Boxing: Williams strips away false images in search of champion or coward within

Danny Williams, in this low-rent district where the inhabitants might be a thousand miles from the glitter and the big, easy money of Las Vegas Boulevard

The little house on the edge of the desert is on the other side of town - and reality - from where Mike Tyson had his tigers and fountains and flunkies. And all those dead hours to refine his work of self-destruction, which appears quite relentless with the latest news that the former world champion has been charged with damaging a fellow patron's car outside a nightclub in Arizona.

The little house on the edge of the desert is on the other side of town - and reality - from where Mike Tyson had his tigers and fountains and flunkies. And all those dead hours to refine his work of self-destruction, which appears quite relentless with the latest news that the former world champion has been charged with damaging a fellow patron's car outside a nightclub in Arizona.

It means there is more than a little poignancy when you find Tyson's last conqueror, Danny Williams, in this low-rent district where the inhabitants might be a thousand miles from the glitter and the big, easy money of Las Vegas Boulevard.

This makes Williams, who challenges Vitali Klitschko, the World Boxing Council and linear world heavyweight champion here tomorrow night, possibly unique in his temporary neighbourhood.

For when the man who finished off Tyson engages not the last pickings of his victim's old aura but the big man from Ukraine who helped usher one of the great, working heavyweight champions, Lennox Lewis, into retirement, here is the owner of a real dream, however frail it may be.

On the final strokes of the countdown to the fight that will define his career and his life, Williams admits: "My mind does escape sometimes towards what will happen to me if I beat Klitschko. It happened when I was watching a video of Chris Byrd [the International Boxing Federation champion and, with Lewis, the only man to have beaten Klitschko] and Andrew Golota and I was thinking, 'I could take these guys out, no problem. I could be the undisputed champion like Lennox was'. It is an amazing thing for me when I think of how it was before I beat Tyson - how I piled so much pressure on myself I once burst into tears at some traffic lights, and was so embarrassed I pretended to be wiping my eyes."

Maybe it is something better to think than, say, maybe something you shouldn't even think so close to such a moment of lasting truth but it would be a hard spirit indeed that would censure too heavily a spurt of vaulting ambition in the man who, against Tyson in Louisville a few months ago, so successfully confronted his own worst fears.

"I feel like a new man," Williams was saying earlier this week. "When I was a boy in the gym they said I could be the champion of the world and that drove me crazy, I just walked in the streets trying to shut out the idea and the expectation that came after my father said I had to be a fighter. But I believe it now. I believe I can do anything in the ring. It feels right to be in Las Vegas. It feels like it is my time."

Williams' trainer Jim McDonnell, the former British and European featherweight champion who gamely endured his most critical hour when he was pounded mercilessly by the great Ghanaian fighter Azumah Nelson at the Royal Albert Hall 15 years ago, is desperate that Williams does not allow the possibilities of the future to cloud the imperatives of the moment.

In the house they have been sharing for the last five weeks, and from which they have been emerging for the morning run before the first sunlight streaks the desert, McDonnell pinned up shorthand versions of the message that the fighter cannot stray for a second from the zone of war: "Destruct"; "Kill or be killed"; "Find the Yellow Streak". These are some of the McDonnell instructions.

The trainer brought a flash of anger to the normally impassive face of Klitschko when he threw down the autobiography the champion had presented to him and told the big press conference that his man's talent did not need drug assistance - a sneering reference to Klitschko's admission in the book that he had failed a drugs test before the 1996 Olympics after a doctor had given him a steroid to treat an old injury. McDonnell has also been talking Williams into the belief that he is indeed facing a coward.

He says: "The yellow streak is in Klitschko and that is going to come out. But Danny is a true soldier. The early rounds will be similar to the storm he had to weather against Tyson. That is when Klitschko will be at his most dangerous. Vitali thinks it's going to be an easy job because it is not a mandatory defence of his title, but the Danny Williams who fought Sinan Samilsam and Michael Sprott is the not the same guy who fought Tyson. I don't think it's going to be pretty. After a few rounds Klitschko is going to be thinking of survival. That's why he is already talking about how he is distracted about what's going on at home in Ukraine. The penny has dropped that Danny is the real deal. This fight is going to be about will and intensity and heart."

In these few breathless sentences, McDonnell covers all the intrigue and the mystery of what is surely the most testing assignment of Danny Williams' fighting life. Who really is the man most likely to falter under maximum pressure in the ring at Mandalay Bay casino hotel? At the very least, the categorising by the trainer is highly contentious. The most persuasive evidence in his branding of Klitschko is the Ukrainian's decision to quit on his stool against Byrd but it is far from conclusive.

Klitschko's gaze is even when he explains how he made a logical decision, one worthy of a doctor of sports science and philosophy. While coasting to victory over the IBF champion, he badly tore his shoulder - he later needed surgery - and Klitschko explains: "I made a very conscious decision to retire from the fight because I was thinking of my future career. I knew I'd done myself damage and I didn't want to do any more. It was not a matter of courage but logic. I was superior to Byrd [he was leading comfortably on every card] and I didn't have anything to prove."

McDonnell also argues that Klitschko's will was suspect when he lost to Lewis on a TKO in Los Angeles 18 months ago, saying: "Klitschko's fight with Lewis would have come down to pedigree and who wanted it more, and Lennox would have won."

The facts of the fight hardly support McDonnell's view. Klitschko was again leading on every card and he was indignant when the ring doctor ordered an end to the fight after inspecting a gaping wound over his left eye.

The Ukrainian's camp point scathingly to the lowest moments of Williams' career, not against reigning and future champions like Lewis and Byrd, but such obscurities as Samilsan and Sprott. Williams' corner threw in the towel last year when the low-rated Samilsan knocked down their man four times. And when the Brixton fighter earlier this year lost to Sprott, who he had beaten twice before, he at one point turned his back on the action.

Williams explains these disasters a little too tritely for some ringside taste. He says that his moment of deliverance came in the days before the Tyson fight: "I figured it out after all the years of doubt. I'd wasted hundreds of pounds on hypnotherapists before realising that I had the solution in my own head. I didn't doubt myself but I did bring on too much pressure in my desire to win. Against Tyson, I knew I had to throw everything else on to one side and just fight the best I could."

Now he insists his confidence is overflowing. He has installed his partner Zoe, to whom he proposed after victory over Tyson, and their two daughters in the Luxor Hotel, next to the Mandalay Bay fight venue. But there will be no physical contact until after the fight. Williams, who moved into the Mandalay with McDonnell last night, will not take the short walk this side of the fulfilment of his belief that on Sunday morning he will look into the mirror and see not a man who burst into tears at traffic lights but an authentic champion of the world.

He is ambivalent, though, about how long he will enjoy such prestige. "If I was a millionaire I would still be fighting because I want to fulfil my potential. But I also want financial security and a good standard of living for my family. I could be out of the sport very soon. Being a Muslim, I'm not supposed to be hitting people for money. Once I get the feeling that enough is enough I'll be off. In Islam you cleanse yourself daily, but I've been in boxing since I was a little kid and so it is something hard to get rid of."

Sometimes there seems no limit to the contradictions in Williams' nature. He talks of a dream in one breath and then a retreat from it in the next. To his great credit he saw through the last of the mythology of Tyson, but there are times now when he seems eager to embrace his trainer's caricature of tomorrow's formidable opponent. One moment he broods, the next - McDonnell reports - he is howling so hard with laughter as he watches his kung fu videos, "You would never think he is about to step in the ring to fight for the world title."

This week, though, there was one moment when he carried you to the heart of a great fighting truth. He was asked: "Do you really think Vitali Klitschko is a coward?" He thought for a few moments and said: "I don't really know, and I won't until I give him my best shot and see the look on his face."

Williams never read that on the wall in the little house on the edge of the desert. At 31, it is something he gets from the entrails of his long years in the toughest and most unforgiving business of them all.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker