BRISBANE — Francois Botha and Sonny Bill Williams were being nice to one another on Wednesday, two days before they take to the ring.
The All Black world champion suddenly wondered whether he belonged in the same ring as Botha. “It’s a privilege to fight someone who has been in the ring with legends,” Williams said.
Botha, who had earlier questioned Williams’s right to be in the same ring with him, was almost amicable, giving fellow rugby Test star Quade Cooper credit for “reviving boxing”.
Cooper will fight former world Muay Thai title contender Barry Dunnett on the undercard. It will be the Wallaby flyhalf’s first pro fight.
“I wish more sportsmen would come into the boxing arena,” said Botha, known as the White Buffalo.
On Friday, however, all niceties will be set aside.
Botha will enter the ring as favourite despite his age: 44 to Williams’s 27. The main reason for this is that Williams has not fought a decent opponent yet, while Botha has gone between two and 12 rounds with Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson (whom he led for four rounds before succumbing to a knockout punch in the fifth), Wladimir Klitschko (WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world cham-pion), Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer.
Botha is still pretty nifty on his feet too, as he showed in sparring this week. He looked sharp on the pear ball, landed some solid punches in sparring and appeared fit for a man showing middle-age spread.
Williams did not need to watch the South African in training to be impressed. He gave White Buffalo some respect on Wednesday.
“I’m still relatively green,” said Williams. “I need to take on guys like this though. If I want to do this in the future, full time, I need to beat guys like this.”
So much hangs on the fight for Williams, perhaps more than for Botha, who is closing in on retirement. “If I can’t beat guys like Botha then there is no future for me in the sport,” said the All Black.
He conceded that Friday’s fight was a “massive risk”.
“But it’s a massive reward as well,” he quickly added.