Boxing: Williams strikes a new low but wins

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The Independent Online

Another heavyweight fight, another controversy. Danny Williams left the Reading ring on Friday night with both his British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles strapped round his girth, but knowing full well that with a different referee it would not have been the case.

The records will show that Williams, behind on points, put Michael Sprott away 19 seconds into the fifth round to retain his titles and remain on course for a meeting with Herbie Hide, where a stronger official than Terry O'Connor will be needed on the night.

O'Connor could have disqualified Williams - at the very least docked him a couple of points and offered Sprott time to recover - when the champion dropped the challenger with a left hook to the groin and a right to the chin at the end of the fourth. Instead, the official counted.

Sprott, who lost for the sixth time in 30 fights, staggered out for the next stanza. Again a blatantly low, illegal hook caused Sprott to drop his hands and complain, whereupon Williams hit his unprotected chin and it was all over.

Williams's tainted victory, which at least keeps his heavyweight aspirations afloat, comes days before two of the sport's self-styled "warriors of the ring" meet in what is optimistically hyped as a title eliminator. There's little likelihood of Evander Holyfield or James Toney, whatever the outcome of their 12-rounder in Las Vegas next Saturday, being taken seriously at the top of the division, but the match-up is one of the more interesting out there.

Holyfield, a four-time heavyweight champion once he had cleaned up the cruiserweights, puts his career and fading reputation on the line again when he meets Toney, the current IBF cruiserweight belt holder who has stepped up a division. For this fight, Holyfield, 41 next month, will earn $5m, while Toney, just turned 35, collects $2.5m. He needs the money: in April he was arrested for child support arrears amounting to $100,000.

Many view this as two fighters past their sell-by date hyping up a bout that will ultimately disappoint. Holyfield, with six defeats in 46 bouts, is hardly the "Real Deal" any more, his speed and reflexes having been ravaged by 19 years in this brutal business, while Toney (66 wins from 72 contests) is never far away from the self-destruct button.

What the pair do share are enormous egos and a genuine liking for inflicting pain. Such styles make for good fights, and if one can excuse the fact that these two macho veterans have a combined ring experience of 34 years, this really is a 50-50 fight.

One would expect that Holyfield's experience and level of opponent in the heavier division should be able to drag him through to a points verdict - both have chins made of cast iron, which is one reason for their longevity - but should Toney arrive in the shape he was when out-punching Vassily Jirov in a cruiserweight upset, this would surely result in Holyfield's retirement.