Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Williams painted the town red, all right, but only with his blood

Found this on The Daily Telegraph. Very well written...on my favourite sport!

Paul Hayward reports from Los Angeles on the heavyweight title fight

TWO fighters checked into the Valley Hospital in Las Vegas late on Saturday night. The beaten challenger had the kind of face you see after car crashes and the champion had injured both his hands creating all that mess. Britain’s Danny Williams painted the town red, all right, but only with his blood.
The brutal truth of Saturday’s World Boxing Council heavyweight title fight is that ‘Dr Iron Fist’ - aka Vitali Klitschko - was transformed into Dr Broken Fist by the sheer multitude of punches he landed to ‘Dynamite’ Danny’s head. Klitschko was Las Vegas. Williams was Bethnal Green.
For weeks this 31-year-old Londoner had steeled himself by watching old Rocky Marciano tapes and reciting lines to himself about the majesty of the ‘‘heart’’. The violins played all week. But then the fighting started and romance turned to pathos, pity knocked out hope.
So much for the ‘‘biggest day’’ of Danny Williams’ life. To fail in other sports is to edge a ball to slip, over-hit a forehand drive on a tennis court or head a ball against a post. When men come up empty in a world title fight - the only one that will ever come their way - they suffer physical humiliation and terminal damage to their warrior selves. Their family, friends and millions of television viewers observe their emasculation. Jelly-legged, they slump on to a stool and sense their career being carried away like the sponge and its bucket of crimson juice.
From the hospital later came news that Williams escaped serious injury in his one-sided, eight-round ordeal. It is routine in Nevada boxing rings for badly beaten fighters to be taken to the local infirmary for scans. Williams walked to the ambulance unaided and was talking fluently from the moment the referee saved his skin.
But there can have been no clearer affirmation of his defeat than Klitschko’s need for treatment on his overworked fists. ‘‘I went to the hospital as a precaution because both my hands were swollen,’’ Klitschko said yesterday. ‘‘They are taped now but the doctor said I would be fine and could fight in a couple of months.’’
‘‘We’ve had him checked and he’s A1 OK. He’ll come back fighting from this,’’ promised Williams’ trainer, Jim McDonnell, who, it ought to be said, was unable to help his fighter respond when Klitschko began delivering his trademark piston jab, which is backed up with a clubbing, overhand right.
‘‘I’m definitely not quitting,’’ Williams said yesterday. ‘‘Frank Bruno came back from a defeat to win a title and so can I.’’
Williams was brave, but hopelessly out-classed. After the isolated flourish of the Mike Tyson fight, in which he smashed the shell of a once-great champion, Williams went back to the world of the Lonsdale belt: to York Hall and Wembley.
Klitschko, whose supporters turned this into a Ukrainian pro-democracy rally, connected with 296 punches. Williams found the target with just 44. Before the stoppage, Brixton’s representative was 11, 10 and 10 points behind on the three judges’ scorecards. On one card he lost the opening round by the unusually large margin of 10-7. Four times he heard the hollow thump of his body bouncing on the canvas.
The final fall, 1 min 24 sec into round eight, exhausted his capacity to soak up Klitschko’s savage and mostly unanswered blows. Up in a commentary box, Lennox Lewis stifled an urge to intervene. Lewis told us: ‘‘I actually felt like jumping in the ring and saying, ‘Dan, let me sort this out for you’.’’
‘‘This was not a fight. This was a beating,’’ mused Don King, the ultimate American huckster, who was in town to promote his ‘heavyweight series’. For once there was no need to swing an axe at King’s hyperbole.
In training, fighters concoct all sorts of elaborate tactical strategies and repeat them until they believe they are true. But when the bell goes and the first good punch comes in, often that wisdom shoots down their legs and into the ground like lightning travelling down a conductor. To ‘slip’ the incoming jab, Williams said he would copy the exemplary head movement of Tyson’s early career. He said he would land fearsome blows to Klitschko’s body. He said he would dart ‘inside’ the jab to nullify the champion’s octopus reach. He did none of this. Confused, hurt and overwhelmed by the first knock down, 36 seconds into the opening round, he merely stood on the end of Klitschko’s jab, not moving his head, not ducking inside and not retaliating with any meaningful blows of his own.
His role in this gruesome drama was to be an ever-reddening sponge for the best of a mediocre band of heavyweights. Williams was down in the first, the third, the seventh and the eighth, and was badly cut above his right eye in the second. ‘‘He has an iron chin and a big heart,’’ praised Klitschko, who added: ‘‘I want to thank all my people who are fighting for democracy and the future of our children in the Ukraine.’’
His supporters and cornermen wore orange in support of that cause.
But the prevailing theme of the night was red. All four major bouts ended with one or more of the protagonists shedding crimson tears. The star of the show was not Klitschko but the unbeaten junior welterweight, Miguel Cotto, who destroyed Randall Bailey, himself a former world champion, with Tyson-esque aggression and a sumptuous array of skills. Cotto’s talent is boundless.
If only the same could be said of the heavyweight division, where most experts pick out a revitalised Hasim Rahman as the fighter most likely to pull Klitschko off his plinth. Again and again, under cross-examination, Lewis refused to categorically rule out the possibility of a comeback. His last fight, of course, was an unconvincing stoppage win against Klitschko, who was bleeding buckets when the referee called a halt.
Lewis is a father now, and reckons he would be ‘‘nine months away’’ from being ring-fit, but he did admit: ‘‘These fights do tempt me. This one stirred a little bit of excitement in me.’’
Britain’s former undisputed heavyweight champion was critical of Williams for coming in to the ring so bulky. At 19st 4lb, he equalled the heavyweight record set by Primo Carnera in 1934, and his mobility was diminished by the extra power he loaded into his limbs. ‘‘How do you train for 10 weeks and gain weight?’’ Lewis wondered. ‘‘It was a major disadvantage to go in so heavy against a guy with such height and reach. The class difference was too wide. What Klitschko does is lean back on his heels, reach right over with his punches and then lean back again so you can’t get back at him. I wanted to tap Danny on the shoulder and say, ‘Sit down, son, I’ll fight him for you’.’’
In 12 months, Williams has lost a British title to Michael Sprott at Wembley, demolished Tyson in Louisville and been eviscerated on the biggest heavyweight stage of all. The future points back to Bethnal Green or to retirement, where a purse of around pounds 700,000 would help ease the enduring trauma of Saturday night.
The national rodeo finals concluded in Las Vegas this weekend. All over town, men were being thrown or knocked to the ground by life’s bucking horse.