OPINION: Boxing is fast going the way of professional wrestling, and Sonny Bill Williams is hastening the slide.
Professional wrestling was once a serious, competitive sport. By the 1930s it was resorting to gimmickry, though many wrestlers, such as Earl McCready and Lofty Blomfield, were talented athletes.
New Zealander Pat O'Connor, an Empire Games medallist, won the world professional title from Dick Hutton in 1959 and held it 13 months. It's questionable how bona fide a world title it was, but O'Connor was proud of it and he could certainly wrestle.
These days professional wrestling is a joke in which any publicity stunt that generates media attention and draws spectators is acceptable.
Boxing's situation is almost as dire. For decades the sport at the top level in the United States was plagued by mafia involvement, with fixed fights set up by crooked organisations.
Now there are other problems.
Heavyweight title fights over the past two decades have featured a man who paraglided into the ring during a bout, the infamous Mike Tyson ear-biting of Evander Holyfield, Oliver McCall's nervous breakdown against Lennox Lewis and Andrew Golota's disqualification for deliberately and repeatedly punching low.
Credibility has vanished.
In New Zealand, it's unfair to call professional boxing a sport. That would dishonour thousands of serious sportsmen and women.
The much-hyped annual Fight for Life, while it earns promoter Dean Lonergan a pile of money, makes a mockery of boxing. It is ripping off the sport.
And now there's Sonny Bill. By beating South African Frans Botha in Brisbane the other night, he has lifted his record to six wins from six fights.
His first fight, in May 2009, was against North Shore builder Gary (The Baboon) Gurr and lasted just over a round. Gurr could not box.
Next up was grossly overweight storeman Ryan Hogan, he of the enormous beer gut. That one finished even quicker. Hogan had had one amateur fight, which he lost, and then took on Williams.
Williams' third fight was against Sydney forklift driver Scott Lewis, who entered the ring with advertising signs scrawled across his back. Williams won a six-rounder on points.
Sickness beneficiary (truly) Alipate Liava'a was wheeled into the ring next, in June 2011. The bloated 43-year-old was proud to survive six rounds - a pointer to Williams' lack of boxing ability - though not so pleased later when he had the big ACC “Please Explain”.
Williams' fifth fight was his most farcical. He beat grossly fat American Clarence Tillman in one round to win the “New Zealand professional heavyweight title”, as illogical as that sounds. Titles in boxing are meaningless, of course.
Tillman was a late substitute for Richard Tutaki, who was prevented from fighting after he failed to appear in court to answer 10 charges, including possession of methamphetamine.
Then there was Botha. Apparently the fight was WBA-endorsed, though the WBA denied it knew anything about it. The length of the bout was controversially cut from 12 to 10 rounds, which cost Botha a probable victory and was so dodgy that betting agencies had to refund punters' money.
Top top it off, Botha then went and failed the drugs test.
Williams' agent/manager Koder Nasser, whose name still reminds me of a used car salesman, had a lot to say afterwards. Much of it was inflammatory and almost none of it made sense.
It's a pity Williams involves himself in these tawdry boxing antics. He is a great footballer - league and rugby union.
Instead he makes himself a laughing stock of the sports world. The amazing thing is that he can't see it.
- © Fairfax NZ News