Bets off in farcical Sonny Bill Williams fight

NEIL REID
Last updated 08:03 10/02/2013
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WARY WARRIOR: A battered Sonny Bill Williams is lifted up on the shoulders of his corner-men after being announced winner.g

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The TAB's chief bookmaker says his agency should refuse any further round-by-round betting on boxing bouts featuring Sonny Bill Williams following Friday night's farce in Brisbane.

The controversial Williams beat South African Francois Botha in a fight that lasted 10 rounds instead of the scheduled 12, forcing the TAB to yesterday refund all bets on its pick-the-round option for how long the fight would last. All head-to-head bets on a victorious Williams, pictured right, were honoured.

"We are as disappointed as anyone and pissed off, frankly," TAB bookmaker Mark Stafford told the Star-Times. "It puts a blight on us even though we had nothing to do with it."

The TAB will meet tomorrow and Stafford would be "strongly recommending" the agency no longer offered round betting on bouts involving Williams. He said the TAB sought assurances the fight would be over 12 rounds after a previous Williams fight in Sydney was stopped after six rounds, despite being scheduled for eight.

TAB general manager Martin Saunders added that the betting agency would this week seek a "please explain" from fight promoters and organisers.

Williams was awarded the bout but only after he barely survived a 10th-round onslaught from Botha that left him visibly shaken. A furious Botha was certain he would have beaten Williams if the fight had continued to 12 rounds as he expected.

Another betting agency, Bet365, yesterday refunded all bets it had taken on the controversial bout, with Botha suggesting the fight was called off early to save Williams from being "killed".

The boxing scandal comes at the end of a week when Australian sport has been in the gun for alleged corruption, including match-fixing and doping.

Leading New Zealand promoter Dean Lonergan said shortening of the Williams-Botha fight was "without doubt, the most reprehesible thing I have ever seen in sport. What happened was effectively changing the rules halfway through a sporting contest", Lonergan told the Sunday Star-Times.

Lonergan said the early finish damaged Williams' reputation and that Botha was robbed of a potential knockout win. "Unfortunately Sonny Bill Williams now has a cloud over his good name due to things that happened beyond his control."

Williams and his controversial manager Khoder Nasser both said the bout was scheduled to be a 10-round affair; claims Botha said were lies.

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The issue got even murkier last night when Botha's promoter, Thinus Strydom, said he was told just moments before the fight that it would be "cut down" from 12 to 10 rounds. He didn't tell Botha of the late change.

Promotional material promised "12 rounds of knockout action". Australian pay-per-view channel, FoxTel, along with several betting agencies also promised a scheduled 12-round bout. Commentators calling the bout, and at least two members of the bout's ringside judging panel, also believed it was a 12-rounder.

Brad Vocale, of the sanctioning body, WBA Pan Asian Boxing Association, said a championship bout would not be shortened to 10 rounds. "Not in a championship fight, we don't do that in championship fights."

Williams, on social network Twitter, said yesterday: "We both knew it was a 10 rounder."

In a phone interview with the Star-Times Nasser also claimed that the fight was always scheduled for a maximum 10 rounds and pre-fight publicity about 12 rounds was a "misunderstanding".

He said the furore over the fight had been created by Botha who was seeking a lucrative rematch.

Nasser said he was disappointed that media were concentrating on the issue of rounds rather than Williams' latest sporting accomplishment.

"You are just looking for a fight . . . you don't want to go on about how remarkable it was, what he has accomplished," he said. "He is probably the greatest novice fighter of all time . . . no-one wants to talk about that. The guy is remarkable. He played rugby union, within a year he was the best player in the world," he said of Williams' switch from rugby league to being a member of the World Cup-winning All Blacks.

Botha described his abbreviated fight as "bullshit . . . it was 12 rounds, in the programmes - you cannot change it", Botha argued. "If it had gone 12 rounds I would have killed him. How can you bend the rules because of a superstar in rugby? Everyone wants him to win, his management wants him to win, but how can you go bend the rules? It's unheard of. They can't get away with it."

Botha's team will protest the decision.

- Fairfax Media

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