Fransie Down-Under by Pete Moscardi

To suggest that Francois Botha was ripped off and stitched up by dubious Australian boxing officials would be grossly inadequate terminology to describe the fate that befell the White Buffalo in his fight with the Kiwi All Black, Sonny Bill Williams. Botha was sacrificed on the altar of skullduggery and ‘crookery’ and was the victim of some of the worst machinations ever seen in a boxing match.

Botha was the loser on points of a 10 round fight which ended in bitter controversy. The contest, which took place in Brisbane on 8 February, was doomed even before the sound of the first bell. Advertised and announced by both the TV commentators and the ring announcer as a 12 round contest for the vacant WBA International heavyweight title, the fight was suddenly and inexplicably cut to 10 rounds during the interval between the ninth and 10th rounds. But sadly, such happenings are nothing new to Australian boxing.

Ask Zolani Marali about boxing in Australia. Marali ventured to Newcastle in New South Wales in July 2008 to fight Billy Dib for the vacant IBO Super-featherweight title. After seemingly emerging a clear winner, Marali, his then trainer Nick Durandt and his promoter Rodney Berman were shocked by the decision which went to Dib. The Golden Gloves kingpin was so incensed that he lodged a formal protest with Ed Levine, president of the IBO. Levine acquired a tape of the fight and got three of his neutral and unbiased judges to view it without sound. They were also asked to score it as if judging a live fight. All three returned a unanimous decision in favour of the South African.

The IBO president ordered a re-match to take place, but the Aussie was having none of it. Avoiding Marali like the plague, the Australian opted to drop down to featherweight (a division in which he won and lost the IBF belt) instead of facing Marali in a re-match. This fight left a sour taste in the mouths of South African boxing fans who watched the fight live on TV, and left Marali disillusioned.

South African boxers are not the only ones who find themselves on the wrong end of dodgy decisions in Australia. Dib was involved in another fight which had a controversial ending. In his fight with Kenichi Yamaguchi in Sydney in July 2009, Yamaguchi was knocked down by Dib in the first round. Billy unleashed a punch while his opponent was on the canvas and Yamaguchi got up on rubbery legs. The referee, Les Fear, stopped the fight and initially crowned Dib the winner. This decision was later over-ruled by the New South Wales Boxing Authority and changed to a no contest. Dib’s blatant and cynical fouling of Yamaguchi called for instant disqualification and the Japanese fighter must have felt more than hard done-by.

Back to the Botha fight and its seemingly never ending controversy. The record books will simply show: ‘Sonny Bill Williams W Pts 10 Francois Botha’. But this does not begin to tell the story, which has more questions than answers. The fight was billed as being for the vacant “WBA International heavyweight title”. But here’s the rub. If it was, as promoter Khoder Nasser claims, contracted over 10 rounds then it could not have been for a WBA title.

Mariana Borissova, a European-based WBA International coordinator, says: “Our rules and regulations are very clear on this point. WBA controlled and Intercontinental titles are 12 x 3 minute rounds.”

It has been reported that the WBA has stated that it had, in fact, given sanction and recognition to this fight. But how could they go against their own rules? And if indeed sanction had been given, then why did the WBA not have a ringside supervisor. Why was there not a rules meeting, and why were there no contracts for this fight? The fighters were told that the contracts signed for their original fight, intended for Cape Town in the latter part of last year, would be “rolled over” for this fight.

Botha had gone to sleep for the first eight rounds. But the White Buffalo came to life in the ninth, unleashing a two-handed assault. Botha battered his Kiwi opponent around the ring and the only defence Williams had was to clutch Botha in a vice-like grip – something he had been guilty of throughout the fight. One suddenly formed the impression that Francois had deliberately paced himself and was now coming on like an express train.

In an amazing show of smoke and mirrors, Botha’s corner was advised during the interval between the ninth and 10th rounds that the 10th was to be the final round. There was consternation in the corner and Botha’s seconds, former IBF lightweight champion, Phillip Holiday and Hardy Mileham, Botha’s South African trainer, looked completely bemused.

The White Buffalo stormed from his corner in the 10th round and proceeded to systematically dismantle the Kiwi. Williams clung like a limpet, and at a stage when he looked as if he was about to go down referee, Tony Kettlewell, dragged Botha off his opponent and proceeded to trundle Williams around the ring to have a point taken from him by each of the three judges. This gave Williams valuable seconds to re-group. There is little doubt that Sonny Bill was saved by the bell, and there is no doubt at all that he would not have lasted another round.

Howard Goldberg, President of the World Boxing Federation, accompanied Botha to Brisbane in his capacity as his close friend and confidant. Goldberg makes a valid point when he says: “The TV cameras zoomed in to the ringside during the interval between the ninth and 10th rounds. For a brief moment the cameras focused on the ringside round card girls. A ring board bearing the number 11 was distinctly visible. Why would there be a ring board with a number 11 if this was a 10 round fight?”

Some of the questions to which there are no answers include: Who gave the instruction to reduce the fight from its advertised 12 round duration to 10 rounds, and at what stage of the fight and on whose authority was this instruction given. Was this, in fact, a legitimately sanctioned WBA title fight?

A body which would be most interested in the answers is the TAB, who was forced to refund bets as they offered options on the 11th and 12th rounds. According to Australian media reports, head bookmaker, Mark Stafford, said this was not the first time the TAB had been stung financially after Sonny Bill’s fights had failed to go the distance.

“We’ve been caught out with this before with Sonny Bill on two other occasions in his earlier fights where they were scheduled to go eight but they didn’t. They went six, and we were force to refund then,” he said. Stafford pointed out that despite the TAB’s financial loss, the real concern was the damage to boxing’s credibility - particularly in the wake of the Australian government report that doping and corruption was widespread among professional and amateur athletes. “It’s not really about the money figure. People are brassed off.

“People who have had a bet to pick the particular round didn’t get a fair crack so all we can do is give the money back. We’ve honoured the head-to-head bets and Sonny Bill by decision, but it paints us in a bad light and we had nothing to do with it. I don’t know how it has happened or why it has happened. When they said ‘10th and final round’ we all just looked at each other and said ‘what’s going on here?’”

But before this story ends there are two sinister aspects which must be revealed. The White Buffalo has made an alarming claim that an attempt was made to bribe him to throw the fight “Khoder Nasser, the promoter, asked me to meet him in a park where I should be alone and without a cell phone. I was apprehensive as I did not know what he wanted. He did not beat about the bush and he offered me a straight AUS$150 000 to throw the fight. I turned down the suggestion,” he says.

The second mystery surrounding this fight was the proclamation by Nasser that Botha had come up positive for two PEDs when a blood test was taken. It is an accusation the White Buffalo emphatically denies. “I was given a test by someone who told me he was related to Nasser and this made me suspicious. It appeared to me that the test was carried out without the normal protocol and there was no B sample offered to me. I was so shocked to learn of this that I went immediately to Lancet Laboratories in Durban on the day of my return (Monday 11 February) and asked them to conduct a specific blood test for PEDs. The results came back negative on all counts.” African Ring has been given sight of the lab report.

A further aspect of this particular controversy is that drug testing is not conducted in boxing in Queensland – a state where boxing is not regulated and where there is no governing authority. Therefore, any testing specifically for PEDs on Botha was done without any official authority and thus is null and void.

This sad and sorry story leaves an unpleasant taste. But it has given Fancois Botha a fierce motivation to put the record straight. “I have had several offers of fights which I have turned down because I have been told that I will be given a return against Williams in South Africa at the end of this year. I want to concentrate full-time on gaining my revenge and clearing up all the bad kharma and controversy by putting Williams where he belongs – firmly on the canvas,” he concludes.