There is more to a stadium fight than just a few fireworks, writes Steve Bunce from Tyson Fury vs Dillian Whyte
IT WAS just before 8am on the morning of the fight and Carl Froch was standing outside Wembley Stadium. He was happy.
“You might have heard,” he said with a straight face, after just two-seconds of his live interview on BBC Breakfast. “I boxed there in front of 80,000.” They were his first words. It made me chuckle.
Fast-forward about 12-hours and Nottingham’s Ekow Essuman retained his British title in front of over 90,000, just before the main event. Essuman took Froch’s live-fight attendance record for a Nottingham boxer. Mauricio Sulamain confirmed he has commissioned a belt.
At about the time Froch was on air, the last touches were being applied to the transformed pitch; names were being placed on the closest seats, spaces for medical gurneys secured, miles of digital cables were hidden. There is more to a stadium fight than a few giant fireworks.
I was in the area by about 11am and the hordes of Wembley workers were starting to form queues; signing in, getting a hi-viz bib and a bottle of water. They were the first shift; the heavy boys and girls on security detail would arrive a few hours later. The trucks with their glistening cargo of beer kegs, endlessly came and went. Wembley Stadium was alive on the day.
Also, just arriving at that time, were the first of the fans, splendid in heels and white trainers, wondering if their tight T-shirts would be enough. They were on their way to start their bottomless Prosecco day. There was a buzz.
Even Lennox Lewis had to pause.
At about noon on fight day, Lewis arrived for a sprinkling of make-up in a hidden room. I walked with him through a far tunnel to the pitch. The sun was out, every color in the stadium was vibrant. It was the first time he had seen it transformed; he was amazed at the size, the field of ordered railings, the packs of seats spread across the nation’s sacred turf. He drifted away as we walked to the distant ring, not quite shadow boxing, but certainly not walking. How many millions of people have sat in the seats and dreamed of playing at Wembley; Lewis was dreaming the same thing about that ring. He would have owned that place in the dark. Buffalo Soldiers would be playing; Ziggy Marley covering his father’s song, filmed in the garden of the icon’s house in Jamaica. Can you hear that, see it on a big screen as he walks to the ring? I can. And so could he.
I was back a few hours later and in the area where the television trucks park, under the Wembley stands, I heard a rumble and roar, a battle cry. It was the crusader knights in full uniform and voice. They still had about three hours to wait, ready for battle; part of Fury’s army.
The hours and minutes of the last day vanished like all big-fight days; the talk of redemption, Daniel Kinahan, retirement, salvation and destiny, faded as the serious time edged closer. The fans flooded in down narrow rows, filling the seats for hours and hours. The murmur was relentless; Each appearance on the big screen of the hero and villain was cheered and jeered. It was pantomime, not hate. It was no longer a day, no longer a twilight; it was dark and the sparkly lights from a thousand phones twinkled.
When Isaac Lowe walked to the ring, Fury came to the tunnel, looked out and took it in. It was an essential viewing, a moment to savor. He would be back in about an hour. Those were dangerous minutes; Whyte was calm, so we were told.
After Essuman had taken one last look, the ring was cleared. No interview, no time. The zillion little pieces of the promotion had to come together right at that time; ring empty, beams on it, Jimmy Lennon in it, Lewis talking up in the BT studio, two doors knocked with a 10-minute warning, the cameramen checked their packs. It was close and then the unmistakable sound of a big-fight crew on their way; The clapping and cheers and shouts from opposite sides of the tunnel waiting area: the fighters and their people had emerged from the safety of their dressing rooms. There was no going back now. It was all working. I heard all this in my ears and then I sat down with Darren Fletcher and Richie Woodhall. We each tapped the edge of the canvas – that’s how close we were.
Then it was the old warbler, Don McClean, up on the big screens and then it was time for bedlam.
The crusiders had marched from their car park to flank Fury as he ran to the ring. The thunder was still distant, the first bell closer. All waiting was over. It was not an ordinary day.
You know what happened.
An hour after the final punch, I stood with Froch in a hallway and Fury came over: “Hey, Carl, did I ever tell you when I sold out Wembley with 94,000,” he said. “There’s no need for that,” Froch replied. They embraced. Fury and SugarHill were still topless; Whyte was sitting reflecting, eating soft sweets. I left him in silence with thoughts he will never shake.
Two hours later, in a light drizzle, we left that place behind. It was a new day.