Danny Williams was walking into the Mandalay Bay hotel arena for a training session when a lone fan stood up in the stands and started clapping. "The next heavyweight champion of the world,'' the man yelled as Williams walked by. Improbable as it might have seemed only eleven months ago, it could happen. A journeyman who couldn't even beat Michael Sprott for the British heavyweight title in January, Williams will fight Vitali Klitschko on Saturday for the WBC version of the world heavyweight championship. "It is unbelievable,'' Williams said. "But I always believed I was the best heavyweight in the world.'' Few others did a few months ago, especially those in Mike Tyson's camp. They hand-picked Williams as a comeback opponent for Tyson, confident that the British fighter had little heart and would go down early. Given a chance to make a name for himself, though, Williams shocked everyone by surviving a Tyson onslaught in the first round and coming back to stop the former heavyweight champion in the fourth round.
That win got him ranked and gave him a shot at Klitschko, who makes his first title defense against Williams in a scheduled twelve-round fight. And, after beating Tyson, Williams believes his chances against Klitschko are just as good. "The key is hunger and desire,'' Williams said. "I have tremendous hunger. I am a warrior. You saw that in the Mike Tyson fight.'' That hunger was seldom evident throughout most of Williams' career, which he often spent fighting journeymen in England. He acknowledged having self-doubts and to worrying so much about fights that he would cry beforehand, then freeze up in the ring.
"Even though I thought I was the best heavyweight, I couldn't express it in the ring because I used to put too much pressure on myself,'' Williams said. That ended after the loss to Sprott in January, after which Williams had a serious talk with himself about his future in boxing. He decided he would not worry anymore, and just accept whatever happened during his fights. With his new attitude, Williams stopped his next two opponents in the early rounds and then beat Tyson in one of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history.
"I jumped at the opportunity to fight Mike Tyson,'' Williams said. "Mike Tyson is an all-time great, a living legend. It gave me great confidence to beat him.'' Williams' task now is to take the confidence gained by beating Tyson into the ring against Klitschko, the Ukrainian who hits hard and is awkward to fight. Klitschko has some added confidence, too, after holding his own against Lennox Lewis last year and then stopping Corrie Sanders to win the WBC title. Unlike Tyson, Klitschko won't be taking Williams lightly.
"I know it's a great chance for him to be world champion,'' Klitschko said. "I understand that and I know this fight will not be easy for me. But I'm prepared for that.'' Williams plans to try to get inside, take the fight to him and try to wear Klitschko down. It's a tall task against a tall man. One thing Williams has already shown is he can take a punch. Tyson hit him with the hardest punches he had ever absorbed in the first round and he managed to stay upright, though it didn't seem like he would be on his feet very long. In the end, it wasn't Williams quitting. It was Tyson, who injured his knee and sat on the canvas looking at Williams without trying to get up after being knocked down in the fourth round. "I believe he could have gotten up and he didn't,'' Williams said. "In his earlier days he would have gotten up. But I believe he just said, "That's it.''