Reclaiming the narrative, Dillian Whyte stands one win from risking it all again.

Mascalls Lane, Brentwood, Essex. A country mansion, Rolls Royce on the drive and a helipad out back. This was where the deals were made. The home of Matchroom Sport, this was where fighters made their fortune, signing contracts that took them to Madison Square Gardens, Vegas and Wembley.

In the garden, manicured grass and towering willows  a 60 metre walk from the helicopter at the rear to two flights of centrepiece steps and a pebbled patio.

In the centre three ropes above his head, eyes shut, fists by his ears a Brixton boxer back at square one. For three years, Dillian Whyte had been the WBC’s number one ranked contender, a period in which he had beaten three top ten rivals. Dereck Chisora outgunned. Joseph Parker outfought. Oscar Rivas outlasted.

A world title shot was his by right, or as much as such things exist in boxing. Promotion politics, sexier fights, or perhaps more fittingly higher earning fights were there for the WBC. Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder and their tussle for the green and gold belt.

Whyte refused to wait, his consistent gambles earning him a whole host of fans, seeing a boxer with everything to lose put everything on the line. I was and still am one of them. Four headline shows in the O2, one drugs ban and a humiliating public statement from UK Anti-Doping exonerating him six months down the line.

A round too far

For four rounds he hurt Alexander Povetkin, crushing him with body blows and dropping him twice. The world title shot one concussive finish from finally appearing. And yet it never came, the left hook that ripped through his chin knocking him out cold. Doctors racing to the scene, their white masks radiant in a pitch black Essex night, his body adjacent to a label on the floor, Sky Sports Box Office.

A crippling shock but one that delivered the ultimate drama for behind closed doors boxing. The brainchild of Eddie Hearn paying off. The eerie silence, dark night and absent crowd bringing a brutal reality to a sport that thrives off it. Not for the first time, the drama was at Dillian Whyte’s expense.

Whyte has been here before but in far different circumstances. In December 2015 Whyte’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, left arm hugging a bouncing third rope. Anthony Joshua had won the grudge match, stopping Whyte in the seventh. Joshua would fight and win the IBF world title versus an underwhelming Charles Martin in his next bout, while Dillian Whyte was forced to take a few steps back.

Whyte returned six months later in a heavyweight contest against an Ivica Bacurin almost 44 pounds lighter. Impatient, gun slinging, Whyte was an angry man throwing punches in a contest few thought he could lose, looking like a fighter who knew he was now following a different trajectory. It took him six rounds that night in the O2, heavy shots connecting and missing the mark with a consistent regularity.

Of course this time is far different. A rebuild isn’t necessary, there’s a simple truth. Avenge August’s defeat and Whyte can get his title shot, despite the WBC’s contention that Povetkin is not in the mandatory position. Whyte’s body of work, his three-year position as WBC number one contender and his single blip avenged is a resumé Eddie Hearn has to push, and if he can be patient the title fight has to come.

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Far from a shot to nothing

Lose, well losing doesn’t bear thinking about. Whyte cannot afford to rebuild once more. 33 shortly after the fight his age isn’t a problem. It is the battles he has had. Twelve brutal rounds versus Rivas, Chisora, Parker, Helenius. Knocked down four times, two of these final. 160 rounds of professional boxing and an early career as a sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury amongst others. At no stage so far has experience displayed its scars, his speed and power consistent and a maturity more and more evident in each bout. But one day it will and logic would dictate that cannot be too long.

In his corner, Xavier Miller and Harold Knight, the former having worked with the Whyte since 2019 and the latter a former co-trainer of Lennox Lewis. No Mark Tibbs, the successful partnership having separated prior to the defeat to Povetkin. A change of coach indeed but speculating about its effects is an irrelevance. Heavyweights carry power. Povetkin felt it throughout four wearing rounds, two times touching the canvas. Whyte felt it as the contest ended. Elite level boxing is full of fighters with a punch that can change a fight.

Yet as Whyte lines up on Saturday night, his future on the line, it is not a fight he is there to change markedly. More of the same, tighter and perhaps more respectful of the Russian’s power. It is minor adjustments which he seeks to implement. Changing the narrative instead is what Dillian Whyte searches for.

One opportunity to take things back into his hands, to right a wrong and leave his path one he is able to choose, rather than one dictated to him by other parties. What path that may be, whether he risks it all once more, well only time will tell. Whyte will hope to choose.  

Featured image produced by Matchroom Boxing.

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Crossover appeal means little for world title chasing Joyce

If there’s one sport that seeks headlines or highlights like no other then it’s boxing. Careers buoyed and built on showreel stoppages, slow-motion replays and that final concussive blow. On rare occasions devastating fists bring with it a mouth to match, and a promoter’s dream is built. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Tyson Fury come to mind, though for the latter this has not always been the case.

The heavyweight division draws its appeal precisely because it is like no other, where the size of each fighter brings a power that more often than not ends with a fallen goliath and a picture for a poster down the line. It’s the reason why crossover appeal, the ability to market a fight to an audience that isn’t necessarily a fight fan, more often than not occurs with these heavyweight giants.

On Saturday night that anticipation was intimated at by the meeting of two unbeaten prospects at differing ends of their careers. Daniel Dubois, a softly spoken 23 year old with the capacity and tendency for night ending hooks, a ramrod jab and quick feet. Frank Warren’s chosen one, Dubois enjoyed the rare distinction of having been picked up by the veteran promoter before he had even had his first professional fight. In the opposite corner lay Joe Joyce. 35 years old, a silver medallist at the Rio Olympics. Many predicted that would be the pinnacle of his career. Eager to come forward, easy to read and predictable in his punches, he started the night as a three to one outsider.

Promoters tried to create a rivalry. Sam Jones, Joyce’s promoter did his best to rile Dubois, to tell him the fight had come too early. Both fighters exchanged petty insults at the various press appearances, but neither possessed the cult of personality blessed by others that have trod their path. This was a fight nine months in the making, cancelled on four occasions, but despite the build up all the anticipation rested on what fans expected in the ring. An early knockout from two fighters who refuse to take a step back and a tilt at a world title shot the gold plated carrot in front.

No confident tongue would provide any weight regardless unless it sits three inches above a granite chin. The first round was cautious, a battle of the jabs with both men catching but Dubois being penned back, and boxing for the first time in his career on the outside of the ring. Forward Joyce came offering a gentle jab which look laboured, before darting in with the same jab twice as powerful some seconds later. On a few occasions both men’s head would wobble but each time they retreated. A tentative start.

The minute on their stools passed by and Dubois attacked, a right hand fizzing over the gloves of Dubois and hitting Joyce flush on the side of his head. His right leg buckles and he takes two steps back. Dubois is used to this. He’s seen it before, a punch caught clean and an opponent soon falling to the canvas. But just as Joyce buckles he strengthens once more, with the young prospect catching him again but Joyce standing firm. A brief exchange and the two are stuck together, Joyce taking a moment to breath. The sequence repeats itself a minute later and Dubois is in control. The concussive knockout just waiting to happen.

Or so we thought, how instructive that round was. Joyce weathered the storm and returns the favour with a left hand padding at the right eye of Dubois. In a round won by the golden-boy, it is the reddening around his eye that leaves the biggest imprint on the fight. Slowly but clearly the eye develops and the pattern continues, but each time Dubois’s attacks grow weaker and his eye larger, peppered by the hands of a 260 pound man.

Each round they dance. Little to separate them, but each round the swelling grows. Intriguing to the last that highlight finish grows distant, and with one knee to the canvas after a non-descript jab it finally submits. Dubois is broken, his eye socket fractured. Blind in one eye, he can no longer see the left hand of Joyce coming towards him, but that’s no reprieve when nerve damage sends a juddering pain to his brain.

No sooner has he taken a knee than commentators are taking their aim. A quitter, boxing’s cardinal sin, not a young man preserving a living from an injury that has ended the career of none too few. For boxing needs its black and white, its picture postcard ending. It’s what draws a peripheral sport into the mainstream even though the reality is far more interesting.

Joe Joyce that night did something he hadn’t done before. ‘One dimensional’, ‘easy to read’, people knew he could take a punch but in Westminster Hall he did much more. He adapted when people didn’t think he could or rather wished he didn’t, targeting Dubois’s eye when it was clear he was enjoying success. No need to come forward and trade punches like he can, instead he did what he should. Ring craft of the highest order.

The aftermath of Saturday and the debate around Dubois’s heart may do Joyce some favours, though the lack of credit may be hard to take. Over the next twelve months or whenever that world title tilt appears, the odds will most likely have him still a distant second. I for one won’t bet against history repeating itself. A chin like no other, a boxing brain built on years of experience and an energy unbecoming of his age. Joyce has all the ingredients.

Featured image “28/02/2013 Weigh-in British Lionhearts vs Ukraine Otamans” by World Series Boxing is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0