There is a reason why heavyweight titlists Chris Byrd, John Ruiz and Lamon Brewster all want a piece of WBC champion Vitali Klitschko.
That's because in spite of their respective IBF, WBA and WBO straps, each is well aware that in a sport full of fractured championships, the 33-year-old Ukrainian is the legitimate, linear world champion, the so-called baddest man on the planet.
But it won't be Byrd, Ruiz or Brewster that gets a shot at Klitschko on Saturday. It will be England's Danny Williams, whose cachet shot through the roof when he stopped Mike Tyson in four rounds in July.
The 31-year-old Williams, 32-3, with 27 knockouts, will meet Klitschko, 34-2 (33), in the 12-round main event of an HBO Pay-Per-View card, which will be televised live at 6 p.m. from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Klitschko will be making the first defense of the vacant title he won in April, when he took an eighth-round TKO over Corrie Sanders. The title was vacated when former undisputed champion Lennox Lewis retired after stopping Klitschko in July 2003. Klitschko was ahead on all three cards when the bout was halted after six rounds due to a severe cut on Klitschko's left eyelid.
But in spite of giving up 6 inches in height to the 6-foot-8 Klitschko, Williams possesses a 79-inch wingspan and gives up only 1 inch in reach. And what he lacks in physical attributes, Williams makes up for in confidence.
"The key is hunger and desire. I have tremendous hunger. I am a warrior," Williams said in a conference call last week. "You saw that in the Tyson fight. I showed a tremendous chin. These are the things that it will take to beat Klitschko. I will have to be at my best and I will have to be a warrior."
While it's true Williams managed to soak up Tyson's best punches, there are still questions concerning his ability to absorb punishment. Tyson injured his knee early in the bout and was unable to turn fully on his punches.
In addition to being stopped in six rounds by Sinan Samil Sam in Feb. 2003, Williams also lost to trialhorse and former Tyson knockout victim Julius Francis in April 1999. Williams, who owned an earlier victory over Francis, avenged his loss in July 2001. Klitschko scored a TKO over Francis in 1998.
Williams acknowledged his need to turn it up a notch against Klitschko.
"I believe in the Tyson fight, I was good, but I need to be better to beat Klitschko," Williams said. "There was not enough head movement there in that fight and there was not enough speed of foot. I just need to improve all around to defeat Klitschko because I believe that he is a fresher and a better fighter than Tyson was when I fought him in July."
That said, Williams feels that Klitschko has certain vulnerabilities, several of which were brought to his attention by Lewis.
"Lennox Lewis has not actually spoken to me personally, but he has spoken on my web site, (www.dannywilliams.tv)," Williams said. "He said there are three ways I can beat Vitali Klitschko. One is to go to his body, second is to open up his cuts and the third is to outbox him. So he has given me some good advice."
According to Williams, Lewis said the scar tissue over Klitschko's left eye is a prime target.
"Lewis believes that it can still be exploited because it was one of the biggest cuts I have ever seen," Williams said. "It was a massive cut. My thing is to basically just go out there and be more poised to knock him out. I am not looking to open up any cuts. If it happens, I am looking to take him out."
Williams said he is also mindful of Klitschko's superior height and that he has been preparing specifically for it.
"We are using great sparring partners," Williams said. "One is 6-foot-7 and the other one is 6-foot-6. So we are using very tall sparring partners. We do not only spar, we do technique where we work on set moves to prepare for Vitali's style and his head movement."
Williams said his bout with Tyson was a learning experience and confidence-builder.
"One thing I learned with the Mike Tyson fight is that I have got a tremendous chin," Williams said. "He hit me with some tremendous shots. Also, another thing I learned, in the fight game, you have got to prepare for every eventuality. I went into the Mike Tyson fight thinking I was going to box him and that was not working. So I ended up having to fight him. So it will be the same against Klitschko. I am training to do certain things, but I will change it and do other things if they do not work."
As happy as he was with the win over Tyson, Williams said he's not satisfied.
"The lesson I learn from that is that once you are victorious, the hard work is not finished," Williams said. "I am working harder because I like the respect that I got from beating Tyson and I want more. The only way I am going to get more is if I beat Klitschko. So I am training hard and I want to take him out."
Contact Mike Houser at email@example.com.