SPIRO: SBW is really chasing world title boxing glory

Spiro Zavos Columnist

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    Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan "Hulk" Hogan. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    What do you make of a supremely gifted athlete who changes rugby codes just when he is establishing a legacy for the ages? That is the case of Sonny Bill Williams.

    And adding to the puzzle is the fact that when you try to work out what the plan behind the changes involves, you come to the conclusion that there is another sport in which he is really trying to establish the SBW legacy.

    In my opinion, that sport is boxing. The key to understanding what he is doing with his sporting career is that its real direction is the World Heavyweight Boxing title.

    Not long into SBW’s rugby league career The Daily Telegraph, the hoarse voice of the code, proclaimed him as potentially one of the greatest ever players of ‘the greatest game of all’.

    Then SBW made his treacherous or brave (depending on your views about the sanctity of sports contracts) bolt from rugby league to rugby union in France.

    Early indications suggested that SBW had made a mistake in making the leap of faith. In rugby league he played as a ball-handling and running forward. There was no way he could play this role in rugby union, although Brad Thorn who made the leap from league to union created a stellar career for himself as a Crusaders and All Blacks lock.

    In his early days, too, SBW found that the strange league perception (which Phil Gould still maintains!) that there is no tackling in union was arrant nonsense. Stirling Mortlock memorably put SBW on his backside in his first major rugby union match playing for the Barbarians against the Wallabies.

    It was not really until SBW came into the Crusaders’ environment that his rugby, as an inside centre, began to flourish.

    Because he was big and strong and had enormous hands and upper body strength, SBW developed an off-loading game that has revolutionised the way rugby attacks are being made.

    But even in 2011, and during the Rugby World Cup tournament, SBW was still behind Ma’a Nonu as the All Blacks first choice as an inside centre. It was noticeable, too, that he was played more on the wing than in the centres for the All Blacks.

    And in the tense Rugby World Cup final against France, he came on with minutes left to play, and on the wing.

    But this year for the rampant championship Chiefs and for the All Blacks, SBW emerged as a genuine rugby union star, and a potential great of the game.

    But as he did with rugby league, at the time when he should have been creating his legacy for the ages, he moved on. First he played in Japan, a rugby union giant against minions. And then next year back to rugby league with the Roosters. But only for a year.

    In 2014 he will probably return to the Chiefs, after another stint, perhaps, in Japan.

    Then after the Rugby World Cup 2015 tournament in England, he might play some more in Japan or Europe.

    But it will be boxing that will take over as his primary sporting interest.

    A cynic could read the SBW shifts from code to code and from country to country as merely part of a manager-led dash for cash. But this does not explain the big cut in his income he will receive from playing for the Roosters.

    SBW reckons that he made a handshake agreement with Nick Politis, three years ago when he left rugby league, that Politis would take him back into rugby league, no matter how he fared in rugby union. This is the sort of fall-back option which SBW honoured that was available in a way, as well, to Israel Folau.

    But the old cynic in me (it is the journalist streak) also sees a boxing advantage in the Japan and Roosters deals. SBW has Europe and Japan, through his All Blacks connections, as places where he will draw big crowds for his boxing matches.

    And through Super Rugby he has New Zealand, South Africa and possibly Australia as venues for his boxing matches. I said ‘possibly’ because the Bulldogs stigma needs to be wiped out.

    And it is more that likely that this is going to happen when SBW strips off next year for the Roosters.

    Bob Jones, a New Zealand property multi-millionaire, has a passion and a deep knowledge about boxing. He reckons that SBW won’t make it as a boxer. This may be sour grapes on Bob’s part, though, as he has his own New Zealand heavyweight contender.

    So far the jury is out on SBW as a boxer. He hasn’t had to take a real punch on the jaw. He has fought over-weight palookas.

    He does have a magnificent physique or ‘build’ as they say in New York gyms. He doesn’t seem to have a massive punch, at least at this stage in his short career.

    So the jury is out until he starts to fight and beat some fighters who are more than convenient punching bags.

    There is, however, some history on his side. Gene Tunney’s last defence of the world heavyweight boxing title he won from Jack Dempsey was against Tom Heeney, ‘The Hard Rock From DownUnder’.

    Heeney was a New Zealand Heavyweight Boxing Champion like SBW, and a rugby player who played against the 1921 Springboks.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • November 15th 2012 @ 4:18am
      Dublin Dave said | November 15th 2012 @ 4:18am | ! Report

      Whaddya mean “the” World Heavyweight Boxing title? As of now, there are no fewer than five organisations offering such titles and they are currently held by three men: the two Klitschko brothers from the Ukraine and the Russian Alexander Povetkin.

      Professional boxing is a murky sport, decided as much by politics and money connections as it is by the skill and courage of the protagonists. If Sonny Bill is to win A title, (take your pick from IBO, WBA, WBC, WBF or WBO) he will need more than an audience of the curious from both sides of the equator, but the ability to put bums on seats, especially if those seats are couches in view of a pay-per-view TV set will do him no harm.

      Boxing’s real claim to be a noble art resides in the supposedly Amateur version of the sport whose ultimate test is the Olympics. There one finds genuine contests between equally matched men, or indeed nowadays; women.

      You are one on one with somebody who is more or less your own size at whom you can have a right old go at the noble art of fisticuffs but nothing else.

      No fingers in the eyes.
      No forearm smashes to the side of an opponent’s head while he is looking the other way.
      No getting a front row colleague a few weight divisions heavier to help you pick up your opposite number and drop him on his head.
      No chance to pull apart the legs of a bantam weight scrum half if your are a heavyweight lock.

      The cynic in ME wonders if the popularity of the game of rugby in a country has a corresponding negative effect on that country’s prowess at boxing. Rugby allows physical contests between people of vastly differing sizes. For those familiar with that scenario, being limited to taking on somebody every bit as big as you are might seem to be Not Fair Dinkum.

      Look at the performance of the great rugby nations of the Southern Hemisphere in the boxing tournaments of the last few Olympics and wait for the tumbleweed. Not a single boxing medal from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa since David Tua won a bronze for New Zealand in Barcelona 20 years ago.

      In fact, in the last few Olympics, not a single contestant from New Zealand. In the men’s sport anyway. They did have a few girls (one born in South Africa, the other in India) fight for them in London.

      Give the Australians their due, they were game. They sent along contestants in nearly every division to the last two Olympics. None of them lasted more than a couple of fights but at least they tried.

      A man with the physique and hand speed of Sonny Bill Williams would seem to have the essential natural skills to make it as a boxer. But where’s he going to learn the finer points of the Sweet Science?

      Chances are, it won’t be in New Zealand. 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        November 20th 2012 @ 3:19pm
        Hoy said | November 20th 2012 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

        Hard to do anything at the olympics when the judges make strange decisions on fights…

    • November 15th 2012 @ 5:09am
      Rabbits said | November 15th 2012 @ 5:09am | ! Report

      He should try his hand at acting in Hollywood. All he needs is a recommendation or better yet be paired up with Dwayne Johnson and he could become an action star or myabe he could chuck it all in on Sunset boulevard and be a porn star!

    • November 15th 2012 @ 8:33am
      Farmerj said | November 15th 2012 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      They reckon it takes 10000 hours training to become good at anything.

      That would suggest he hasnt done enough training and doesnt really have enough time left in his sporting prime to become really good at boxing.

      But who cares, if people would pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight bums I would jump at it.

      • November 15th 2012 @ 8:49am
        Chris said | November 15th 2012 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        I think that’s more about musical instruments and sports which require very good hand eye co-ordination.

        Boxing is a little different as it is more related to supreme physical fitness and unbelievable mental stregnth. Physical fitness is nowhere near a 10,000 hour pursuit (you can reach peak fitness on three hours training a day for 6 months) and mental strength is something you either have or you don’t.

        • November 15th 2012 @ 9:03am
          Farmerj said | November 15th 2012 @ 9:03am | ! Report

          I think boxing is a bit more technical than you give it credit for.

          • November 15th 2012 @ 9:14am
            Australian Rules said | November 15th 2012 @ 9:14am | ! Report


            • Roar Rookie

              November 15th 2012 @ 3:34pm
              silegusta said | November 15th 2012 @ 3:34pm | ! Report


              • November 15th 2012 @ 9:33pm
                Harry said | November 15th 2012 @ 9:33pm | ! Report


        • November 15th 2012 @ 12:25pm
          Mals said | November 15th 2012 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

          You can have excellent mental & physical strength but if you have no idea how to avoid/take a punch & throw one yourself you will go no where in the boxing game.

    • November 15th 2012 @ 8:33am
      Hugo said | November 15th 2012 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Dublin D – you probably know the fight stories of Craig Davidson. They illustrate the fact that to learn all that a fighter needs to know to make it in the ring he has to start early. SBW is way too old to learn. He just won’t have the time for one thing. You can have a bad game or two in rugby or league and still get picked the following week, but once you get your clock cleaned a few times as a fighter no promoter would be interested in putting you on a halfway decent card.

    • November 15th 2012 @ 8:53am
      B.A Sports said | November 15th 2012 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      Spiro; I think you are giving Williams and his manger far too much repsect if you think these shuffles across continents are all part of a a plan to build a name for himself across multiple markets in order for his boxing career to prosper. For the same reason (his, by all reports inept, manager), I just don’t see how he ever gets to the really big stages when it comes to boxing while Nassar is involved. We have seen his failings time after time with Mundine in arranging fights and then the actual running of the fight nights. Add in that Williams has Mundine himself in his ear regularly and I can’t see how this guy ever makes it to the top of the boxing tree.

      My other thought would be that in this day and age, and the degree to which the elite boxers have to look after their bodies, I can’t see how you can do anything other than work full time on boxing if you want to be the holder of a legitimate title belt.

      • November 15th 2012 @ 10:15am
        George said | November 15th 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

        I agree with BA Sports here, your giving him far too much credit when he hardly deserves any of it. We see him with a supremely fit chiseled body in the boxing ring so the general perception is, wow he looks good therefore he mus be good, yet he fights fat no names and tells the world he wants to be the heavyweight champion of the world! and flaunts some poxy NZ belt that no one who is a serious boxer wanted.

        I have no issue with people maximising there earning across whatever sports they choose. if you can do it then do it and enjoy the ride! hes obviously talented but boxing requires training tenacity and dedication more than the 5 weeks he gives prior to fights.. but what irks me is that he is a smug mug and thinks he is Mr Teflon. Holding the key to your career by wanting 1 year deals on your terms works if you suceed but as we have seen with his other mate Quade Cooper, once the shine rubs off and we see him for the tool that he has become, he will soon realise all those bridges he burnt being a smug mug will come back and bite him on the arse!

      • November 15th 2012 @ 11:43pm
        The Grafter said | November 15th 2012 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

        Well written BA.

    • November 15th 2012 @ 9:06am
      CBDoggz4lyfe said | November 15th 2012 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      SBW’s foray into boxing is good for boxing but will never be anything other than a spectacular side show. If he thinks he is world class then he is dilusional. NO ONE in the current top 10 has less than 20 fights bar a couple of europeans but they are like 18-0
      He needs to quit listening to his own boxing hype and concetrate on Rugby/League BOXING AINT NO JOKE CHUMP!

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