It was almost too poetic to be true.
A week where the integrity of Australian sport has been questioned like never before ended in folly in Brisbane, even by boxing's lofty standards.
The sweet science isn't exactly the historic pin-up for squeaky clean conduct but the bizarre, controversial and confusing finish to the heavyweight bout between Frans Botha and Sonny Bill Williams will take some digesting and quite possibly, serious investigations.
Williams was quite correctly declared the points winner after 10 rounds. The problem is most people - including Botha and at least two of the ringside judges - thought it was scheduled for 12.
It was a good thing for the Sydney Roosters star, who dominated all but the final two rounds with his snappy jab but was in genuine trouble towards the end of the 10th as Botha turned it into a street fight, punching on the retreat and landing some heavy blows, some of which weren't legal.
Botha was deducted a point as Williams held on and tried to survive. In the end, the six-fight pro was saved by the bell, which was reportedly rung as much as 10 seconds early. Late last night, amid backroom screaming matches between rival camps, nobody had any answers.
An enraged Botha certainly couldn't track down the disappearing rounds. He was ready for 12 and said he planned to protest to the WBA, the fight's sanctioning body, who have some serious questions to answer about what went wrong and why they weren't on hand to intervene.
"When I came to Australia I was so surprised to see the doping thing and match-fixing. What is this? Cutting two rounds off a fight, the 10th round wasn't even three minutes. They cut 10 seconds off it,"Botha said.
"Isn't this match fixing? You can't get away with this because you're a superstar. Two more rounds. I was chopping him down. Two more rounds and this fight is finished."
Botha didn't seem to know what happened to the rounds but his promoter Thinus Strydom did, saying he was informed shortly before the fight, although he surprisingly didn't tell his fighter. The result was Botha left his run too late and Williams wobbled over the line with a unanimous points victory.
"I don't know. They (the missing rounds) went out the back window. At the end of 10 rounds, I agree that Sonny Bill Williams was ahead on points. But Botha was coming back strongly and the 11th and 12th rounds are normally championship rounds," Strydom said.
"I found out when they are walking in. They called me aside and listen, 'it's been cut down to 10 rounds'. I said to my guy 'don't tell him'. Before the bell, you don't do things like that. The last round was cut short and Sonny Bill was out."
All WBA sanctioned bouts are scheduled for 12 rounds, as per the organisation's own rules (page 21).
During the week, a number of leading bookmakers temporarily suspended betting on the Williams fight after a steady run of interest. Odds were tightened and markets reposted 24 hours later.
On Friday, one bookmaker cancelled a special multibet involving the fight after some unusual activity.
Williams' manager Khoder Nasser said Botha was fighting dirty and that was the reason Williams was in late trouble, not because of the Botha's boxing prowess.
"If you're getting punched in the back of the head, it's illegal. Anything can happen," Nasser said.
As for the round ending early, he said: "Go and check the times. Ask the time keeper. We've got the belt."
Williams said he always thought the fight would be 10 rounds and he prepared as such. Prior to the ninth and 10th, he showed improved technique, obvious ability and plenty of courage, even if he was still hesitant to really let the hands go against the 44-year-old veteran.
"I thought I was winning the rounds. He caught me with a couple of shots at the end there. I had never been past six rounds. I was just proud of myself taking on someone with the experience that he has," Williams said.
"I thought it was going for 10. That's the first I've heard of it. I'll probably have a lot of people bagging me out there but my mum and old man are proud of me."
Middleweight Jarrod Fletcher, who won on the undercard, was impressed with Williams but said the former All Black ran out of gas much earlier than he would have guessed.
"He's got a good manager I think. He was very lucky. He was blowing out pretty bad. It surprised me. Botha looked like an old man but he kept coming," Fletcher said.
"Once it got into the later rounds, Sonny started struggling. That's just experience I guess. But he's more than a footy player. He can fight."
People within the fight game will simply say 'that's boxing' and add this bout to the long list of unexplained endings. But it's unlikely fans who paid to have the fight beamed into their home, or punters who invested heavily on Botha, will be so easily appeased.
At the very least, it strengthened the case for far more serious regulation of the sport in Queensland, which remains shambolic and is the only Australian state without a legislated body to oversee events.
- Brisbane Times
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