IT’S understandable, with tragedy overshadowing the sport, for there to be mixed emotions about boxing. Dillian Whyte, the heavyweight contender, considers his motivations in boxing. Sitting in a plush steakhouse off the Strand in London, ahead of headlining at the O2 against Lucas Browne on March 24, what impels him in this sport, despite its dangers, might seem obvious. The draw of success. Boxing could carry him to riches, to fame, maybe even a world title shot. But this sport is rarely simple and fighters themselves are complex. When he first began something else drew him into the boxing gym and away from the streets.
“Boxing definitely saved my life,” Whyte said frankly. “I was one of those kids who was not meant to be anything at school, I was either meant to be dead or in prison at this age.”
“My mum hates the fact that I fight,” he admitted, “my sisters hate it too but they understand that boxing gave me a way out. It saved me. It made me someone. It made me the person I am today, mentally and physically.
“My family understand how much it means to me and how much it has made me grow as a person. As much as they hate it, they understand what it means to me and what doors it opens. They are happy and they’re sad.”
The sport was his way out. “I came here from Jamaica as a kid and didn’t go to school really, never had a great education. I was a little bit bad on the street, running around, doing this, doing that and always getting into trouble. I was completely written off so boxing has definitely saved my life,” Whyte said. “My past has been… I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been shot. I wasn’t the best kid. I was running around being crazy and excited and I thought it was cool at the time.”
“I got stabbed when I was 13, 15, 16. That’s actually how I got into fighting. I got into trouble and my youth worker took me to the gym because he saw me always fighting and getting into trouble. He took me kickboxing to learn and once I started doing it I just fell in love with it,” he revealed. “I thought, ‘Man, you can actually beat someone up, have a fight, get paid and not go to prison.’ That sounded good to me.
“I’d go to the gym and I’d train and I’d be smashed. Instead of being on the streets, I’d be home sleeping. From there, I went on to improve my boxing skills. My coach said, ‘Listen, you’ve got some talent.’ I got in the ring and sparred with [Dereck] Chisora and David Haye, and Adam Booth said I should give it a proper go.
“The main thing is it took up my time. It gave me focus. My mates said, ‘We’re going out tonight to drink.’ But I’d say I’ve got training in the morning so I can’t come.”
Boxing was his salvation and he believes the sport can help young people in situations similar to his background. “For me, boxing is a great sport for any kid that is out of control or who thinks they’re a bad boy. Boxing humbles you and teaches you discipline. It teaches you self control, discipline and self respect. If you think you’re a hard man who can go and stab someone, they will put you in the ring and make you spar someone for one or two rounds and you will realise that this is where it’s at,” Whyte said. “It’s the discipline, it’s the hardest, most loneliest, most self-driven sport in the world. If you don’t get up in the morning and run, you’re going to get found out, if you don’t put in the sparring, you’re going to get found out. If you’re not motivated, you’re going to get found out. It draws you in.
“Boxing draws you in, you just want more and more. The technical side of it, the mentality side of it, it grows you as a person. That’s the difference between boxing and other sports, it’s a self-driven sport, you can see yourself going up, climbing and learning. Getting better, better physical shape, better mental shape, better technically.”
The Brixton heavyweight has learned from his own experience and he looks on, with concern, at the problems afflicting young people in the capital today. “It’s really sad because a friend of mine lost her son a few weeks ago because of knife crime. Some kid stabbed him in his neck because he was in the ‘wrong’ postcode,” he said. “Something silly.”
“Knife crime has gotten out of control. We as adults and people in power need to do something about it, we need to start educating our children and the younger generation to show them,” Whyte continued. “I don’t know man, but knife crime has just gone completely out of control. There is no point just locking people up or throwing people in jail. We have to educate the younger generation.
“As a young kid you don’t know what you’re doing, you get influenced by those around you. That’s the problem with some kids nowadays, they’re doing these things but they don’t understand what they’re doing.
“For a 17-year-old kid to cut another 17-year-old kid’s throat, you can’t know what you’re doing. You do these things, but then you’re locked up for 30 years, you think about it and a lot of them go mad and can’t handle it, some of them kill themselves.
“You do stuff when you’re young that you don’t think about.”
The forgotten and the hopeless, they need something. For Whyte, when he was young, his solution was boxing.
“If you have hunger and drive, it’s the perfect sport for you, because you never stop learning, you never stop gaining, you never stop getting in better condition, you get faster, you get fitter, you get smarter – it’s the perfect sport I think.”
It’s taken him on a personal journey of his own. “It has taught me a lot, it has made me grown up and I’ve learned the business inside out and I’ve opened my mind up to things that I never thought I would. I have been at the good end of boxing. I’ve been on a loss, on the comeback trail and I’m still trying to get to the top,” he said. “I get caught up in it but sometimes I sit back and think about where I’ve come from and what I’ve been through. To be here, the main event at the O2 and stuff like that. I think to myself: ‘Wow’. I’m far away from where I need to be but it’s still a massive achievement.”