Cook and Williams set to rumble for all three titles.
By Elliot Worsell: The prestigious British, Commonwealth and European featherweight titles are up for grabs on Thursday night in Dagenham (Live on Sky Sports 1 10pm) when local man Nicky Cook places his European and Commonwealth belts alongside Dazzo Williams' British crown.
By Elliot Worsell: The prestigious British, Commonwealth and European featherweight titles are up for grabs on Thursday night in Dagenham (Live on Sky Sports 1 10pm) when local man Nicky Cook places his European and Commonwealth belts alongside Dazzo Williams' British crown. The victor will not only be rewarded with the honour of being a triple champion, but will also lay claim to the tag of chief nine stone fighter not called Scott Harrison - the current WBO champion at the weight - in Britain.
The stone-faced WBO titleholder engaged in a give and take slugfest with Mancunian body puncher Michael Brodie two weeks ago, and not only stopped Brodie in the fourth of a scheduled 12, but also ended the career of the battle scarred three-time world title challenger. Despite many believing Harrison to be a couple of rungs short of the upper echelons of the nine stone division, the Scot has set the bar for young guns Cook and Williams, who enter this Thursday's bout aware that possession of the coveted triple crown could lead to future chances on the world stage.
Stylistically this one could also be just as enjoyable as the June 3rd four-round rumble between Harrison and Brodie. Both men are competent boxers from the outside with good fundamentals; yet feel more at home at close quarters, whipping in hurtful shots to head and body. In recent years Williams has scored warrior stripes in battles against Roy Rutherford and Jamie McKeever, and Cook likewise, has earned his stripes in European struggles against Frenchmen Cyril Thomas and Johnny Begue. In contrast to Harrison-Brodie, however, Cook and Williams both meet in their prime and at the very top of their respective games.
The 25-year-old Essex-born Cook, the current proprietor of the European and Commonwealth belts, will no doubt start as a slight favourite given the better company he has mixed in throughout his seven-year career. He turned professional as an immature 18-year-old and under the guidance of father Paul (Nicky's trainer) and promoter Jess Harding quickly forged a glowing reputation in the London area with a flurry of well-received BBC televised appearances.
'Cookie', 24-0 (14), swept the spurious WBF intercontinental nine stone title in his 15th fight following a slow-burning bedding-in process, and after three successful defences of that crown - including a good win over ex British champ Gary Thornhill - Cook boxed for Commonwealth honours in February 2003. The 25-year-old tackled Zimbabwe's Misheck Kondwani and eventually pulled out the title triumph with a final round stoppage following a torrid battle. Eight rounds had been the longest Cook had travelled previous to the Kondwani clash, and not only did the 12th round stoppage award Cook with the Commonwealth strap but it also announced his arrival as a genuine championship contender.
Cook's stranglehold on the title was rubberstamped with a second-round knockout of Kenyan David Kiilu and another punishing 12-rounder with Anyetei Laryea to round off 2003 as a year in which Cook had fully transcended from boy to man in a 12-month period - with a Commonwealth title to boot. The titles didn't stop there either.
In March 2004, as chief support to BBC cover star Audley Harrison's first 'title' shot, Cook participated in the real title fight of that particular night, as he stood toe-to-toe with France's European champion Cyril Thomas for nine rounds in a heated battle. Thomas was the pre-fight favourite, unbeaten and a silky box-and-move type who regularly elected science over brawn. No respecter of reputations, Cook dragged Thomas into a dogfight from the off and eventually broke the Frenchman down with a merciless body attack. Against the odds - by title at least - Cook proved himself the best nine-stone fighter in Europe.
Seven months later (October 2004) came Cook's first defence and a realisation that a fighter's record often doesn't tell the whole story. It appeared a 'gimme' on paper. An ease-in type affair to warm Cook to the rigours of European title level competition. Despite the one-sided nature of the scorecards, Cook's 12-rounder with French tough guy Johnny Begue was nothing of the sort. 13-13-1 going into the contest, Begue didn't appear to carry much of a threat. Yet, in the form of his tireless workrate and granite chin, he posed Cook enough dilemmas to keep the champion ticking over. Due to injury, Cook has yet to box since.
Following a hectic 2004, adopted Welshman Dazzo Williams has also yet to surface this year. Given the fact Williams boxed 36 rounds at British title level in 2004 that period of inactivity is to be expected. Relatively inexperienced with only 14 pro contests under his belt, Williams has been thrust onto the British title stage since his 10th pro fight when he boxed in an eliminator for the prized belt against Steve Chinnock in March 2003. Williams beat Chinnock over 10 hard-fought, nip-and-tuck rounds and duly received his British title shot six months later against Coventry's Roy Rutherford.
Rutherford, a slick, well-schooled operator, had won the domestic title by outboxing rugged Liverpudlian Jamie McKeever over 12 rounds. Williams, however, proved a cut-above McKeever, and took the fight to Rutherford, scraping through with a razor-thin decision to win the British title in merely his 11th outing.
A far cry from the struggles Williams endured pre-British title when he suffered two back-to-back defeats against journeymen types John Mackay (on points) and Carl Allen (by second round stoppage). Given the blotted, 8-2 copybook Williams possessed at the time, the British title shot, and subsequent triumph came as a surprise to the Hereford fighter. He has, however, excelled at the level he currently finds himself, and has grown into his role as domestic slayer at nine stone.
Subsequent to the title win over Rutherford, Williams gutted it out in impressive fashion with ex-Roy foe Jamie McKeever in Bridgend, Wales for 12 rounds, pulling out a competitive decision win, and then tackled Rutherford for a second time in the second defence of his belt. Despite his win in their first bout, many felt that Williams was lucky to get the nod and that the smoother, more polished weaponry of Rutherford would win through in their second meeting.
It was Williams, however, who rose to the occasion and took his game to the next level, as he bettered Rutherford in pretty much every department in a fight that Sky Sports proclaimed one of their domestic fights of the year for 2004. In his hometown of Hereford, Williams took a 117-112 decision win and ended the controversy caused by the pair's hotly disputed first bout.
The controversy that appears to follow Williams' title reign like an unwanted relative continued in his last outing though, when he eeked out an iffy 115-114 nod over Scot John Simpson in Hereford. It looked as though the calm, textbook Simpson had outboxed Williams for the most part - beating Dazzo to the jab, and landing the more accurate and eye-catching combinations - but, alas, Williams received the win amid an array of complaints and rueful looks.
With both Williams and Cook coming off harder than expected 12 rounders in their last bouts, this match of peripheral contenders could not come at a better time. Williams, at 31, doesn't have a great deal of mileage on his resume, but is at an advanced age for a nine stone fighter, and Cook, seven years Williams' junior at 25, appears to crave another genuine test to get the creative juices flowing following a lacklustre last outing.
Both fighters are coming off bouts they were expected to win, and both flattered to deceive somewhat. In this one, both know they will have to be at their very best to get one over their domestic rival. With that in mind, and given the fact that the victor will land a clean sweep of the major titles at domestic and European level, this should result in a give-and-take battle to rival some of the great featherweight matches that have been made in the last few years.
Williams, 12-2 (3), as shown in a wonderful performance against McKeever, and for spells against Rutherford, works extremely well from mid and long-range, and possesses a well-worked jab and left hook that he uses with speed, and uses to rack up points. He can mix it up too, but primarily, against Cook, one envisages Williams being the boxer to Cook's puncher. With only three stoppages from his 12 wins, and having never scored a stoppage at title level, don't expect Williams to make a dent in Cook too early on when they meet - if at all.
Williams is more of a tactical boxer, who knows how to pace a fight well, and knows how to look good in there. His string of tetchy decision wins can be looked upon in two ways. Either he's been gifted decisions by incompetent officials, or due to his style and workrate, he's made an impression that, although shouldn't have resulted in a win, did enough in the mind of judges to make an impression. He's busy, throws lots of leather and fights in a contagious style that makes plenty of use of the left hand. It often rubs off on the mind of the referee.
Nicky Cook, however, may not even have the scorecard on his mind going into Thursday's battle. Although not a massive puncher himself (14 KO's from 24 wins) Cook rips to the body, arguably, like no other outside of Ricky Hatton. He also has a high-paced, industrious, contagious style of fighting. Preferring to come-forward than retreat, Cook throws plenty, and throws plenty of hurtful shots, rather than setting up and pondering openings. The way he broke the heart of the Frenchman Thomas by sheer guts, grit and dogged determination would have made the aforementioned Hatton proud.
Like Williams, he's seen the 12th and final round plenty of times (three in total), and he's shown an ability to carry out his high-octane pressure fighting style from first bell to last. Williams, though perhaps a natural slugger at heart, can often frustrate and fight in spurts, as he did in his last showing against Simpson. Dazzo's periods of activity tends to be a lot more sporadic than Cook's. Against Thomas, Nicky punched as if a lull in the action would incur an automatic win in favour of his French foe.
It's for that reason, and the fact that at 25, with an unblemished slate, and the ambition for higher reaches, Cook has to be viewed as a narrow favourite on Thursday night. Cook wasn't really up to scratch against the amazingly brave Begue in his last bout, but he still dominated from start to finish. Williams, though, was not only lackadaisical in his most recent bout, he also lost the fight in many people's eyes.
Given the relatively long layoffs both men have endured, that comprehensive win over Begue may stand Cook in better stead than the shaky, 'was it-wasn't it?' result Williams notched over Simpson. Cook doesn't see anyone bettering him on the nine stone domestic scene. Williams has been bettered a couple of times, and appeared to be beaten in his last fight. Dagenham's Cook, buoyed on by home support, should rally through a decent early start from Williams to win on points or by late stoppage in a memorable brawl.
June 14, 2005.