A war was promised, and on Saturday night at the ExCel arena in London, a war is exactly what we got. Brixton's Danny Williams is the man of the moment, narrowly out pointing Bedford born bruiser Matt Skelton over twelve punishing rounds live on ITV1 to retain his Commonwealth crown and solidify, once and for all, his standing as the nations’ leading big man. Claiming his second undefeated scalp in less than three months, a deserved world title shot may now be on the horizon for the amiable champion.
Rolling out of their corners like a pair of inexorable tanks, the fiercely focused fighters had destruction in their eyes and fire shooting through their veins. With the clang of the opening bell still ringing in the warm air, they locked horns ferociously. Both vying for an early advantage, they immediately sought to impose their formidable strength and will on the other. Almighty clanks resonated throughout the arena as they collided early and often, their bodies making an almost metallic sound when they clashed.
After just thirty seconds of heated action, unwanted memories of Williams’ dreadful encounter with Audley Harrison last December began to fade like an ugly stain being rinsed away with soap and elbow grease. Skelton, the antithesis of Harrison in many ways, had come to fight, to entertain, and to win.
Despite being roughly a stone lighter, Skelton looked to maul his bullish opponent at every opportunity. Intimidation appeared to be part of his game plan. Powering Williams into the loose ropes in the opening minutes, he was reprimanded by referee Terry O'Connor for deliberately thrusting his rock like dome into Williams’ face. The message was clear: I’m going to do whatever it takes to leave this ring with my undefeated record intact!
Williams though, a seasoned professional who has seen it all a thousand times, emerged unruffled by the roughhouse tactics and went to work behind a classy, well educated jab. As expected, Skelton was busier and more aggressive while Williams did the cleaner, more eye-catching work. His offerings were sporadic though, and Skelton may have edged the opening round by letting his hands go more.
Then, over the next few sessions, pigs began to fly.
Shooting a ramrod left, Skelton not only began to box, he began to out box Williams who, going in, was regarded as by far the more skilled fighter. Grabbing the centre of the ring, the technically inept slugger patiently walked Williams onto a series of jolting right uppercuts and landed crisp jabs on the back foot. It was almost surreal to watch. More than once, Williams’ legs looked rubbery after absorbing a heavy, well-timed blow. His budging heart, though, allowed him to ride out the shaky moments and remain on his feet. Thudding body shots also appeared to hurt him.
Williams, however, began working his way back into the fight in the fifth. A searing jab was his weapon of choice; thrown from his knee, it snapped Skelton's head back and stopped him in his tracks. They were single shots for the most part, but he occasionally followed up with blistering right hands that landed flush. Skelton, getting caught more frequently now, sneered at Williams through his gum shield after a crunching left uppercut detonated on his chin. He was showing fantastic durability by walking through numerous heavy shots, but was starting to lose rounds. The champion's extra class was beginning to shine through, bit by bit.
Laughter erupted in the crowd in round seven when Williams almost fell out of the ring not once, not twice, but thrice! Bulldozed into the ropes by Skelton, he tilted backwards with the challengers’ full weight pressing down on top of him until his legs hovered horizontally in the air and his head drooped comically over the ring apron. Three times this happened before the referee called a halt to the action and ordered the sagging ropes to be tightened. With a combined weight of almost forty stone pushing against them, it is perhaps not all that surprising the ropes gave way.
The action carried on more or less unchanged over the next four rounds. Williams firing the classier shots, Skelton moving his hands more and ploughing forwards with beads of sweat coating his body. It was a war of attrition.
For a time, it actually looked like Williams was fighting one handed. Left jabs, left hooks, and left uppercuts were all he seemed to be throwing in the later rounds, rarely would he follow up with a right hand. Nothing has been mentioned of him sustaining an injury, so it has to be assumed that his reluctance to throw it stemmed from caution. Perhaps he was wary of one of Skelton's wild swings catching him if he opened up too often, but of course, that is purely conjecture.
In any case, the effectiveness of his left hand meant that the fight was incredibly close, if not even, going into the penultimate round. With both fighters having taken it in turns to look spent at various times during the fight, it was Skelton who came out fresher and faster in the twelfth. Swinging furiously, he tossed caution to the wind as he backed Williams against the ropes and rained an assortment of punches in his general direction. Despite not landing much, the big last round looked to be his when, from out of nowhere, disaster almost struck.
Firing bombs at each other almost blindly, a series of thunderous blows suddenly landed for Williams, sending sprays of blood flying. In an instant, Skelton was lurching around like a drunk, his eyes glazed, a deep gash on his scalp spurting crimson profusely. The crowd broke into deafening roar. Williams, after slipping to the canvas, followed up with a stunning left uppercut that couldn't have landed any more flush. Forever proving his toughness, Skelton somehow managed to remain vertical and was able to hang on until the final bell.
After looking infallible for most of the night, the now 18-1 (17) bruiser so very nearly came apart right at the death. It is to his eternal credit that he survived those torrid final minutes, as a lesser fighter would surely have been stopped.
The scorecards were read and Williams, who improves to 35-4 (28), is the winner via split decision. Although he was bullied and outworked in a lot of the rounds, his cleaner and more effective work was probably enough to get the nod in a razor close fight. He was made to work extremely hard though, and will not relish the prospect of a return any time soon.
In other action, Athens Olympic Silver Medallist Amir Khan made it six out of six as a professional with a dominant third round stoppage over "Action" Jackson Williams in his second visit to London. The boy wonder's hand speed was blurring as usual, as he came out behind a piston like jab and fired multi punch combinations at will. His opponent from Norwich, despite being painfully brave, was not really up to the task and it was no surprise when he eventually wilted. His record is now 12-4 (0), while the precocious Khan goes to 6-0 (5), and will no doubt be back in the ring in a month or so.
Also featured on the Sports Network card was a ten round super featherweight bout showcasing the talents of Dagenham's Kevin Mitchell. Now 18-0 (12), the IBF Inter Continental Champion pounded out an easy unanimous decision over the durable Youssef Djibaba of Marseilles. Although he put forth a strong and determined effort, the French challenger was outclassed in almost every round and, at times, was beaten from pillar to post. Mitchell, showing more patience than in previous outings, was in control throughout. Djibaba drops to 14-9 (2).