Is it time to start taking Sonny Bill Williams seriously as a boxer?
Sonny Bill Williams' next boxing opponent shapes as a walkover unless he can reverse a long-held reputation for being a lazy trainer.
Williams will square off next February against Richard Tutaki for a New Zealand heavyweight belt left vacant since Shane Cameron shuffled down to the cruiserweight division.
It's hardly the big time for Williams, but in Tutaki, the All Black back at least has an opponent with credible ring time.
Tutaki has a 10-year professional career that started promisingly and at its height included back-to-back fights against Cameron and Roger Izonritei.
The problem is those two losses were in 2004 and Tutaki, now 33 and with 21 losses and 19 wins, has fought only three times since 2007.
Leading New Zealand boxing personality Lance Revill and Cameron's trainer, Ken Reinsfield, both agreed yesterday there was no doubt Tutaki was technically a better boxer than Williams.
If fit both believed he was capable of an upset, but each put a heavy emphasis on the "if".
"If he trains he is going to be a handful for Sonny Bill. He's the same height, same build and he's a bloody good fighter if he trains, but he tends to be a bit lazy," Revill said.
Revill said the fight represented a step up from Auckland sickness beneficiary Alipate Liava'a, who Williams beat on points in June.
"He's [Williams] got to fight someone decent because he's fought absolute bums so far, so I think it's a good call."
Tutaki has been in the ring with some tough customers including two losses to Australian Bob Mirovic in 2005 and 2006, but was notably knocked out in the second round by former rugby league player John Hopoate in 2007.
And Revill said Tutaki's recent inactivity, his past three fights have been at the rate of one a year up to his loss to Kiwi-based American journeyman Clarence Tillman in April, was no accident.
"He hasn't fought because he's not a drawcard and its hard to put someone onto him because he doesn't regularly go to the gym ... when you just go to the gym in and out like he has you aren't on the radar."
Reinsfield said Tutaki had sparred with Cameron over the years and had boxing talent, but questionable conditioning.
"Absolutely he can box, more than Sonny Bill, no doubt about that. Sonny is a natural, but untapped in boxing.
Australian bookmakers have quickly written Tutaki off at $4 to win the February 8 bout, and installed Williams as a $1.20 favourite in just his fifth professional fight.
- © Fairfax NZ News