Worst preparation; biggest test.
If Sonny Bill Williams wrote a script for next month's WBA title fight with seasoned South African Francois Botha in Brisbane, it wouldn't have read like this.
Originally scheduled to take on Botha in November, Williams' build-up was firstly disrupted by chest surgery after being injured on the Japanese rugby fields.
Then, after manager Khoder Nasser fell out with Anthony Mundine, Williams' trainer, Tony Mundine, quit abruptly.
Injury, and the sudden change of mentor, left the dual code superstar with just over five week's solid preparation for Botha, a 60-fight veteran who's slugged it out with Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.
Fair to say it hasn't gone to plan for Williams to date.
"It has been a lot more difficult than the rest," Williams admits, reflecting on his five previous pro fights. "I just try to keep it simple and concentrate on the next day, even being in Japan with the injury. I find with the nerves and the inner fear motivates me."
Williams, who links with the Sydney Roosters after this fight, doesn't shy away from the importance of a quality trainer.
"I didn't know a lot about boxing until my last fight [against Clarence Tillman] when I had a trainer for the first time," he said.
"It made my confidence skyrocket. There are still technical things I need to improve but I can see myself getting better."
Former Australian amateur champion Mahmoud Akkawy, who learnt his trade from six-time world champion trainer Johnny Lewis, was summoned to take on Mundine's duties. While he concedes Williams is down on ring time, Akkawy is confident the 27-year-old will rise to Botha's taunts.
"If you want to think about it he's only had around five weeks to prepare for this fight," Akkawy said. "It's not the ideal time, but if anyone can do it he can. He's a freak. His work ethic is second to none. He'll pull through.
"Tony is a great trainer; he's proven himself with his son. But when you've got a super athlete it makes your job easier. That adjustment has been simple. Sonny is a good listener. He wants to learn."
Williams has been based in Auckland this week, sparring boxers who replicate Botha's dangerous overhand right.
Botha's biggest weapon, in the match-up that pits age against athleticism, is experience; the 44-year-old has been there done that and could benefit from his prolonged, uninterrupted training.
"He's been active," Akkawy said of Botha. "He's had two good fights in 2012 and two good fights in 2011. He beat one of them [up-and-coming South African Flo Simba] and others he pushed the distance."
It's worth noting Williams hasn't been past six rounds and if Botha has his way this 12-round scrap will end before then.
Williams is likely to use his reach advantage, back his jab to maintain distance and build points. As his aging opponent tires, opportunities to counter should come.
"Sonny's strengths are his boxing skills. He's got great footwork for a big bloke," Akkawy said. "That's going to help him stay clear; use his jab, reach, speed and the ring."
- Fairfax Media
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