A sham(e) we can't take our eyes off . . .

Last updated 09:08 16/02/2013
tdn sonny stand
Sonny Bill Williams

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OPINION: If there is a sport which deserves a gold medal for shooting itself in the foot, it's boxing.

Last week we discussed the impact former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali had made on both sport and the world. We did not delve into the darker side of his time in the ring and the controversy surrounding it.

Ali's win over Sonny Liston in 1962 gave birth to the phrase "phantom punch" because it was not clear what blow had actually knocked the seemingly unbeatable Liston out. Ali later won several fights, notably against Ken Norton, when he appeared to have lost in the ring.

The latest black mark on the sport - in truth it's more like a splattering - has been the fallout from last weekend's Sonny Bill Williams-Francois Botha scrap. Dodgy boxers and dodgy promoters have long been part and parcel of the sport, particularly at heavyweight level, and even commentators employed by the promoters have frequently had difficulty avoiding words like "fixed" when a decision has been announced.

Despite that, and probably more so because of it, the fight game continues to attract a huge following. Pay-per-view followers come back time and again, despite the fact that there is a good chance one of the protagonists in the main fight will barely last a round - and that's with some of the punters who crowd bars to watch on Sky.

It is such fertile and potentially rewarding ground that promoters will fall over themselves to put high-profile people in the ring. Dean Lonergan, who called a spade a spade with some scathing criticism of the Williams-Botha fiasco, was quickest to see the value of that when he launched New Zealand's fight for life series and raised a considerable amount of money for good causes in the process.

More recently, sports stars have switched codes to try their luck in the ring. League star Anthony Mundine has become the poster boy for that. All Black and Kiwi Williams has followed suit.

Williams scored his sixth win in a row when he beat Botha on points in what turned out to be a far better fight than might have been expected from a 44-year- old has-been and a novice.

But the backdrop to the fight has been a farce over the number of rounds it was supposed to go, allegations that Botha failed a drug test and his own claims that he was offered money to throw the fight.

It is about as bad as things can get, although it is worse because there is also some doubt over the legitimacy of the belt the pair were fighting for. But it all amounts to more publicity, and for boxing promoters there's no such thing as bad publicity.

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In professional wrestling, punters know the whole thing is for show; with boxing they get to find out later, or part way through the fight.

Perhaps that's why if Botha and Williams fight again, Sky will surely turn a pretty penny from the pay-per-view, the high- or lowlights will again be the most watched video on the Stuff site and the outcome will be debated in workplaces all over the country.

- Taranaki Daily News

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