THE stagger, the step, the stumble and the end of the latest fight in the truly remarkable career of Danny Williams was haunting to watch. It was placed on permanent loop, people laughed, one or two cried, boxing was blamed and then something else happened to take away our eyes.
The decline and fall of Danny Williams is our shame in many ways.
At some point in about 1985 Williams was just a fat kid from Brixton, a member of Brixton ABC, the club above the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill. He was too big to spar with the other juniors, too big to get a fight on the regular gym shows. But he always moved like a much smaller kid, not a boy battling his weight. In the last fight – in Russia – there were just a few moments when Danny looked like Danny. My goggles, I admit, might just be tinted. His opponent, by the way, was making his professional debut, Danny fighting for something like the 100th time.
He is 47 now, has probably lost over 35 fights, and he will never be Danny Williams again. The official record is 54 wins, 29 defeats, but that is a mirage.
I think he has fought in 25 countries, mostly during the last decade of anarchy, visiting just about every one of the old Soviet republics and hauling his way from customs to the corner in filthy taxis.
Since the start his fights have taken place in Madison Square Garden, York Hall, the HulloPullo nightclub in Vaasa, the Freedom Hall in Louisville, the basketball Centre in Khimki and dozens of other obscure venues have erected a temporary four-roped tribute to Danny’s deadly travelling urges. It has been ten years under the radar, outside our boxing laws, in lonely rings against men with no desire to help a veteran get a living and leave the ring safely on his own feet. The last opponent had the decency and humanity to stop throwing punches and tell the referee to end the fight.
It doesn’t matter that Williams has insisted that he will not fight again. His name is a band-aid remedy to desperate promoters in Europe and beyond. When they call, he accepts and under the camouflage of his latest retirement he will simply be a tourist as he walks through passport control at Almaty, Sevastopol, Riga and other places where he has risked his life. The calls will come, trust me. There is no point talking about bans or taking away his licence; Williams fights in places where men carry new licences in their pockets, freshly printed and give them away to anybody with a pulse.
It is amazing that he does win some of these fights, beating men with losing records and even one guy, in Austria last year, who was unbeaten in 24 fights. This is a boxing world of invented records, where liberties are taken with life and underground fight clubs want Danny’s face on their posters. The man Danny stopped in Weiz was called Boban Filipovic, a big lump of a mean looking Serbian, who is now aged 44 with a record of 26 wins, 24 quick, with just the one loss to Williams. It was beyond a freak show, poor Boban was clueless and some stupid fools in the crowd were cheering Danny, praising his work. What kind of friend would be part of that type of sickness, supporting such risk?
When Williams lost his British title to Dereck Chisora in 2010 it was decided that he should retire. Danny nodded in agreement at the deception; he went straight on the road and for a few years he met a lot of decent fighters. He lost to Manuel Charr, Christian Hammer, Oleg Maskaev, Dennis Bakhtov and Mairis Briedis in a three-year period when he was hopefully getting decent money. By the end of 2013 the circus started, the secret fights were hidden and Danny’s decision making was a serious danger to his own health. We ignored his awful journey, turned away each time he won or lost in an old Eastern Bloc outpost.
In 2017 Danny told me he was fighting for his children. I had phoned him at home. I never wrote the interview, believing that he could get a few quid from a newspaper for his story. He deserved it. He has probably had 15 or more fights since then; many of his fights are not listed on the usual boxing record sites. The fights exist in a fantasy land of lunatic glory and kitsch belts of nonsense.
In this magazine last week there was talk of his heavyweight fight with Aberdeen idol Lee McAllister in 2018. McAllister had been a good lightweight in his day, but they met for the WBU heavyweight title. McAllister won – there is no clue about the Global Boxing Federation heavyweight title that Williams won with a seventy-seven second knockout in Hungary earlier in the year. Ten years ago McAllister and Williams were separated by 136 pounds: McAllister won the Commonwealth title at 134 pounds, a few months later Williams lost the British heavyweight title at 270 pounds.
It is hard to invent this craziness and too easy to imagine a house in South London where Danny has put his Lonsdale belt, his Commonwealth belt and a few inter-continental versions on the wall. Where does the GBF belt sit on that wall of graft, under what warped convention does that glimmering piece of trickery enter the real world of Danny’s beloved prizes? There is a lot of old blood on Danny’s wall.
He failed to win Prizefighter and the WBC heavyweight championship, he also fought twice for the Latvian heavyweight title. In Prizefighter, Carl Baker, the Fridge, beat him and it was Vitali Klitsckho’s fists that ended Danny’s WBC fight in 2004. In the same year Williams had been brilliant as a massive underdog to beat Mike Tyson. It was his finest night and it was probably over 70 fights ago.
At some point in the Nineties Williams bumped into my dad at York Hall. He went over, said “hello” and remembered that a decade earlier my dad had dropped him home after the training at Brixton. Two weeks ago I called my dad to tell him Danny had just been stopped in Russia and he went silent, no doubt doing the sums in his head.
I never need reminding that Williams is a good guy and was a great fighter, now let’s look after him.