SBW switches pitch for ring
Sonny Bill Williams (File)
Christchurch - Rugby World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams will switch the pitch for the ring once again in February when he fights for New Zealand's vacant heavyweight boxing crown, the All Blacks back told local media on Tuesday.
Williams faces 10-year professional Richard Tutaki in Hamilton on February 8, less than three weeks before his debut with his new Super Rugby side, Chiefs.
Undefeated in four fights against a succession of journeyman opponents, Williams said Tutaki presented a real challenge.
"I think every time you step in the ring, there's a bit of fear in there but that motivates you to train hard and do your best," Williams, clean-cut in a snappy grey suit, told local reporters at a media conference.
"He's a seasoned campaigner, 40 fights, so hopefully I haven't bitten off too much, but I'll be right."
His 33-year-old opponent, nicknamed the "Tutaki Express Train", has a 19-21 record with one draw in 41 fights. He lost his last bout in April following an 18-month break from the sport, local media said.
Williams won his last fight by unanimous decision in June against 43-year-old Tongan boxer Alipate Liava'a as then-All Blacks coach Graham Henry looked on from the crowd, but was criticised for being unable to finish his opponent in the six-round fight in Auckland.
"After the last fight I kind of said to my manager I want to try and step up in class ... I was offered the chance to fight for the belt and it's not every day you get the opportunity," added Williams.
"Just really excited. Hopefully this is something I can add to my sporting achievements ... As a boxer I'm always evolving and I think there's a lot of improvement in me."
Williams's boxing aspirations have stoked controversy in New Zealand, where fans and pundits fret that the barnstorming 26-year-old could do himself serious damage and endanger his rugby career.
Williams, who played at centre and wing in the All Blacks' march to their second World Cup, has nonetheless secured an endorsement of sorts from the New Zealand Rugby Union, who permitted him a limited number of fights in his one-year contract.