By Jake Donovan
Multi-sport athlete Sonny Bill Williams survived his toughest test to date, but not without a lot of help from his friends at ringside.
The footballer-turned-boxer survived a late rally from faded former heavyweight contender Frans Botha to take a unanimous decision Friday evening at Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Queensland, Australia.
Scores were 97-91 (twice) and 98-94 in favor of Williams, in a bout that went to the scorecards after 10 rounds despite an advertised 12-round limit. No explanation was offered for the shortened contest, nor was the visiting fighter pleased with his being denied a shot at a late-rounds knockout.
"I love Sonny Bill. I think he's a great guy, a gentleman. But this is bullshit," Botha said, as he was never informed of the fight being reduced from 12 rounds to ten.
That said, it took forever for the 44-year old cult favorite to get going, digging himself in a deep hole early on. Williams wasn't a ball of energy himself, but busy enough in comparison to pile up rounds early on. Botha went stretches at a time without throwing any punches at all, while Williams offered a steady jab and occasional power shots upstairs.
Action picked up (relatively speaking) in round three, with both fighters having their moments. Botha picked up the pace in round five, which immediately resulted in Williams going on the defensive and suddenly expending energy.
As the fight reached the midway point, it was apparent that Botha's plan was to either score a knockout or get himself disqualified. The South African repeatedly threw double punches - not combinations, but landing simultaneous clubbing shots to his opponent's ears - but was never warned for the infraction.
What finally drew the attention of referee Tony Kettlewell - who was dwarfed by the heavyweights and never had control of the contest - was Botha's affinity for hitting on the break and even after the bell in round eight.
Botha's best moments of the fight came in a wild ninth round that saw the bout's first point deduction as the veteran was docked for a blatant right hand during a break in the action. He hardly cared, as he had Williams shook after unloading towards the end of the round.
Williams appeared to be in serious trouble, running low on energy and resistance with three rounds still to go. It was at that point when the officials suddenly revealed that the bout would only go ten rounds rather than the thought-to-be scheduled 12-round limit.
Even the announcers were taken aback by the declaration, insisting that the referee had it wrong when he told the fighters it was the final round at the start of the tenth.
The arena's emcee confirmed the call, informing the crowd at the round's midway point that there was only 90 seconds to go in the contest. The round was all Botha, to the point where Williams accepted a point deduction for excessive holding just to avoid suffering a knockout loss. The boxing novice literally held on to the bitter end, fending off a late rally to hear the final bell in his first time fighting beyond the sixth round.
The scoring on the two 97-91 cards were accurate. A tally of 98-94 in a fight that saw two point deductions reeked of a judge simply mailing it in, but Williams nevertheless remains unbeaten as he advances to 6-0 (3KO), fighting for the first time in a year, to the day.
Botha falls to 48-9-3 (29KO) and is now just 1-5-1 in his last seven contests dating back to Oct. 2009. The bout comes just three days shy of 23 full years in service, though he clearly plans to continue with his career.
"I absolutely want a rematch," Botha humbly demanded at fights end, his every word met with cheers from a crowd that lustily booed Williams throughout his own post-fight interview.
Quade Cooper (1-0, 1KO) enjoyed a successful transition from rugby to boxing, scoring a 1st round knockout of Barry Dunnett in a pro debut that doubled as the evening's chief support. A pair of right hands provided both knockdowns, the latter of the two a perfectly timed shot that put Dunnett (1-2, 0KO) down and out at 2:59 of round one.
Free-swinging Alex Leapai (27-4-3, 22KO) made quick work of unwilling opponent Matt Hicks, scoring an opening round stoppage in a disgrace of a heavyweight fight.
Hicks (13-9, 12KO) flew halfway around the world, only to put up no effort at all. The referee acted accordingly, anxious to count out the Tennessee tomato can after being floored by a right uppercut. Leapai deserved a more spectacular finish than for a 10-count to last all of five seconds, but nevertheless is a winner at 2:42 of round one.
Jarrod Fletcher dominated Thai southpaw Kiatchai Singwancha en route to a seventh round stoppage in their middleweight scrap.
Fletcher (14-1, 8KO) was sharp throughout the contest, and survived a mid-rounds scare when a headbutt left him bruised under his left eye. It was the closest Singwancha (32-9, 21KO) came to turning the tide. Fletcher turned up the heat in the sixth round and appeared on his way to a spectacular stoppage in the seventh, only for the referee to intervene before a definitive outcome could be provided, stopping the fight at 2:14 of round seven.
Daniel Baff scored his first win in more than two years, not at all having a difficult time achieving the feat in stopping Peter Brennan inside of a round. Baff (13-2-1, 11KO) - who hadn't fought since June 2011 prior to Friday evening - struck early, flooring Brennan (10-21-4, 2KO) seconds into the bout. Two more knockdowns prompted the referee to stop the mismatch at 2:31 of round one.
Bilal Akkawy rolls to 6-0 (6KO) after a 1st round knockout of hapless Paul Edwards (3-7, 2KO) in the evening's curtain raiser. Edwards was floored twice - both times by body shots - before the bout was stopped at 1:45 of round one.
Off camera, Jezze Carrasco (3-1-1, 1KO) scored a four-round decision over Waylon Law (5-4, 1KO) in a matchup of local welterweights.
Jake Donovan is the Boxingscene.com Managing Editor, Records Keeper for Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox