x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Danny Williams concedes headlining Thursday Night Fights could be his last bout

The former British heavyweight champions headlines the first professional boxing card to be contested in Abu Dhabi.

Danny Williams, left, and Mohammad Ali Bayat participate in a news conference a day before their respective boxing matches on Thursday at du Arena on Yas Island. Sammy Dallal / The National
Danny Williams, left, and Mohammad Ali Bayat participate in a news conference a day before their respective boxing matches on Thursday at du Arena on Yas Island. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // If there is such a thing in professional boxing as discrete promotion, then it was at hand as the sport took a tentative dip into Abu Dhabi with a first professional event set to go off in the capital at Yas Island on Thursday night.

Lion Heart Boxing Productions, a promotion company based in the US, has put together a nine-fight card with the Dubai-based Prince Promotions, headed by Murad Hamed, brother of the British boxer Naseem Hamed.

The card is headlined by Danny Williams, the two-time British and Commonwealth champion, best remembered as the second-to-last man to beat Mike Tyson. Tyson lost to Kevin McBride in his next fight and finally bid farewell to the sport he terrorised.

Williams will take on the Egyptian journeyman Mazour Ali in what could well be his last professional fight. At age 40, Williams says he is done with boxing.

“I know my career is over,” he said. “I’m only fighting this fight to keep my kids in private school, so it could be my last fight.”

There is another motive. Williams converted to Islam nearly eight years ago and has wanted to have one professional fight in a Muslim country.

Genial as ever, he apologised for arriving late to a news conference yesterday; he arrived straight from the airport.

He will hold a 70-pound advantage over Ali and said he was confident about his chances.

“I feel good, I’m in good shape and I’m looking for a victory. A nice, quick victory.”

If affairs were a little too jovial and good-natured for a heavyweight fight, some heat was provided by the simmering rivalry between two locally based boxers, Muhammad Ali Bayat and Abdul Kabbani. The pair have history from a previous fight, in 2011, which Bayat won on a contentious points decision.

Since then, the pair have sparred verbally, and though they began with simple statements that they would let their boxing do the talking, it eventually spilled into a prolonged verbal duel.

Bayat objected to statements Kabbani had allegedly made, questioning his will for a rematch. Bayat said: “I fought 10 times after our fight, where did he fight? This is what he said, that I was in bed for a month after our fight. I have a lot of respect for him, but this is what he said.”

Egged on by his coach for the evening – and impromptu hype-master – trainer Anthony “Chill” Wilson, Kabbani responded.

“Last time, he didn’t beat me,” Kabbani said. “He didn’t touch my face. The judge was garbage. I broke his hand, he pulled out of a fight. This time it’s going to be different. I trained very hard for this fight.”

If it felt manufactured, it is understandable. Edward Mendy, a senior executive at Lion Heart, said he was keen for this to become a monthly event. Already, February has been tentatively settled upon as a date for another event.

“We are really excited to be here and we believe we have an amazing card with a great main event,” Mendy said. The bouts include fighters from 10 countries, many from the wider Arab region.

“It’s a real fight fan’s card,” he said. “The success of this event is just that it is happening. We’re really excited about the quality of the fights. We can assure you each of the fights will be high-quality one.”

The event was originally scheduled to be held in October, but logistics wrinkles meant that it could not go ahead then. It felt a little chaotic yesterday, given that a number of the fighters listed on the original card pulled out and one new fight was effectively arranged on the spot.

Doors at du Arena open at 7pm, with the first fight scheduled to start at 8pm.

Main Event

Danny Williams (UK) v Mazur Ali (EGY), heavyweight, 10 rounds Nasser Al Harbi (UK) v Giorgi Unigadze (GEO), welterweight, eight rounds

Feature Bouts Mohammad Ali Bayat (IRI) v Abdul Kabbani (SYR), cruiserweight, six rounds

Stjepan Bozic (CRO) v Paata Vardaushvili (GEO), middleweight, eight rounds

Hakim Wahid (MOR) v Mohammad Reza (IRI), cruiserweight, six rounds

Rabid Fayad (LIB) v Boubaker Masrar (MOR), middleweight, four rounds

Hamza Bouaoud (FRA) v Mahdi Ramizani (IRI), middleweight, four rounds

Ahmed Al Ali (UAE) v Abbas Mohamed (EGY), super featherweight, four rounds

Ahmed Ghani (MOR) v Mehrdad Lion (IRI), cruiserweight, six rounds

osamiuddin@thenational.ae