driving. However, he insists the impending court case will not distract him from his business with the 27-year-old Scot Colin Bain, his eighth opponent.

"I am 100 per cent focused on the fight," he says. "It has not affected my training in any way." Bain comes with a respectable record of nine wins and a draw in 11 contests, has not been stopped and holds two points victories over Britain's most experienced pro, Peter Buckley.

"He will pose a lot of questions for Amir," promises the promoter, Frank Warren, who anticipates a crowd of some 13,000, which would have been double the size had Joe Calzaghe not pulled out.

But with 16 bouts scheduled on a bill that starts at 3.15pm (the main events are screened on ITV from 9.30pm) the action, as Williams might say, will certainly be intense.

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