By Daniel Cann
It was not pretty to watch for most of its duration but the British cruiserweight title bout between defending champion Stourbridge’s 39 year old veteran Rob Norton (32-4-2, 19 KO’s) and 27 year old challenger Streatham’s Leon Williams (8-3, 4 KO’s) did manage to produce plenty of drama and a stirring final three rounds. Williams enjoyed the lion’s share of the support from the vociferous and passionate crowd that packed the York Hall.
Both fighters were shaven skulled and looked in good condition. The first six rounds of the contest followed a pattern of the relaxed and loose looking champion using his fleet footwork and a stiff snapping southpaw jab and looping lefts to build up a comfortable lead. Williams showed too much respect allowing the taller champion too much room as well as fighting at the champions pace.
Round after round went by with Norton talking and taunting his much younger challenger and smiling at any attempts at aggression from Williams. Williams was bleeding from the nose as early as the second and for the first half of the contest he looked, stiff, ill at ease and increasingly frustrated. He landed in the third which brought loud cheers of approval from the crowd but he was only enjoying success with single shots.
Norton’s spoiling tactics were keeping the stronger challenger at bay and the referee warned them both in the fifth for the untidy wrestling that seemed to punctuate the bursts of action.
I felt sorry for Williams as Norton has shown time and again in his long career that he is a master of kidology and misdirection. He has a horrible southpaw style to fathom and he knows exactly how to smother any attacks coming his way. For a relatively green challenger like Williams it was understandable that he was not having much success early on.
The seventh was another easy round in the bag for the champion who was simply the busier. The eighth was a better round for Williams as he finally managed to get inside those long arms of Norton’s. The champion again proved to be an elusive target as he ducked, rolled and slipped meaning much of William’s work did not land cleanly. An unintentional head clash towards the end of the round opened a cut over Norton’s right eye but it never became a major factor.
The ninth was pretty dull and messy and you had the feeling that despite the exhortations of trainer Johnny Eames and his best efforts, Williams was just getting outworked and outmanoeuvred by the wilier champion.
The challenger made a big effort in the tenth as he attempted to pin Norton in corners and work away to body and head. He had fleeting successes and it was a much better round for him but Norton was as elusive as ever. The champion did get nailed with another lovely right hand by Williams only to smile contemptuously at his challenger.
Williams was by far enjoying the best spell of the fight as he finally unloaded on a reluctant champion. Norton continued to talk at his challenger who wisely ignored him and continued to work inside. Norton spent very long spells in a corner in this round, at one point he even laid against the corner with his arms on either top rope inviting Williams inside. His clowning was not amusing the crowd who booed him and he had given the round away at the bell.
Williams’s nose still bled to start the eleventh and Norton too had the marks of battle over his right eye. Williams trapped the champion in a corner again and both traded shots.
Norton was happy to fight off the ropes and corners, dipping and sliding but he was gulping air and fighting open mouthed in this round. Williams on the other hand had stepped it up and was piling on the pressure. It was another strong round in the bank for the challenger but on my score card he now needed a knockout or stoppage to win such was the commanding lead of the champion.
The last round saw Norton up on his toes in a show of bravado. The round followed a pattern of Williams setting traps and backing the champion into corners and whaling away with hooks and uppercuts on the inside and Norton spoiling or flurrying back.
Towards the end of the round Williams now had a cut in the corner of his own right eye. It was a shame that we had to wait nine and a half rounds for the fight to really take off but the last round was a barnstormer as both traded, with Williams getting the better of the action now it was kept on the inside.
It was gruelling and absorbing rather than thrilling. Norton had survived his capable challenger’s late surge of pressure in the final three rounds to win by either 8 rounds to 4 or at least 7 rounds to 5 such was his dominance in the first half of the contest. It all depended on how the three judges saw things. Not everyone would enjoy Norton’s spoiling tactics and clowning and would favour William’s persistence.
The scores were announced and it was a majority decision: Richie Davies scored it 114 – 116, Rob Keene 115 – 114 and Ian John Lewis 116 – 113. Meaning the crowds favourite Leon Williams had won it by two votes to one.
All I can say is that the judges must have been swayed slightly by the partisan pro Williams crowd and not scored all of the first seven rounds for Norton as I had. I agreed with Richie Davies scoring it for Norton but even so his card was a lot closer than I had it.
Highly respected boxing journalist and part of the BoxNation commentary team Steve Bunce was shocked by the decision and it was gently insinuated by the television team that perhaps the powers that be were just glad to see the back of Norton’s spoiling and aesthetically unpleasing style.
With Williams an exciting young pressure fighter with a strong fan base and a likely defence already mooted against the winner of Toks Owoh and Tony Conquest on the radar it is perhaps unsurprising that Norton is left out in the cold.
You could not help feel sorry for the veteran, for me he had done enough and deserved to win a coveted Lonsdale belt outright and this decision robs him of that. Whether it was boxing politics or a just call from two of the judges is neither here nor there. Leon Williams is new champion and I am sure that the cruiserweight division has some lively British domestic contests on the horizon.