“What could be better than walking down any street in any city and knowing you’re the heavyweight champion?”
– Rocky Marciano
Brixton’s Dillian Whyte is starting to fight like a man without a monkey on his back. Ever since his debut in May 2011, he laboured under the label of ‘the guy that beat AJ in the amateurs’. Those words followed him around like ducklings.
His early resume was decent enough, against the sort of opposition that everyone boxes when building their profile, but like some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy he was always going to be judged when he got back in the ring with Joshua. When it happened, notwithstanding alleged shoulder problems and a visible lack of condition, he presented AJ with his stiffest test to date. Despite the fact that the Matchroom poster boy has since gone on to win and defend a slice of the world title, Whyte remains the best guy he has faced.
For a while it appeared the South Londoner staked that claim almost by default. AJ’s opposition had not been exactly stellar prior up to that point, his best win coming against Kevin ‘kingpin’ Johnson, while the fights after – against Charles Martin and Dominic Brezeale were cakewalks despite IBF recognition. Now, events in early October are perhaps shedding a whole new light on the situation.
Tyson Fury’s well documented troubles may be tragic but have shaken the scene like a snow globe. We are still waiting to see how the flakes settle. But it could well mean two major titles becoming vacant. Game on.
With the AJ business behind him, Whyte’s pounding of local rival Ian Lewison on Saturday puts him right in the mix. Make no mistake, Lewison may have had spells of inactivity and be 35 years old, but he is a good fighter. Heavy handed, with a nice jab, Lewison is more than a match for run-of-the mill, domestic level performers, as easy wins over Tom Dallas and Dorian Darch have shown. If, as some had suggested, Whyte was only of that calibre himself, this could have been a massive banana skin.
Instead, other than a difficult first round in which Lewison was pumped and Whyte struggled to find his timing, he controlled the action throughout. Letting loose short combinations from the front and back foot, the ‘body snatcher’ showed some lovely flourishes. Eyebrows were raised when he switched to that nickname in the run-up to his bout with AJ, as prior to then he had always been known as ‘the villain’, but he lived up to it against Lewison, dishing out plenty of punishing abdominal attacks. He also looked well-conditioned, at last.
The writing was already on the wall by the time he broke Lewison’s nose in the tenth and from that point on, it was only going to finish one way. Trainer Don Charles saved the ref from having to jump in, a wise decision. Lewison had suffered enough. Not only did Whyte claim the British title, but he showed that the national scene is now beneath him. He deserves to be thought of on the world stage.
Meanwhile, his old nemesis AJ is still to announce his next opponent. As this column was being written, the situation remained unclear, but feverish speculation mounted that his November date would be filled by none other than Wladimir Klitschko. This would be surprising for a number of reasons, not least for the fact that it would show great courage on the part of Joshua’s handlers. With the exception of Whyte, they have studiously avoided anyone who might give their boy real trouble, but Wlad would surely at least do that. If anything, the former undisputed champ would start as a favourite.
My cynical expectation is that after lots of publicity, in the form of newspaper hype and internet rumour, a last minute ‘glitch’ will prevent the bout being signed. Eddie Hearn will then do an hour long Ifl TV interview to tell us all how disappointed he is and how close it all was to happening, but reassure the fans that he has something nearly as exciting up his sleeve. Joshua will then defend against Bermane Stiverne or someone like that.
If, however, the Wlad fight does come off and if Joshua won, which is not out of the question – Klitschko is nearly 41 and been out of the ring for twelve months – both AJ’s and Whyte’s stock would rise exponentially. Joshua could actually make a claim to be the heavyweight champ and perhaps even start to justify all the PPV nonsense that surrounds him. Meanwhile Whyte could surely talk himself into a rematch, on the basis that he hurt the big man first time around and would prepare thoroughly and turn up injury free in future.
There is something magical about a thriving heavyweight scene and while still a relative desert compared to the 70s or 90s, a hazy mirage of excitement is growing. Along with the news that Matchroom have apparently signed up long-time dark horse, Luis Ortiz of Cuba, there exists the potential for some intriguing match-ups in the near future. Deontay Wilder, David Haye, Joseph Parker, Lucas Browne and of course Tyson Fury, should he conquer his demons, will all hope to have their say.
The giants always bring interest. When the heavyweights are strong, boxing is strong. And it could well be that things are about to explode.
My last book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports book of the year award and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.
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