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All or nothing in ring for Sonny Bill Williams

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 27/01/2013
Sonny Bill Williams
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
SKIPPING TIME: Based on appearances, Sonny Bill Williams should have no problem beating Francois Botha in the ring tomorrow.

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Sonny Bill Williams is all in.

Don't bother calling his bluff. There is no poker face to this bold statement.

"If I get knocked out then that will probably be the end," Williams told the Sunday Star-Times of his fleeting boxing career, after finishing a plate of spinach, broccoli and steak in his Auckland hotel yesterday, the meal highlighting his discipline to all facets of training, despite struggling with sickness this past week.

Williams has just raised the stakes significantly; the pot is about to jackpot, one way or the other when he takes on experienced South African heavyweight Francois Botha in Brisbane on February 8.

Sure, at first, the pugilistic art was an unknown trial for the dual- code superstar. For his first three fights, he learnt his craft from YouTube footage.

"It was a bit of a reality shock when I first got a boxing trainer," Williams recalls.

Many people still see him as a novice. Williams hasn't been tested.

He's fought bums, they suggest, forgetting he had no amateur background before stepping into the ring to forge a professional record, and pursue a third dream.

"At the start it was an experiment," he admits. "I didn't see a future in it until my last fight [against Clarence Tillman]. I saw how much I improved with a boxing trainer and my confidence shot up from there.

"Now I'm definitely keen to try doing this for a living to see how far I could go." Critics and scepticism follow all three of Williams' sporting ambitions. Even an exhibition against Botha won't be enough for some who will say the 44-year-old wasn't up to it.

Williams' feats in league and union, where he won a Rugby World Cup, Super Rugby, NPC title and the Ranfurly Shield, contrive an expectation that he should jump straight in with the top contenders.

"Because you play at such a high level in rugby and league, people expect you to be fighting the best - the Klitschkos, and people like that," he said.

"At the start it was tough because you're fighting guys that have more experience than you, but aren't really fulltime boxers. You can only go down that path for so long." Few realise Williams holds a desire to become just that - a fulltime boxer. Yes, that means league and union could one day take a back seat.

But first, he must steer clear of Botha's dangerous overhand right.

Indeed, the 60-fight veteran is out to end this clash, and Williams' boxing career, swiftly. Taking on Botha, who has fought Tyson, Lewis and Holyfield, defies boxing sense. A gradual step it is not.

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Williams' quest to boxing credibility reaches a defining crossroads after just five pro fights. Victory, however it comes against Botha, would propel his name internationally, with the fight to be broadcast in three countries - New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Defeat will see him map a different path, outside of the ring. His transition, and unique juggling act, would be over.

"Right now I can see myself doing boxing fulltime in the future, but for that to come to fruition I need to fight guys like this and beat them, otherwise it's a waste of time," he said.

"Some boxers go their whole lives building a record until people want to watch them. I've had to jump really quickly. This fight will be defining. It will tell me if I can keep going.

"I could easily keep fighting on the undercards, but you've got to take some risks. I'm not getting any younger.

"If this doesn't go to well I could just stay in one sport.

"If I lose this fight I will definitely be upset because I know it will probably be the end of it.

"If I ever got knocked out I don't think my mum would let me back in the ring, but at least I had a crack. And if I win, then it opens doors."

Outwardly confident, inwardly tense, Williams has learnt to harness suffocating nerves and fear of failure.

During his time in the spotlight he's come out of his shy shell, but, behind closed doors, controlling emotions remains a challenge, even more so with the magnitude of his aforementioned sentiments.

"I'm so nervous that I want to be a perfectionist. The emotions you feel are intense.

"That's one of the biggest things about boxing - I'm so scared before I ever fight, but that fear keeps me on edge. I used to be like that with footy but after going back from boxing it's not so bad."

- Sunday Star Times

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