Heavyweight boxing, for all the noise and clamour that always surrounds it, can be the loneliest and most unforgiving arena in sport. Dillian Whyte was exposed on a brutal and humiliating night last August when he was knocked out by Alexander Povetkin. But, in winning the rematch in Gibraltar on Saturday night with such conviction, Whyte dealt with the psychological aftermath of his defeat so effectively that all the doubt and loneliness has been shut away in a dark box again. He is back once more near the gaudy heart of the heavyweight circus.
After knocking out Povetkin in the fourth round, Whyte has secured a leading role in the tangled drama that threatens to complicate boxing yet again. He could finally be given the chance to fight for the world title as the proposed £200m showdown between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua was thrown into fresh doubt.
John Fury, Tyson’s outspoken father, dismissed the fact that the two British world champions have signed a contract meant to secure a two-fight deal. The first bout is scheduled for the summer but Fury Sr sounded scornful. “What does it mean if you can’t get a date and a venue?” he said in a BT Sport interview on Saturday night. “What does it mean if no one is willing to put the money up? It’s all about somebody coming forward and saying: ‘Right, I’ll pay for the fight. I’ll stage the fight.’ Where are these people? I don’t think they can get it together.”
Fury Sr pointed to the difficulties of staging such an outrageously lucrative contest amid a global pandemic. “I just don’t think the timing’s right for a fight of that magnitude with the state of the world at the minute. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic and the world may never be the same again. So we’ve got to make some major adjustments because I don’t think boxing is at the forefront of anyone’s mind – especially for a fight of that magnitude.”
Whyte will have been intrigued to hear Fury Sr insist it was time for his son to set aside the tortuous negotiations, forget about Joshua and just get back in the ring. “What’s next for Tyson is that we need to get him out whether [or not] these cowboys get the job sorted which I don’t think they’re gonna do,” he said.
“Tyson needs to fight twice this year with or without AJ. It’s a business to Tyson and we need to move on and get him living properly and sharpening his tools in case that big night comes knocking. But I think they’re dragging their heels because they don’t want it. I don’t blame them.”
Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, are genuine in their desire to make the fight happen but the longer it takes for a venue and a date to be agreed the more Fury Sr’s doubts will spread. It would appear as if even countries such as Saudi Arabia are hesitant to stage a fight of this size behind closed doors. “Listen, if they want it, Tyson will fight him in a phone box, fight him on a ship, fight him on the moon, Mars, anywhere,” Fury Sr said.
If Fury turns away from Joshua, Whyte is likely to be made the No 1 contender again for the Gypsy King’s WBC belt. A rematch with Joshua would be even easier for Whyte to make as he is also promoted by Hearn. In December 2015 Joshua stopped Whyte in seven rounds of a wild and often thrilling contest. Both British heavyweights have improved considerably since then and Whyte would not be cowed by Joshua. He has shown he can deal with the demons of a stoppage loss and win a rematch.
The odds might still favour the staging of a Fury-Joshua extravaganza in the summer but Whyte will lurk on the fringes. He could also face Deontay Wilder, the American who has been suffering in the lonely aftermath of losing his world title to Fury last February. A fight between Wilder and Whyte would be a pay-per-view hit and it would fit the strangest and most unpredictable business of them all – heavyweight boxing.
Whyte, having so convincingly won the rematch against Povetkin which could have ended his career, is back near the centre of that surreal and yet often solitary world. It is time for him to pause and rest, for a little while, before the noise resumes. He will be alone in the ring again, soon enough, with another big and dangerous man.