DILLIAN WHYTE could have taken a different route back after he was knocked out by Alexander Povetkin last summer. But as soon as he woke up he made it clear he wanted to again fight the man who had just put him to sleep. That alone illustrates what Whyte is all about. He deserves nothing but respect for insisting on the return and then winning it so emphatically.
Yet it’s only right to also point out that Povetkin looked strikingly incapable. He looked beaten before he’d thrown a punch. Now, it’s easy to be wise after the event. But plenty feared the worst beforehand, particularly as the whispers grew louder and louder about the Russian struggling to train suitably after contracting Covid-19 at the end of last year.
There was a point during Povetkin’s amble to the ring when it looked like he might stop and lamp up a Hamlet cigar in a nod to the old adverts where the protaganist accepted his dreary fate. Relaxed was one way of describing his state of mind. Completely aware of the disaster that awaited him would be another.
His appearance on the scales the day before didn’t exactly fill his supporters with confidence either. It wasn’t that he weighed four-and-a-quarter pounds more than the first bout that was concerning – such a weight difference in heavyweight boxing is negligible – it was how that weight manifested itself. Never a body beautiful but always in fighting shape, Povetkin’s chest was unusually fleshy and his arms lacked definition.
Robert Smith, the General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control who commissioned the event in Gibraltar, dismissed concerns that “Sasha” wasn’t fit to fight.
“We knew about his issues with Covid,” Smith told Boxing News. “He was subjected to a full battery of tests, more than is the norm. There were extra tests, his lung function was monitored, and we were more than satisfied he was able to fight.
“Whyte could only beat what was in front of him and he did that. And with all due respect, you could say that Povetkin was falling apart in a similar way in the first fight before he landed one punch in the fifth round to turn it around.”
Smith has a point. Povetkin’s long career as an amateur and professional has seen him take his lumps both inside a prize ring and in some bizarre fist fights he used to regularly enjoy behind the scenes. One can go back to his lacklustre 12-round decision win over Christian Hammer in 2017, nine months before he was knocked out by Anthony Joshua, for the first genuine signs of wear and tear. By the time he fought Whyte last year it was widely accepted he was a long way past his best. Then that sweet left hook rescued him from oblivion. Now there can be no debate about which way he is heading.
It should also be noted how durable Povetkin used to appear, the punches he would take and throw back. But during the opening moments of the Whyte sequel in Gibraltar the Russian’s movement was so unkempt and his balance so poor, an early win for the Briton was certain almost immediately. That his corner threw in the towel to rescue their once indestructible man, though exactly the right call, was also revealing in its own way. The deterioration was well known in camp it seemed. Covid alongside a long, punishing career was a combination that even Povetkin couldn’t come back from.
The veteran isn’t the first fighter to succumb to time. Plenty have discovered there is no escaping the consequences of that ticking clock. After being mauled by Manny Pacquiao in 2008, Oscar De La Hoya realised how fearsome the ageing process can be. A few days before Povetkin was defeated, De La Hoya confirmed his plans for a comeback at the age of 48 [read more here].
The lure of the ring is astonishingly strong to those brave enough to fall for its charms. But it’s also cruel and unforgiving, peaks are brief and careers are short. Povetkin knows now what De La Hoya is choosing to forget. Neither should be encouraged to put themselves in harm’s way again. Whyte, too, will one day reach that point of no return and wonder how. For now, he’s in the enviable position of only looking ahead.