DILLIAN WHYTE clambered off the yacht he called home for the week, made his way to a sports centre located directly between the pillars of Hercules and then exacted cold, brutal revenge over Alexander Povetkin to cap one of the stranger promotions of our time.
The Jamaica-born Londoner knew his career was well and truly on the rocks in Gibraltar (pun intended) given the devastating nature of his defeat to the Russian in their first clash back in August. A second successive loss was unthinkable.
Some might have opted to swerve Povetkin and rebuild in another way, but not Whyte. He knew there was only one way to exorcise his demons and reaffirm his position as one of the world’s leading heavyweights in one fell swoop. And he did it in style on the southernmost tip of Gibraltar. A putatively Herculean effort in his Portugal training camp had whipped Whyte into the shape of his career and it was his insistence on allowing nothing to affect preparation which drove the Matchroom roadshow to this tiny sliver of British territory despite the ongoing global pandemic. Portugal’s position on Britain’s ‘red list’ meant that any fight in the UK would have required Whyte and everyone else in his team to quarantine in a government hotel for 10 days midway through their camp. Whyte said that would have “destroyed” him, so this alternative was sought.
In the end, Hearn, his right-hand man Frank Smith and the rest of their team somehow put this operation together in just three weeks. There was even time for Gibraltar to issue commemorative £2 coins featuring Whyte and Povetkin’s faces.
However, given ongoing restrictions on travel, Matchroom decided the best way to make it happen was to charter their own Boeing 747 from a private terminal in Stansted Airport. That, and the hire of ‘the world’s first luxury yacht hotel’ for fight week, meant the promotion cost upwards of £250,000 to stage, according to Hearn.
Among the passengers on Matchroom Air was Povetkin himself, who was forced to postpone the initial date for this rematch due to a bout of COVID-19 which required hospital treatment. Much of the talk in the week had been about how that might affect a 41-year-old man like Povetkin in a 36-minute fist fight. The answer, in the end, was really quite badly. The 2004 Olympic gold medallist had looked fleshy on the scales and strangely subdued during his ring walk. Whyte, meanwhile, could not have been more fired up.
He strode directly towards Povetkin at the opening bell and landed a hard jab almost instantly. Povetkin’s legs were uncharacteristically stiff and within 20 seconds Whyte had him wobbling. “The Body Snatcher” had enjoyed much success, punctuated by two knockdowns, in their first meeting before disaster struck and he was clearly wary of a repeat this time around.
His corner team of Xavier Miller and Harold Knight was also pleading with him to stay sensible, relaxed and not to get greedy. But given how much he was clearly hurting Povetkin every time he landed with either hand, it was difficult for Whyte to keep a clear head.
Povetkin regrouped somewhat in the second, landing a dangerous left hook of his own. Just like he did in Hearn’s back garden last year, “Sasha” was looking to slip inside Whyte’s jab before countering with his own lead hand or looping a right over the top. But Whyte, now wise to the manoeuvre, would simply step back out of range leaving his smaller opponent scything through thin air only.
The third round was not a good one for Povetkin, who shipped a huge overhand right and failed to land anything of note. By now it was clearly a matter of when, not if Whyte was going to close the show in front of the 500 fans allowed inside the Europa Point Sports Complex.
Every time Whyte landed, Povetkin, badly marked beneath the left eye by now, stiffened up but Whyte knew there was no need to chase the finish but rather let it come to him. That’s exactly what happened midway through the fourth round when a reasonably innocuous one-two sent Povetkin back into the ropes. As he bounced off them, Whyte crashed a stiff jab and right hook into his opponent’s jaw. As Povetkin wobbled in centre ring, Whyte took flight with a leaping left hook which finally dropped the Russian.
Back in August, Povetkin had recovered from a pair of knockdowns in the fourth, but this time there was no coming back. Referee Victor Loughlin was already waving it off when the towel came in from Povetkin’s corner at 2-39. There was little by way of celebration from Whyte, who instead trundled back to his own corner to fetch the barstool he uses between rounds so that Povetkin could take a load off. He needed it.
“You can always do better,” said Whyte by way of evaluation. “I feel like I could have got him out in the first round. But he’s a dangerous guy so I had to be careful and calm myself down because he’s dangerous when he’s hurt so it makes it double difficult.
“I was boxing good last year too but I made one mistake. But in heavyweight boxing you have milliseconds to make five or six decisions and sometimes you make the wrong ones and that’s it. But this time I didn’t sit on the front foot, I stayed central and back so I had better balance, it was an easy adjustment.”
On the finish, Whyte added: “I wanted a good one. I didn’t want to just beat him down. You see the way he put me down? I wanted to put him down the same way. Do you understand?”
It was a rhetorical question.
The next morning, Whyte surfaced in the ship’s restaurant at around 10am for some breakfast. Already he was thinking about his next outing. “I want to know when I’m fighting next to be honest,” he said as he assessed the buffet.
Hearn has confirmed that the plan is for Whyte to have an “easier one” in America this summer in a bid to build a potential clash with Deontay Wilder before the year is out. Whyte is not so sure the former WBC king will be tempted back to boxing and has set his sights on a different American instead.
“All Wilder does is post pictures with guns, alcohol and weed,” Whyte said. “Or he’s twerking and shaking his ass on TV. There’s no sign of him even training at the moment, he may never fight again. I would love to smash his face in but if he’s not going to fight, what can I do?
“I’d love to fight Trevor Bryan for the WBA [secondary] title. I’d love to fight him for that. It would be a great opportunity.”
But first Whyte will take as much of a break as he can manage. He later revealed that his mother contracted COVID during his training camp but she did not tell him so as not to distract him from the task at hand. He is also now able to meet his baby son who was born while he was away at training camp. Victory, and the nature of it, will mean he can do it with a smile on his face.
There were mixed fortunes, however, for his boxers in action elsewhere on the card. In the chief support, Whyte’s promising Ipswich heavyweight Fabio Wardley stopped two-time world title challenger Eric Molina in the fifth round of a reasonably even fight until the end point. There are not many heavyweights who move like Wardley, still only 26 and learning on the job given his lack of amateur experience. But his hands-down style and use of head movement for defence invites pressure and Molina did have success until the stoppage came after 52 seconds of the fifth.
Molina had actually landed a right hand of his own and as he piled the pressure on, Wardley nailed him with a right hand and then put him over with a left hook. Molina actually looked OK and was communicating with referee Mark Lyson throughout the count but the Texan opted to stay lying on his back instead of getting up. A much better talker than fighter at this level, one hopes this was Molina’s last outing on a pay-per-view event. It had been set for 10.
In the fight of the night, Ted Cheeseman reinforced his position as one of the best super-welterweights in the country by stopping the previously undefeated James Metcalf to end a back-and-forth war for the vacant British title in a fight fit to top any bill.
Cheeseman started well and was having success with his smooth combination punching. Indeed, he looked close to forcing a stoppage as early as the fourth round, but the tough Liverpudlian, son of Shea Neary, showed an iron chin to make it through the round. Metcalf then started to gain a foothold in the fight and was closing the gap on his Bermondsey opponent as they entered the championship rounds. However, Cheeseman dropped Metcalf in the final minute of the 11th and, although he clambered to his feet in time to beat the count, referee Ian John-Lewis decided enough was enough. The official time of the stoppage was 2-10.
Before that, Campbell Hatton made his professional debut, outpointing Spain’s Jesus Ruiz 40-36 for referee Loughlin. There was a huge spotlight on the 20-year-old Mancunian, son of Ricky and nephew of Matthew, and he later admitted that he maybe tried too hard to make a big impression, which affected his performance.
“In my head that was a five out of 10,” he said afterwards. “The big one is out of the way. There will be half the pressure next time and I’ll probably be 10 times better. I will go out on the [Dereck] Chisora undercard [on May 1]. I will stay on it all year and be as busy as I can. I will take any opportunity.”
Earlier, Whyte-backed Londoner Chris Kongo suffered the first defeat of his career when he was beaten by Portsmouth’s Michael McKinson, who lived up to his “The Problem” nickname.
The southpaw assumed an early lead by virtue of a first-round knockdown and never really looked back. There were no complaints when all three judges scored in favour of McKinson, who has now properly arrived on the domestic welterweight scene. John-Lewis scored the contest 97-93, while Loughlin (96-94) and Lyson (95-94) had it slightly closer. John Latham was the referee.
Another man who recorded a hugely significant victory was Chertsey heavyweight Nick Webb, who made a mockery of his underdog status by crushing previously unbeaten German Erik Pfeifer inside two rounds (scheduled for 10).
Pfeifer had been well backed for victory after a whole camp of sparring Whyte, who was hugely impressed by the 34-year-old from Hamburg. But Webb used his height and reach advantages to dismantle Pfeifer, dropping him three times in the second, giving referee John-Lewis little option but to put a halt to the mismatch after 1-51 of the round.
In the card’s opening fight, Wembley’s Youssef Khoumari boxed brilliantly en route to a fifth-round stoppage victory over Birmingham’s tough Kane Baker. Khoumari looked particularly effective catching and countering with his left hand to both head and body, and it was little surprise when referee Latham decided enough was enough after 2-22 of the fifth (slated for 10).
In a slightly bizarre quirk of the promotion, all the boxers – except Whyte who drove back to Portugal – boarded the same flight back to Stansted, meaning that losing fighters and their conquerors were rubbing shoulders at check-in. For many reasons, this was a week that few present in Gibraltar will forget.
The Verdict Whyte gets revenge to maintain march to long-awaited world title shot.