It would take a brave man to make fun of Sonny Bill Williams now.
At 36, with a perfect 8-0 record, the code-hopping star has slapped real boxing polish on his still chiseled frame.
But there was a time when Anthony Mundine burst out in anger when SBW squared off.
Turf War: Sonny Bill Williams vs Barry Hall – Live and exclusive on the Stan event, March 23. Buy the event now on stan.com.au/event
“I’m going to tell you a story bro,” Mundine told Wide World of Sports.
“I went to visit him when he was in Toulon, playing for their rugby team. I spent some time there after one of my fights (in 2008). We were walking along the beach and started to messing around, playing slapsies, like boxing.
“He looked like a dead guy who couldn’t throw them, you know what I mean. So to watch him now and see where he came from, back then, is really surprising. His commitment and dedication to the the sport shows how far it has come.”
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Williams, who will face AFL champion Barry Hall in Sydney on March 23, doesn’t deny he was a trash fighter after running away from the Bulldogs in 2008.
“I couldn’t throw a punch,” Williams told Wide World of Sports.
“When I left the Bulldogs, I was in debt of a million dollars. So I had some financial difficulties in France for a few years. When I came back, Choc (Mundine) and (manager) Khoder Nasser thought it would be a good idea to jump on the card just to knock off some of that debt I owed them, hence why I got in the ring (against Gary Gurr in 2009).
“So when we were in France he (Mundine) made me get in shape and throw a punch but, apart from a few fights growing up, I wasn’t that aggressive style that I used to play on the court. football. I never went to the boxing gym and I learned how to throw a good jab or a straight right, that’s why it’s kind of funny to see where I am now.”
To illustrate his point, Mundine calls Williams – “SB!” – and urges him to unleash a flurry of punches in front of a nervous reporter.
“People are going to be surprised, man,” Mundine thinks.
“When he fights Barry, they’ll call him Sonny Bill Mundine.”
Mundine, of course, remains the benchmark for footballers-turned-boxers.
The Dragons league star has had a very successful and colorful career in the ring, being a three-time world champion with the WBA and IBO.
Along with his father Tony, Mundine is in Williams’ corner as an assistant trainer for the Hall fight, while his son Rahim will make his professional boxing debut under the card.
Williams’ top-flight support team also includes world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, Kiwi stars Joseph Parker and David Nyika and highly regarded Irish trainer Andy Lee.
SBW have just returned from an intense six week camp in the UK.
“He’s learned things from everyone and he’s going to shape his own style,” Mundine said.
“I’m going to try to create a clone, create someone with great instincts, fast hands, and box like a fox. Teach him the A’s, B’s, C’s of the fighting game. The story I told you of Toulon, messing around with that day on the beach, to what it is today, is just the credit for his hard work, belief and commitment to the sport.
“Look at him now in the shadowbox – he looks like a fighter, so professional.”
Mundine pauses, deep in thought, when asked if the kind and remarkable Williams is bad enough to reach the pinnacle of his latest profession.
“There is a difference between a bad streak and the eye of the tiger,” he concludes.
“When you have tiger eye, you become like someone hunting their prey. You become like an animal and when you have tiger eye – I think Sonny has that. You could have a beautiful leopard or a beautiful tiger but when you pat him and pat him, when he snaps he tears everything in his path and that’s what he has.
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