Cape Town - Francois Botha has learnt the hardest lesson in boxing: it’s time to retire.
Sonny Bill Williams beat the veteran on points over 10 rounds - 97-91 on two cards and 98-94 - to win the WBA International heavyweight title in Brisbane on Friday.
Williams came desperately close to being knocked out in the final 20 seconds of the bout but he survived after outscoring the South African.
GALLERY: Sonny Bill Williams v Francois Botha
VIDEO: Sonny Bill Williams v Francois Botha - highlights
The fight, watched by a huge audience of rugby and boxing fans, was never meant to be an exhibition of first-class boxing. And it certainly was not. But it created much excitement because of Botha’s track record as a former IBF champion and Williams’s popularity as a World Cup-winning All Black.
Williams, known for his outrageous off-loads in top-class rugby, failed to off-load a knockout punch but put up a commendable performance in only his sixth professional bout.
Both fighters wore black shorts and blue gloves but that was about where the similarities ended. Botha, known as the White Buffalo and fighting in his 61st professional bout, looked in better shape than in many months but Williams was the only one in superb condition.
Williams used his reach advantage well and opened a cut on the bridge of Botha’s nose in the opening round. He finished the second round on top, even though Botha kept talking to him to test his concentration.
Botha’s right eye also showed some damage after the third round and he was unable to take control against the fitter and faster New Zealander even though he scored with some decent blows.
Williams surprised his detractors with his composure and ability to read the fight. Despite his lack of experience and obvious deficiencies on defence, he handled everything that Botha offered.
Botha had a point deducted from his score for hitting after being told to break in the ninth round. Many referees would have disqualified him there and then.
Williams also gave away a point in the final round but stayed on his feet during the hectic final seconds to enhance his status in the fight game.
The 44-year-old Botha’s record now stands at 48 wins, 9 losses, 3 draws and 1 no-contest, with 28 wins coming inside the distance.
The South African had fought the likes of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer, all world champions. He won the IBF heavyweight title when he beat Axel Schulz on points in December 1995.
But that was 17 years ago when he was still a “youngster” of 27. Now he is coming to the end of a good career, if not a great one.
The 27-year-old Williams, who was born in Auckland, New Zealand, is a vastly experienced rugby player but still a novice as a boxer, albeit undefeated after six fights, including three knockouts.
Earlier, Australian rugby union star Quade Cooper made his professional debut in a cruiserweight bout against Barry Dunnett and won by knockout in the first round.
Cooper, one of the most exciting and unorthodox attackers in international rugby, showed the value of a positive attitude and confidence. He took a solid shot halfway through the first round, briefly lost his composure but rebounded to knock down Dunnett less than a minute later.
Showing a snappy jab and an exposed chin, the Wallaby flyhalf went after Dunnett and knocked him cold with an impressive right. Dunnett, 32 and now boasting a record of one win in three bouts, provided Cooper with a soft start to his professional boxing career.
The fight was over after 2 minutes 59 seconds. But Cooper will have to spend much more time in the gymnasium and in the ring before he will be recognised as a boxer.
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