With Anthony Joshua out to extend his perfect professional record to 13-0 this Saturday against former world title challenger Kevin Johnson (his first 12 wins have all come via knockout), it seems an opportune moment to meet the British prospect who has sparred Johnson and was one of only three men to conquer the London 2012 Olympic super heavyweight champion (and the only one to drop him) in the unpaid ranks.
He was 9-0, owned an emphatic amateur win over Joshua and was seemingly making a inexorable ascent up the domestic heavyweight ladder. However, serenity soon turned to calamity for unbeaten heavyweight prospect Dillian Whyte (above).
Having disposed of Hungarian Sandor Balogh in October 2012, Whyte was en route to a press conference to announce his tenth fight when news filtered through that he’d tested positive for the banned substance methylhexaneamine (MHA), following his win over Balogh. The source of MHA, a stimulant that is banned “in competition” but not during training, was a sports supplement drink called Jack3D, a product bought over the counter to be taken following intense work-outs.
Despite the tribunal accepting that he’d taken the banned substance unknowingly, the hearing’s chairman, Charles Flint QC, upheld the two-year ban for, in his opinion, not doing enough to check the supplement’s ingredients. Whilst former British title holders Enzo Maccarinelli and Tony Dodson suffered more lenient bans (five and six months respectively) for using the same prohibited substance, the severity of Whyte’s ban seems inordinately harsh in context, though Dillian doesn’t resort to apoplectic rants to vent his ire.
“A man only shows his true character when things aren’t going well,” declares Whyte, his words laced with a defiance that clearly resonates strongly with the 27-year-old Brixton native, who knows that time is still on his side in an increasingly raucous and vibrant heavyweight division.
“It [the suspension] was obviously hard to take but I’m not the sort to give up, it takes a lot to dishearten me. The heavyweight scene is very interesting at the moment with [Deontay] Wilder winning the WBC belt in January and America is interested again. There’s some massive fights out there.” Determined tones of a man with deep convictions in his ability.
When asked if his enforced two-year sabbatical has helped him focus on what he really wants out of boxing, his emphatic riposte suggests that his motives have never altered, “I want to be a world champion and go all the way, I believe in what I’m doing and I believe in where I’m going. I’ve always known what I wanted out of boxing, but the break has made me more one-track minded and determined to achieve those goals.”
That focus has catalysed since Whyte made his ring return in November. Five straight stoppage wins in as many fights have delighted his legions of fans and has transformed Whyte into a major player on the domestic heavyweight scene once more. His last win, which took him to 14-0, came on February 28th, when he inflicted a first career defeat on Georgian Beka Lobjanidze, when acting as the chief support on the live ITV broadcast of Carl Frampton’s IBF super bantamweight world title defence against Chris Avalos in Belfast.
Dillian ended the Georgian’s 10-fight unbeaten record with a comprehensive four-round stoppage victory. His best performance to date? “I was pleased with how it went, if a little frustrated by the finish. The finishing shot didn’t catch him clean but I guess I just broke his heart, he didn’t want to know after he’d felt my power. It was good but I felt I did better against [Marcelo Luiz] Nascimento before that fight.”
The rugged Brazilian in question has faced plenty of top line foes including Tyson Fury, the current mandatory challenger for Wladimir Klitschko’s WBO heavyweight strap (Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium has been mooted as a potential venue for the clash in early autumn) and a pair of former world title challengers.
“He’s a tough guy who went five rounds with Fury and I stopped him in two rounds, nobody’s done that before.” That Nascimento went the eight-round distance with Eddie Chambers and the same number of sessions with Manual Charr, who have fought Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko respectively, is demonstrative of his innate durability and toughness.
The south Londoner’s rapid ascent was due to continue apace when he was paired with fellow unbeaten British prospect Gary Cornish in a British title eliminator in March. However, much to Whyte’s frustration Cornish got cold feet. “Gary Cornish doesn’t want to fight anybody that’s unbeaten, he’d rather just keep fighting journeymen. I mean he has more experience than me and has had more fights than me.” (Cornish is 20-0). So was he surprised by the unbeaten Scot’s late withdrawal? “Not really. Looking at his record, he’s fought no one really, it was disappointing but kind of predictable. I can only think he’s scared of fighting me.”
Having never lost during a brief amateur career, which included the aforementioned win over Olympic super heavyweight champion Joshua, and his unbeaten progress as a pro, I’m intrigued to know if he feels like an avoided boxer with too high a risk factor attached relative to the rewards at stake?
“There’s plenty of reward for fighting me. Why wouldn’t you fight me if you were Gary Cornish? He and his manager (Tommy Gilmour) have been banging on forever about wanting a British title shot and the Board (the British Boxing Board of Control) ordered the fight as an eliminator for the British title, so they were getting just what they claimed to want. Who did they expect to have to fight? Goldilocks? And I’m higher in the British rankings than he is. The problem is, British heavyweights don’t take risks and just seem happy to fight journeymen,” opines a mildly frustrated Whyte, who having fought through some torrid times outside of the ring, now seems fixated on making up for lost time inside it. “I’ll fight anybody if it makes sense and people want to see it. I just want to step up and test myself in exciting fights that fans want to see.”
Finally it seems that boxing’s hazy melancholies are beginning to lift for Dillian after the Board’s recent circular on May 13th stated that the proposed fight between British title holder Fury and Whyte will go to purse bids; all offers to be submitted by June 10th. With a world title chance on the horizon, Fury has already declared his intention to relinquish the Lonsdale belt just as he did with the European strap he won against Dereck Chisora in November. Either way, Whyte should get his long-awaited crack at the prestigious British bauble by the autumn.
The affable Londoner, who is a delight to speak to, is trained out of Miguel’s Gym in Brixton by his long-time coach Chris Okoh, was due to be fighting on the 24th April, but a minor hand injury thwarted that clash. He hopes to be back in the ring by mid-June. “I probably could have just fought with the injury and beaten a journeyman to keep busy. Knocking someone over and picking up a W [win] might look good on paper but I only want fights that I’m going to learn from and move up the rankings with. I’ve known from a very early age that I can knock people out with both hands. I don’t want pointless fights, so I’m letting my hand injury heal.”
So what does he make of his former amateur victim Joshua and his rapid ascent as a professional? “Look, he’s a good fighter, but as a person, I don’t respect him. He’s a fake. He preaches this ‘stay humble, stay hungry’ nonsense, and he’s not humble and he’s not hungry. He tries to be everything to everybody. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good fighter and he’s improved since I beat him in the amateurs, but I’d fight him tomorrow at the drop of a hat.”
The source of this apparent animosity has taken root from comments that Joshua made about Whyte during Dillian’s suspension. “I was behind him in the Olympics, but I’ve lost a lot of respect for him since. You don’t bad-mouth people when they’re in a low point in their career like I was. Plus he doesn’t acknowledge that I beat him fair and square when we fought. He’s got this fake persona that’s fooled the people. I’ve told him that I’d fight him in the park, in the pub or in the ring, I’m not bothered to be honest. I don’t like him and I want to fight him, it’s that simple.”
Whyte dropped Joshua during their 2009 amateur tussle before winning unanimously on points and is convinced he can do a more emphatic job as a pro. “I think I can knock him out this time, not just knock him down, he doesn’t like pressure being applied to him. I will take it to him and look to hurt him. I wouldn’t go in there just to survive like his other opponents.”
We spoke prior to Joshua’s latest outing, but this survival mode seemed etched in the mind and the tentative fists of Raphael Zumbano Love on May 9th in Birmingham. The over-matched and overawed Brazilian offered so little offence that it would have barely qualified as a sparring session in Anthony’s Essex gym. The Watford man blasted through Love‘s porous defence midway through Round 2 for a thirteenth straight stoppage.
It now seems like a waiting game before Whyte and Joshua eventually lock horns, and following the Board’s recent announcement, Whyte may have the Lonsdale belt to his name should it come to fruition. With both men unbeaten as professionals, a vociferous history coupled with apparent disdain for one another; the fight would need little promotion.
“It’s a fight I want asap, as soon as that fight’s available, I want it. The fans want it, I definitely want it, but I’m not sure if he [Joshua] wants the fight to be honest. I gave him a contract to sign, but heard nothing back. It’s early days yet and he’s fighting again this month but I’m sure we’ll hear from Eddie [Hearn] and Matchroom [Boxing] soon.”
So can former Klitschko foe Johnson stun Joshua on May 30th? “Look I’ve sparred with Kevin a lot and I think the fight’s come too soon for him [Joshua]. The big difference is he’s had time to prepare for this fight (Joshua and Johnson were originally scheduled to fight on January 30th before the former pulled out with a back injury). Kevin’s real confident and he’s ready. It will be interesting.”
It’s hard not to admire Whyte’s perseverance in the face of adversity that may have quelled the ambitions of a lesser man. Whilst his future looked headed for a black hole not so long ago, it now looks distinctly bright, and increasingly Whyte.