Boxing: It's all about the belt...or is it?

Anthony Mundine (left) tries to pull Clarence Tillman III off Sonny Bill Williams (right) during...
Anthony Mundine (left) tries to pull Clarence Tillman III off Sonny Bill Williams (right) during a scuffle after yesterday's weigh-in for tonight's Williams v Tillman bout. Photo by the NZ Herald.

A bit like remakes of Zorro and King Kong, the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association heavyweight title pops up every decade or so.

According to reliable website Boxrec, the belt Sonny Bill Williams is fighting for - and American Clarence Tillman III is not - has been fought for just three times.

Fonomanu Young Sekona was the first to claim the NZPBA title, defeating Rocky Salanoa over 15 rounds at Carlaw Park in 1982.

Sekona never defended the belt.

In fact, no-one appears to have fought for it until Shane Cameron knocked out Shane Wijohn at Sky City in 2004.

Cameron defended the title once, against a bloke called Auckland in a fight in Feilding in 2005, before setting his sights on bigger things.

Tonight's 10-rounder between Williams and Tillman III in Hamilton brings the long-vacant belt back to life.

In fact, so much emphasis has been heaped on the trouser-hoisting device that the contest has been dubbed the Battle for the Belt. However, technically, it is hard to imagine the scuffling at yesterday's weigh-in had much to do with pre-title fight anxiety.

For starters, it is highly debatable the winner will hold much claim to being this country's national champion. Tillman - a replacement for Richard Tutaki following revelations of Tutaki's legal issues - cannot actually hold the belt. Even if Williams wins, most boxing folks will still consider Chauncy Welliver - holder of the NZNBF title - to be New Zealand champion.

That is not to say tonight's event is entirely without interest.

Should Williams defeat Tillman, a unification fight with Welliver would have box office appeal.

A Williams victory, though (one would hope), is far from guaranteed. Tillman may look like a mahogany version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but he is still a significant step up from the bums and borderline cripples Williams has faced so far in his career.

Tillman has been active, fighting eight times last year for five wins, two losses, and a draw. He is also not Williams' first-choice opponent, which always adds an element of danger. Tillman, in fact, beat Tutaki in a split decision six-rounder last April.

By contrast, Williams has had just four fights, with only the last two - both won on points over six rounds - rating as genuine contests.

Tillman has the edge in size, experience and power, while Williams has a clear edge in athletic ability, though he will want to have made some strides with his skills under the tutelage of Tony Mundine over the past two months.

Williams was credited with a knockdown during the scuffle at the weigh-in, though a close look at the video revealed Anthony Mundine pulling Tillman down from behind. Quite what he was doing behind Tillman instead of behind his own man is not clear.

Williams will not be able to rely on that sort of assistance tonight.

"I'm going to . . . . you up," Williams apparently told Tillman yesterday.

We will see.

 - Steve Deane


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