Boxing: Danny goes for broke in chasing the big one

Klitschko stands between Williams and lifelong goal

Alan Hubbard
Sunday 05 December 2004 01:00

Las Vegas is America's Theatre of Dreams, and right now Danny Williams dreams of hitting the jackpot in boxing's heartland. The problem is, he first has to hit Vitali Klitschko perhaps even harder than he hit Mike Tyson almost six months ago.

There is snow on the mountains and a distinct chill in the air as the wind sweeps in from the Nevada Desert, down The Strip and along the road to the Mandalay Bay Hotel. It is there that Williams believes the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion will himself catch a cold in the first defence of his title on Saturday night.

Should that happen, Williams will fulfil his father's 25-year-old dream as well as his own. It is a tall order, in every sense, because the dice are quite heavily stacked in favour of a champion who currently packs the biggest wallop in boxing.

I confess to being something of a Klitschko fan. A 33-year-old 6ft 7in gigantic chip off the old Soviet bloc he may be, and a little robotic perhaps, but he is certainly no Ivan Drago clone. A credible hulk who can box, takes a fair punch and delivers one pretty effectively. A series of summarily flattened foes, among then Britons Julius Francis and Herbie Hide, have the sore jaws to prove it.

What's more, he uses his brain out of the ring as well as in it; he is a multi-linguist, PhD, ambassador for Unesco and someone who thinks deeply enough to have seriously considered calling off this fight to become a political freedom fighter in his native Ukraine.

After demolishing what Lennox Lewis had left of Iron Mike, Williams, two years younger but six inches shorter, now has to find a way of toppling Dr Ironfist. It will not be easy. Klitschko was outscoring Lewis before he was savagely cut about the eyes, yet he was far less impressive when subsequently winning the WBC title against a podgy Corrie Sanders. The strong feeling in the Williams camp is that Klitschko is taking the Briton far too lightly. If that is so, it would be a huge mistake.

For Williams's victory over Tyson seemed to clear his head of the misgivings and lack of self-belief that had bedevilled his career. As a boxer, he has been born again, a daydream believer who is now unafraid to put his faith in his fists.

His trainer, Jim McDonnell, has worked out a contrasting strategy to the one that broke up Tyson. "Klitschko is fairly predictable," he says. "He doesn't actually do a lot, but what he does is very effective. He sits on his back leg like all the Eastern European fighters and, unlike Tyson, punches in singles rather than clusters. Danny mustn't let him pick him off. He's got to get in there, stay there, force the pace and work, work, work."

Williams acknowledges that this bout will be fought at a different pace to his three-and-a-bit frenetic rounds with Tyson. He is ready for an endurance test that will sap Klitschko's suspect stamina. "I have to get inside his long reach and break his body up," says the Londoner. "I expect expect Klitschko to hit me and hurt me, but I doubt he can hit me harder or hurt me more than Tyson did."

"Smash the body and go for the cuts," is the advice Lewis offers to a challenger who says he will be around the same 18st 9lb he was against Tyson. Frankly, he needs to be lighter, for his legs may prove as important as his fists.

"This fight is more about Danny than it is about Klitschko," says his manager, Frank Warren. "It is all down to him. Danny has always needed a challenge to get the adrenalin flowing, and here he is in Vegas fighting a linear champion. If that can't get him going, nothing will."

It will be a night for insomniacs as well as aficionados, with the Vegas bill part of an eight-hour "boxathon" on Sky.* Ricky Hatton will be among those scurrying off to catch the big fight rather than catch up on some kip. Hatton features in the double-header from London and Las Vegas, defending his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title at the Excel Centre in London's Docklands against the American Ray Oliveira. Like Williams, Hatton believes he is on the brink of fulfilling his dream of becoming a globally recognised world champion, though he insists the WBU belt he defends for the 15th time is more than a bit of bling.

On the surface this seems a bit of a pot- boiler, though Oliveira is a clever boxer-fighter with a high punch-rate who has traded in fairly decent company. And he has never been stopped. He and Hatton share a birthday, with Oliveira 10 years older at 36. "Our styles will gel and make for a wicked fight," promises Hatton, who now awaits the dubious pleasure of the formidable Kostya Tszyu next year.

Hatton reckons his heavyweight stablemate has "a fantastic chance" of beating Klitschko, but the Las Vegas odds-makers have the Ukrainian a heavy favourite. This is unlikely to faze Williams, a 9-1 underdog against Tyson, whom he claims he dreamed of knocking out in four rounds. He has been dreaming again when he nods off every night in Nevada, but prefers not to reveal the outcome.

My feeling is that Klitschko will win on points or via a late stoppage. But in Las Vegas it's always a worth a gamble. So dream on, Danny.

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