THE START of the press conference staged to discuss next month’s rematch between Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte was delayed when none other than Derek Chisora shouted at Joshua to get his friend’s attention, and was rewarded by Joshua briefly sitting down with him for the duration of a private conversation, instead of heading to the top table he was required at for it to start.
Chisora’s attempts to remain relevant – not that that was his sole intention – could have served as a warning to both fighters, if they had needed it, of the cruelty of their trade. Instead Joshua – still recovering spiritually from his successive defeats by Oleksandr Usyk and since the subject of a high-profile editorial from an authority on Muhammad Ali that encouraged him to retire – and his next opponent both appear increasingly aware.
Both fighters also – once again, as is consistent with the most compelling rivalries – find themselves in territory sufficiently similar it is almost inevitable that they would again cross paths, as they again will back at London’s O2 Arena, this time on August 12. Both enter next month’s fight following victories over Jermaine Franklin that did more to harm their reputations than to hinder them (and therefore with the right to question why rare defeats should so significantly set them back). Both do so in their second fight under their new trainers – Joshua with the Texas-based Derrick James, and Whyte with Florida’s similarly respected but, in so many ways appropriately, less trend-leading Buddy McGirt. Both also recruited their American trainers in an attempt to revive financially rewarding careers they had been told were in decline, apparently steadfast in the belief – and therefore apparently among the minority – that they are not.
In so many respects – as when they were raw professionals trading to establish themselves as Britain’s leading young heavyweight in 2015, and even rawer amateurs fighting to earn supremacy in 2009 for their respective corners of London – they mirror each other, and yet equally fittingly will also likely be among the last to see it, and not least because of the vast contrast in the way that they speak.
Sat either side of Eddie Hearn, one, in south London’s Whyte, flanked by McGirt, again sounded entirely unaffected by his three defeats – the first of which was inflicted by Joshua – and the other, from north London and without his busy trainer so instead sat alongside another corporate face from DAZN, had perhaps never sounded more civilised.
“Look at what this creates,” said Joshua, 33 and not recognising how little he was helping McGirt’s assertion that the “best are fighting the best”. “I’m a fighter, and I understand the economics of the business. This does good business.
“I don’t really think me and Dillian are rivals. They’ve [Whyte and those around him] got a lot of hate for me.”
When he was interrupted by Whyte responding, “I got no hate for you, bro” – the very opposite of what Hearn had been angling for – Joshua then persisted, “A lot of people hate on me”, betraying the thin skin that has previously undermined him and been exposed by Whyte, and that perhaps even represents the greatest contrast between them.
“Forget [potential next opponent Deontay] Wilder – them lot been doing my head in for so many years. You lot have seen now – the shenanigans in the heavyweight division. [Tyson] Fury said, ‘I’m training for [Oleksandr] Usyk’; SugarHill [Steward] come out and said, ‘No, I’m not training him for a heavyweight championship fight’.You can see all the lies that’s been going on. So I don’t really waste my time with time wasters. It’s only a fight – I just want to fight and get on with it.”
When Hearn mentioned their trainers Joshua instinctively said, “I got a brilliant trainer; I got a serious trainer – now”, and whether it was Robert Garcia or Rob McCracken he had in mind when he did so he will also know that he had been criticised in the aftermath of separating with both.
“I’ve been meditating on my performance, rather than how I’m going to win the fight,” he later finished, but not before revealing the same edge that ensured that their fight in 2015 so widely entertained.
He had mostly looked straight ahead while the fearless Whyte answered questions from Hearn – again Hearn, on the occasion of a so-called press conference, was the only individual asking the two fighters questions – but when after another Whyte said, “I’m calm, but honestly, fuck around and find out [whether I’ll still react]”, Joshua immediately turned to look at him.
“That’s been my whole career with Matchroom,” continued the 36-year-old, so content in his status as the opponent that as he sat there smiling behind sunglasses and underneath a hat in a room without sunlight he then challenged Hearn, who he clearly has less respect for than Joshua, in a way not encouraged by the promoter when the promoter and DAZN ensured that he alone would ask questions.
“‘Must-win fight.’ ‘Must-win fight.’ Every fight with Matchroom’s been like that.
“You’ve been bullshitting me. You’ve been bullshitting me. You need to stop that. You need to stop that.
“We’ve [me and Joshua have] both been through a lot but we’re still chasing improvement; we’ve got new teams. We’re more skilled now. We’ve been through our ups and downs; we’ve both had our losses but we’ve still got a lot of hunger. I can’t wait to get in there.”
Whyte, unquestionably, is already relishing the occasion. Joshua – who may have reflected after his world was changed by Usyk that he should have fought Whyte again instead – seems willing to consider enjoying it too. It is not the fight between the two fighters responsible for halting their careers that the world had wanted, but in that context it is a better one than it is being given credit for. It is also still to be hoped that the winner will next fight Deontay Wilder. Even if Whyte loses, as the fighter who should have proved responsible for ending Chisora’s career in 2018, he will know better than almost any how unlikely defeat is to mean the end.