Little has been said between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte but be sure that the volume will increase come fight night. Elliot Worsell tells the story so far…
IF the first rule of Fight Club is to never talk about a Fight Club, the first rule of fight sports should perhaps be this: do not talk about a fight until the two fighters enter the ring.
In the case of British heavyweights Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte, never has that particular rule been more necessary, vital and understood. It has, as a rule of thumb, helped us get through weeks of peculiar and rather unsettling build-up and it has reminded us to temper our expectations and prepare ourselves for the worst. Even now, just days from the pair meeting at Wembley Stadium, we are, because of both this rule and boxing’s propensity to disappoint, braced for the worst-case scenario.
Where this fight is concerned, any reassurance had to come from within. We could not rely on Dillian Whyte, whose silence from the moment the fight was announced has been more irritating than enigmatic, nor could we rely on Tyson Fury, a man who has effectively become the unreliable narrator of his own life story.
In fact, one could argue the wait for Fury-Whyte has somewhat mirrored the experience Fury has whenever opposing Deontay Wilder. For each time those two meet there is a sense everything is going well for Fury so long as rounds go by without any drama. Yet, in the back of both his mind and ours, the fight, regardless of how it appears to be going, is forever only one Wilder swing away from being turned completely on its head. It is therefore a situation fraught with tension; one hard to navigate and one almost as hard to watch.
This build-up to Fury-Whyte has been no different really. Each day is a better day than the last, indicative of some sort of progress, and we have grown accustomed to telling ourselves – even if not quite believing it – that no news is good news. We have told ourselves, too, that everything can change in an instant and that all the good work in bringing these fighters together could come undone with just one false move. That, in this scenario, could mean an injury, or illness, or something altogether more underhand. We are, after all, dealing with not only two men with enormous bodies and egos, but various promoters and managers whose own bodies and egos can also be described as heavyweight in size.
Still, given that we have now reached fight week, and given that this piece has made it to print, one can at least be a little more confident that a fight will conclude this story.
Should that happen, the man most silent will presumably be the man most content. For as hard as it is to believe, Dillian Whyte is due to make a reported eight million pounds from this fight against Tyson Fury, a purse that will eclipse, by some margin, anything he has so far earned as a professional. More than that (though I’m sure Whyte ranks nothing above the payday), he will at last get the opportunity to test himself against the best heavyweight in the world, a challenge he has been chasing for a while now.
The tale of Whyte’s woes, overplayed to the point of overkill, is hardly worth repeating. But, suffice it to say, his shot at a version of the world heavyweight title is long overdue and his focus, during this wait, has had to shift from Deontay Wilder, the former WBC heavyweight belt-holder, to Tyson Fury, the current one.
Unfortunately, what also happened during this wait was that Whyte was knocked out by Alexander Povetkin, a defeat, to his credit, he almost avenged immediately. Before that, his form had been pretty good; better than most who challenge for heavyweight titles. He had, along the way, pushed aside Joseph Parker, Óscar Rivas and Derek Chisora (twice). No murderers’ row by any means, but, at heavyweight in 2022, you take what you can.
Usually, if attempting to nail down Whyte’s relevance as a modern-day heavyweight, the truth will fall somewhere in the middle. Which is to say, rather than the most avoided heavyweight of all time, as he would have us believe, he is instead just another unfortunate top contender whose mishaps – both in the ring and outside the ring – have led to delayed title shots. Often his own worst enemy, Whyte has sadly run into issues with performance-enhancing drugs, which never aids the gathering of momentum, and also a Povetkin hook, which, again, couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Even so, Whyte will argue that he wouldn’t have had to take risks against the likes of Povetkin – just to stay active, to stay earning – if he had been delivered his title shot on schedule. That would seem a fair argument, and no doubt Whyte cursed his luck when seeing some of the other fall guys lined up for title challenges in recent years. It’s all the more maddening, this scenic route he has taken, when you consider Whyte has been messing about with fringe WBC titles – those ghastly ‘international’ and ‘silver’ ones – ever since beating Derek Chisora first time around in 2016. And for what?
Well, this, apparently: a title shot against Tyson Fury at Wembley Stadium on April 23. The payday to end all paydays, the opportunity to end all opportunities, Whyte has got exactly what he has been asking for – and then some. It could be argued, in fact, that his patience has more than paid off and that a fight against Fury, a fellow Brit with a big mouth, is substantially more appealing and lucrative than one against Wilder, whom he pursued to no avail. Whether it’s a more winnable fight for Whyte is another matter, but in the context of getting paid and setting him up for life, he couldn’t have asked for much more – even if, ultimately, he did.
So what of his silence, then? Surely, in light of all he stands to receive, in victory or defeat, there would be no end to the whooping and hollering coming from Whyte and his team in the weeks leading up to this life-changing opportunity. Surely, how long he has waited, there would be an outpouring of emotion and all that had been building up inside.
But no, apparently not. Instead, we have silence. Total, unnerving silence. We either have the silence of a man who has realised what it means to be careful what you wish for, or we have the silence of a man all out of respect for both his opponent and the game as a whole. (A Zoom conference, held nine days before the fight, was the extent of Whyte’s pre-fight week participation.)
At this point, it’s hard to say. What we do know, however, is that Whyte once loved nothing more than talking and calling out, only to then curiously loathe the very idea the moment this particular fight was made. What we also know is that his promoter, Eddie Hearn, lost the purse bid for the right to host this event and thus Whyte’s role in the promotion was reduced immediately, if not absolved.
These two factors will naturally have played their part in Whyte’s approach. Additionally, it would be wrong to underestimate Whyte’s ability to play mind games with opponents, even if this is not something we typically associate with the straightforward Londoner. Here, considering all that’s at stake, it would make a lot of sense for Whyte indeed to stay quiet and have Fury doubt whether the fight will take place. He could, if that’s the plan, be banking on Fury’s famously wavering focus going walkabouts for fear of the fight not happening. Or, if not that, he could be of the belief that Fury requires a slanging match before the actual boxing match in order to get his juices flowing and generate the necessary motivation to get through camp.
Either way, Whyte, 28-2 (19), has not played along. He has not gone the Deontay Wilder route and allowed Fury to psychologically ruin him, nor has he allowed himself to get emotionally involved with an opponent the way he did with Derek Chisora all those years ago. For this one, Whyte has gone cold. He has cold-shouldered friends and the media and has, one suspects, been trying to develop the cold, detached mentality of an assassin; someone for whom getting in and out, doing the job and getting paid, is all that matters. For a normally emotional man, someone who often uses emotion as fuel, it will be fascinating to find out whether one, Whyte has been behaving this way because of cleverness or pettiness, and two, it has any bearing on the actual fight.
The answer to the latter likely depends on the response of Tyson Fury, of course. This is invariably the case whenever the 6’9″ heavyweight fights and that’s because Fury, both physically and mentally, dwarfs the entire heavyweight division right now. In constructing a record of 31-0-1 (22), he has flaunted his superiority against everybody except Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, and has, he will argue, beat opponents equal to Whyte, at least stylistically. Whyte, on the other hand, will find it tough to say the same about Fury. For not only has he never conquered anybody at that level, or with that style, but Whyte will have difficulty finding sparring partners to mimic Fury in camp. It’s not easy: fighting him, preparing for him.
This often shows when opponents share a ring with Fury and react as if his style is something they have never before encountered. It’s not a look of Mike Tyson intimidation that triggers this reaction, but an unconventional move, a switch in stance, or the snaking of an unusually long arm towards their face. Suddenly, in that moment, it hits them. The glove. The size of the opponent. The size of the task. And Whyte, for all his confidence and indignation, and for all his preparation, is unlikely to be any different.
That said, Fury vs Whyte is an excellent fight on paper. It carries with its prestige a certain edge and layer of dirt, which both elevates it above other excellent fights and, conversely, makes it a fight hard to trust. It was hard to trust when it was made, it became harder to trust as the weeks ticked by, and it will still be hard to trust – in terms of whether we get a good fight or a bad one – when both are eventually in the ring.
These men, after all, are wonderfully unpredictable and it is this unpredictability that sets them apart and, like their fight, makes them, individually, hard to trust. Both have had run-ins with the British Boxing Board of Control due to either questionable comments or behavior and both have been in trouble for failing drug tests. They have also, when at their best, demonstrated the kind of heart and fighting spirit few other heavyweights are able to match. Whyte, when he has gone down, has gone down fighting, and Fury, when he has gone down, has somehow always got up. In other words, while their actions may sometimes be called into question, and their characters are sometimes hard to read, there can be no doubting their capacity to battle through adversity and produce when it matters.
It matters on April 23 at Wembley Stadium, and Whyte, having said not a word, will tell himself, “Nothing else matters.” About that, if nothing else, he is probably right.