Professional boxing is replete with instances where an underdog fights a heavyweight of the sport, someone truly great who has a lot of firsts to his name, a future Hall of Famer. There've been such 'David vs Goliath' boxing bouts in movies, where the underdog defies all odds and belies his reputation, or the lack of it, to come out the victor, in an upset for the ages. The 'Rocky' movies come to mind. However, in pro boxing, the underdog rarely triumphs.
Such fights are deemed to be money-spinning ventures by over-zealous sports promoters who seek to generate some hoopla around the fight. Britain's two-time world champion Amir Khan, 32, was scheduled to fight a rookie of the sport in India's Neeraj Goyat for the WBC International Welterweight Championship. The fight, a mismatch of epic proportions " Goyat's 11-3 record (11 wins and three losses) stood pale in comparison to Khan's 33-5 record " had been billed as an India-Pakistan showdown (Amir Khan is of Pakistani descent).
While other sports may be unpredictable, professional boxing rarely is. It is its predictable nature which has people betting heavily on it, driving the market for such mismatched fights. To put it simply, even a 'Rocky Balboa' movie marathon would have fallen short of inspiring Goyat and his trainers that he stood a chance. However, it never came to that. Goyat was involved in a car accident in New Delhi and he was sidelined for the fight.
Then came the Australian Billy Dib, 33, a fellow two-time world champion of Amir Khan, albeit two divisions lower and therein lies the obvious mismatch. This is Billy's debut fight in the welterweight division (67 kg), having mostly fought as a featherweight (57 kg). However, when asked if the move up from his natural weight to Amir's division will faze him, Billy asserts that he has had experience fighting bigger guys and why being in the ring with Khan would be "comfortable" for him.
"Growing up, I've been in the ring with guys who were a lot bigger than me. It's not something that's new to me. I've worked closely with Anthony Mundine who fights in the middleweight division," says Billy who went on to elaborate on his strengths which could prove useful against Amir. "I'm known for landing body punches very accurately. That has worked out well for me but I'm not going to be looking for it. If and when the opportunity arises, I'll obviously land them but I'll have to be very clever."
The odds have placed Billy as a 16/1 underdog " for every one dollar bet on the Australian, the profit would be 16 times if Billy actually won the fight. It is the unlikely scenario of a Billy Dib victory which has prompted such odds for the fight. However, in a chat over the phone from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where the mega-event will take place on Friday, Billy dismisses the odds and him being labelled as a 'heavy underdog' as just side talk which doesn't bother him much. "The bookies don't step in the ring. That's something that I've been doing for many years now and I'm confident of my capabilities. It's something that comes from being a professional for many years now and I'm very accustomed to all of this stuff," said Billy.
Billy Dib (L) had lost the IBF featherweight world title to Russia's Evgeny Gradovich (R) in 2013. Reuters
"Everyone has been harping on how it's going to be difficult for me but it's going to be more difficult for him because he'll be fighting a little guy and he has no clue what I can bring to the ring, the spaces I can manoeuvre. The underdog tag is a liberator because it is when very little is expected of you that you go on to do great things." Billy's professional record suggests that he won't be short of experience when he takes on Amir as he stands at 45-5 with 26 knockout wins. Still the weaker of the two, Billy could surprise those who are counting him out for lack of experience.
The build-up to the bout has seen experts terming it as prize-fighting at its core. Billy and Amir are on their way out of the sport and are pocketing heavy paycheques for their scheduled fight. Amir has conceded the claim, having talked about these being his last few years in the sport, why he would be stupid to walk away when they were millions to make from this fight. Billy " who had retired last year, only to return a few months later for a low-key fight which he won " while not talking about retirement, went on to say that this will be his one-off fight in the welterweight division. "I don't see myself continuing in this division. There will most probably be a rematch though so I'll fight that of course, after that I'd like to move to my natural weight."
In one of his pre-fight interviews, Billy, while talking about his opponent's weaknesses, had also talked up Amir as a future Hall of Famer. When asked about the same, the Australian elaborated on the chinks which have emerged in Amir's boxing. "He's always been lethal and super quick and that's what's missing now. His feet get stuck somewhere while his hands are falling too often which gets him knocked out. I don't know though if that can be attributed to his age or the lack of preparedness," said Billy who still believes that Amir should be a Hall of Famer. "There's no doubt about that. I think what he's achieved in the sport, as both an amateur and professional boxer is phenomenal and only the Hall of Fame would be a fit recognition of his achievements."
For Billy Dib, the fight against Amir Khan, while being the biggest bout of his career, will also be memorable for taking him closer to Lebanon, the country from where his parents had migrated to Australia. Billy, born and bred in Australia, talks about why coming to Jeddah for the fight was special. "I was very excited about coming here to fight in the Arab world. My mother is Lebanese and my father is Palestinian and while I've never lived here, the language, the culture and the people, they are all mine. I'm just kicked to step into the ring and show the world how a two-time world champion from an Arab-Muslim descent can beat the best there is," Billy signed off.