Sonny Bill Williams has won two Rugby World Cups, two NRL Premierships and is an undefeated heavyweight boxer.
He found joy as a family man and solace in his religion.
But despite all he’s accomplished, Williams still struggles with a lack of confidence in the ring.
SBW sat down to chat with Wide World of Sports in their custom-built Carlton Gym ahead of the highly anticipated March 23 fight with Barry Hall in Sydney.
TURF WAR: Sonny Bill Williams vs Barry Hall, live and exclusive on Stan Event, March 23. Buy the event now on stan.com.au/event
WWOS: Your daughter will be happy with you after finding her shoes under the ring…
Williams: Bro, the kid’s shoes and that’s why I had to go through (coach) Andy (Lee), Joe (Parker) and Tyson (Fury, for an intense training camp in the UK United).
I’m so comfortable here. I’ll come to practice, hit the pads, the kids are playing and I needed to be a little uncomfortable. Being in Ireland, for about four weeks with Andy, we were going to different gyms, training good fighters. You tip over and it’s the unknown, this nervousness.
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Here, everything is known, everything is comfortable. “Hey, come to my gym.” Over there it’s ‘Sonny, tomorrow we do this’. It was the key. Afraid of the unknown.
Andy insists the fighting game is in the works. It’s like 80, 90% physical and 20% mental, but when it comes to the actual fight, the roles are reversed. Mental preparation is important. Knowing that you made that walk into the unknown on fight night, for me, I’ve been in the ring once in the last seven years.
But I’ve been there, I’ve gone into the unknown, I’ve been in other people’s gyms and I’ve fought guys who are prepared and ready at home, you know what I mean.
So it was this mental ability that I needed to get started.
WWOS: Andy just told me he thinks you have the ability to fight for a world title. What does this kind of belief mean to you?
Williams: All. All.
Where I’m from, how I grew up, a lot of people don’t really matter that much.
So for me, I’ve always had the physical ability and I’ve been blessed with a God given talent, but it’s still that mental ability that I need to strengthen and believe and go out there and conquer. I was able to do that in rugby and in the league and having someone like that in my corner is huge, having that confidence in me.
Because he’s training the world champion, he’s in Tyson Fury’s corner, and he’s a former world champion himself. So that means a lot.
And he lived with (legendary trainer) Emanuel Steward for 10 years, so his boxing knowledge and pedigree is almost unmatched.
So for me to have that in my corner, telling myself how good I am and seeing the strengths that I have, like that was a huge confidence boost and I’m grateful to have it in my corner.
WWOS: Andy also said that your jab is your best punch. Do you agree with this assessment and how will it help you beat Barry?
Williams: I understand the simplicity of the game in the sense that rugby and the league is a simple game but we tend to complicate it too much.
Run hard, tackle hard, make all the little percentage points that win you a game that bettors don’t see on TV. It’s the same thing in the boxing sense that people don’t really appreciate the jab, punters watching on TV.
I have a good jab, a world class jab and I just understand that it will take me further than any lightning uppercut or upper right.
It’s been a great few months, I had my last big fight this morning, now I can’t wait to relax and sharpen my mind and senses and get ready to recharge and get in the ring on Wednesday .
WWOS: You seem mentally well placed for this. But how are you physically different from your previous fights?
Williams: I’m obviously much older, had one fight in seven years (beating Waikato Falefehi in Townsville last year).
And that last fight showed me that I needed to improve my fundamental skills because it had been a long time and I hadn’t grown up with boxing.
I’ve always been a fit guy, for a heavyweight I’m fit but I also wanted to add some technical stuff and Andy was awesome at that. I think basically I’m a much better fighter than I was and it only took a few months of work.
So I think that will put me in good stead next week. But in 24 months, what type of fighter will I look like then? That’s what I’m working towards.
SBW, Hall gauges himself
WWOS: Are you worried about a lack of information about Barry? There’s not a lot of footage after a single fight – were you able to do a lot of homework on him?
Williams: Not really, you can’t. He was very secretive with his stuff, his messages.
He came out and called me arrogant but I just see him, the last few months just show what type of character he is – very, very arrogant. Like he’s just going to walk right through me, fight Paul Gallen and then ride off into the sun.
He does reality shows, saying he doesn’t need the money, all that stuff. It seems like everything he does is for the money.
But I have to respect him as a boxer because he can box. And I respect him – I know he doesn’t respect me as a boxer, that’s what drives me.
God willing, when I’m standing over him, picking him up for a hug after the fight, I’ll look him in the eye and he’ll be like ‘yeah, you really can fight, Sonny.’
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WWOS: Is this what you dream of the most as an athlete? Earn the respect of your opponent?
Williams: It must mean more. Yeah, dollars and cents, it comes with it but it doesn’t motivate me every day, money.
A lot of people like to think it does, put me in that bracket, but it never does. For me it’s about having solace and solace in my heart and you’ve been retired for a long time.
I wanted to scratch that boxing itch and I definitely do now. I don’t miss football at all and after a few years, I won’t miss boxing anymore.
But while I’m here, I’m going to enjoy it and I’m grateful. I’m going to use my platform to open up space for the next guys that come along.
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