Sonny Bill Williams punches Francois Botha during their heavyweight bout at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre last night. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
A night in which Sonny Bill Williams won his biggest
challenge in the ring descended into controversy and anger in
Williams claimed the vacant WBA International heavyweight
belt with a unanimous points decision (97-91, 98-94, 97-91)
over South African Francois Botha last night but he was out
on his feet at the end and was saved by the final bell which
many in the arena thought came two rounds too early.
The bout also included two points deductions, allegations of
sharp practice, dirty fighting and more.
Many of the 4000 crowd at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre
booed the result. Williams' victory speech was drowned out.
A fight which began with levity and Botha hopping and dancing
to the ring to Bob Marley's Buffalo Soldier descended into
farce and bitterness, with Williams literally holding on for
a victory which went 10 rounds when almost everyone else
expected the fight to go to 12.
Botha, behind on points but beginning to turn the fight in
the ninth round, rocked Williams with several big right hands
in the 10th. The former All Black could only hold on, for
which he was deducted one point. It is likely that another
clean punch would have finished Williams, a point the Botha
camp were only too happy to make.
In the ninth round the "White Buffalo" was deducted a point
for hitting after the break.
Botha's corner man Hardy Mileham said: "If the referee had
allowed Francois to stand back, he [Williams] would have
fallen. You guys could see that.
Botha added: "I've never heard of fighting 10 rounds. At the
beginning of the 10th round, Hardy said: 'You've got to go
because they've cut it down to 10 rounds'. I said 'what?'
"I got screwed. He was out on his feet. All I had to do was
push him away and he would have fallen down."
Afterwards Williams sounded groggy and unsure about his
future in the sport, although he claimed he would be happy
for a rematch in Cape Town, which Botha had suggested.
Many among the crowd and media contingent were surprised when
in the 10th round the ring announcer said over the public
address system there were only 90 seconds to go in the fight.
There were even suggestions that the final round was 15
Khoder Nasser, Williams' manager, was having none of it.
Striding down the corridor with the WBA International
heavyweight belt over his left shoulder, he walked into
Botha's dressing room and shouted at him and his entourage.
"Who won the fight? You know who won the fight," Nasser
shouted. "Ah, wake up."
"He could not stand. One more round, the fight was over,"
Security staff were poised to intervene before Nasser walked
Nasser said later: "My understanding was that it was a
10-rounder. Now if it was a 12-rounder, that's just a total
Asked about the allegations the 10th round was short, he
said: "I haven't seen that but the TV will tell you. If you
think that I'm dictating that bulls**t, well you can check
that out. From our side of the camp we feel that there were a
lot of things happening in the ring that were totally
"You saw it for yourself. Double handed [punches] at the back
of the head, hitting after the break. That was happening in
the 10th round because the guy got desperate and very dirty."
He added: "If there was a misunderstanding, it's a
misunderstanding. Sonny would have prepared totally different
[for 12 rounds]. And Sonny wouldn't have been like that in
the last 30 seconds if he wasn't hit in certain positions as
well that were totally illegal. You could see how dirty the
fight was getting."
Asked if he thought Williams was out on his feet, Nasser
replied: "If you're getting punched in the back of the head
it's illegal and you're going to get knocked out. Start using
Pressed again about the time keeping in the final round, he
said: "Who's got the belt, mate. See you later."
The controversy overshadowed Williams' performance, which was
impressive. In easily the toughest fight of his short career,
Williams had poise, power and ring craft.
His sharp left jab opened a graze on Botha's nose and a cut
above the South African's eye. After an even first round,
Williams appeared to take the next four, then Botha, who
often laughed at Williams' combinations, admitting he was
offering advice, came back to go narrow the gap in the sixth,
seventh and eighth rounds before taking the last two in a
- Patrick McKendry of APNZ in Brisbane