Heavyweight boxing’s gatekeeper, Chisora makes sure passers-by pay the toll.

The London Olympics was days away and two miles down the road at West Ham’s then Boleyn Ground, 30,000 fans witnessed the end to a two-year sequence that would define most boxer’s careers.

Dazed, Dereck ‘Del Boy’ Chisora was hugged by Luis Pabon, the referee deeming the end to the contest and David Haye having inflicted his fourth defeat in under a year. Twelve months earlier Chisora had entered his fight versus Tyson Fury backed by many to beat his fellow Brit. He boasted a record then of fourteen victories with no blemishes and had knocked out in quick succession both Danny Williams and Sam Sexton.

Fury picked him apart, Robert Helenius edged him in Helsinki and Vitali Klitschko beat him without any real sustained challenge in Munich, the final bout giving every inch the semblance of a champion handpicking his next victim. With Haye having knocked him out for the first time in his career Chisora had stepped up four times and four times he had fallen short. Add in table throwing and press-conference fighting with David Haye and you had the bad boy of British boxing and not at that time one the public were fond of.

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Chisora’s career seemed destined to be that of a gatekeeper, a heavy handed punchbag against which elite level boxers could prove themselves worthy of the highest stage. Of course this is doing Chisora a disservice, in each of his four defeats he had moments of success but it was no doubt a thought passing through the mind of his next serious opponent, Malik Scott.

Scott came to the UK with thirty-five victories and zero defeats, fighting outside the USA for the first time. A veteran of the US circuit he had amassed a spotless resumé without ever testing himself against the upper echelons of heavyweight boxing. Chisora was a boxer he should defeat before using him as a stepping stone for a world-title shot sometime shortly thereafter.

That never happened. In the sixth round Chisora clubbed Scott on the top of the head, an innocuous punch which sent Scott’s right knee to the canvas. The count starting, Scott looked to his corner, a sign that perhaps maybe he felt the shot more than the camera would suggest. At ten he starts to rise but he is too late and Chisora has beaten him, Chisora in turn reviving himself back into heavyweight contention.

It is a theme that has continued throughout his career, beat him and more often than not a boxer will elevate himself to a world title challenger but to do so they will have to navigate their way past power from both fists. Artur Szpilka’s eyes rolling to the back of his head, knocked out against the ropes is one of the most devastating and cruel finishes I have seen in boxing and a painful reminder of just how brutal the sport can be. Chisora’s one punch right hand to finish it against Carlos Takam more in the same vein. David Price’s team did well to pull the Liverpudlian out before Chisora had the chance to do it once more.

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Along the way defeats have followed, to Kubrat Pulev, Dillian Whyte twice, Fury in a rematch, Oleksandr Usyk and Agit Kabayal. On only rare occasions have these not been contests. Fury worked him out, Chisora’s defeat no great shame in light of what came next. Versus Pulev in Hamburg and Kabayal in Monaco Chisora failed to apply the pressure commentators like to indicate was a matter of choice. On both of these nights commentators judged him exposed and another indicator that he is short of the top table.

Yet each of these times he has come again, one career ending loss followed by an eye-catching redemption. Each fall meeting the criticism that he hasn’t learnt from the falls before but forgetting that he has rarely worn their battle scars either and more often than not it has been to his benefit.

Chisora is uncompromising, unrelenting but no longer unloved. It is the reason why ten years on from that night in West Ham Chisora is a pay-per-view fighter headlining a Sky Sports Box Office show, despite never having added a meaningful title to the Commonwealth and British titles he won almost eleven years ago.

He reminds the British public to keep going, to keep treading their own path and avoid seeking perfection. He is relatable where others are not. Chisora is testament that for all the titles, the unbeaten records and the showreel skills boxing needs characters, boxing needs imperfection. It is an entertainment sport and engagement requires empathy.   

On Saturday night versus Joseph Parker Dell Boy may have his last hurrah. At the same time he may not. It is the unpredictability that makes it compelling.

To some extent Chisora’s fate may have been sealed on that night in West Ham. From then his resumé a buzzing light for heavyweight contenders to test their mark. But it is to Chisora’s credit that as a gatekeeper passers-by must pay a toll and at times that price has been heavy. It will mean Chisora, despite his flaws, despite the criticism that will always follow him, will leave the sport a far richer man than many in his shoes.

Many words will be said about Chisora after Saturday’s fight. Many words have been said throughout his career. Some positive, some negative no doubt, but Chisora will care little and I would worry if he did. No compromise, Dereck Chisora will be remembered fondly. 

Featured image by Matchroom Boxing.

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