Johannesburg - Boxing and rugby fans will form a huge audience to watch live television coverage of the fight between Francois Botha and Sonny Bill Williams on Friday morning, reports the supersport.com website.
The heavyweight bout in Brisbane will be broadcast live on SuperSport. Coverage of the preliminaries starts at 10:00 (SA time).
The interest in the fight may seem hard to explain because Botha is an out-of-shape has-been and Williams an inexperienced never-been. Nobody expects brilliant boxing but anticipation is running high.
Botha is a former IBF champion and Williams is an All Black who helped New Zealand win the 2011 World Cup. They have what it takes to draw spectators.
Most sports followers know Botha is, at 44 years, well beyond his best. His opponent is one of the most exciting rugby players in the world but a novice boxer, even though he holds the New Zealand heavyweight title.
Williams is young, handsome and supremely fit. Botha makes no claims to any of these points on the marketability list but can teach the Kiwi boxing skills that he has never heard of.
Botha, an excellent promoter of his own career, and Williams, 27, meet for the vacant WBA International heavyweight title at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. An excellent fight it certainly won’t be, but still the enthusiasm is huge.
The veteran has an outstanding record of 48 wins, 8 losses, 3 draws and 1 no-contest. He has won 28 bouts inside the distance since his professional debut on February 11, 1990 when Williams was not at “big school” yet. And he will probably outweigh Williams by about 18 kg.
The White Buffalo has fought some of the best heavyweights in his 21-year-career since he moved the United States in November 1991.
He won the vacant WBA North American title in May 1997 when he knocked out James Stanton in the tenth round. He also fought world champions such as Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer.
In December 1995 he outpointed Axel Schulz over 12 rounds to capture the IBF heavyweight belt in Stuttgart, Germany. But in April 1996 a district court in New Jersey stripped him of the belt when he failed a test for illegal substances.
His charisma kept his career alive and he knocked out promising Flo Simba before losing to Michael Grant, Carlos Takam and Francesco Pianeta. Grant knocked him out in the twelfth round, Takam stopped him in the eleventh and Pianeta beat him on points over ten.
Williams, who was born in Auckland, is a vastly admired rugby player but a raw novice as a boxer. He has won his five professional fights, three inside the distance, but even ardent boxing fans won’t know much about his opponents.
Gary Gurr and Ryan Hogan made their debut against Williams, Scott Lewis had a record of 3-4), Alipate Liava’a came in at 4-7 and Clarence Tilman at 11-8-2 when they fought the strapping All Black three-quarter.
Fight fans will say the bout in Brisbane is merely a novelty attraction; not really a boxing match, despite the WBA sanctioning it as a title scrap.
But they can say what they will: rugby and boxing enthusiasts in many countries want to watch the clash.
If Williams wins, he may consider at least a few more fights against younger opponents, probably with Botha as his promoter. If he loses he may return to the relative safety of the rugby field.