IF Dillian Whyte is looking for inspiration when he dusts himself off and makes his inevitable return he only needs to look at the man who sensationally knocked him cold on Saturday night for inspiration. For Alexander Povetkin, an old school Russian villain and a master in the art of reinvention, a KO defeat is just one of numerous setbacks he’s managed to turn to his advantage.
The power-punching technician came up second best against Wladimir Klitschko in 2012 – dropped four times, humbled and widely outscored – before he was thumped to defeat by Anthony Joshua in seven rounds six years later to leave many presuming Alexander Povetkin was little more than a name that was there for the taking. Add to that the different drug tests he failed in-between his losses, the blame he’s swerved and the piddly bans he’s served, then consider the subsequent fortune he’s amassed, thanks largely to Whyte’s promoter Eddie Hearn showcasing him on five consecutive pay-per-view events, and the dreams he dutifully wrecked with one calamitous swing of his left in that same promoter’s back garden. Not only a tale of redemption, then, but a lesson, surely, to those who should have known better.
To some, Povetkin will always be tainted goods because of the illegal substances he took, yet it’s the failure of the boxing authorities and the powerbrokers to suitably punish him that is arguably the biggest crime of all. But if one can ignore all that, and in 2020 we have little choice but to turn a blind eye to the seismic rule-breaking that is all too common, then Povetkin must be recognised not as a criminal but as a thick-skinned fighter of substantial pedigree, skill and menace who has rode the crooked system with aplomb.
The 2004 Olympic champion – even at nearly 41 years old and even after being dropped twice in the fourth round to underline his wear and tear – still had the wisdom and ability to get 32-year-old Whyte exactly where he wanted him in the fifth. Stalking and probing, watching and waiting, Povetkin forced his rival to the ropes, flicked him into position with a left before dipping low, eyeing the hole in his opponent’s guard and hurling a ruinous left uppercut straight through it. The Brixton man prepared his body for impact but the blow soared upwards and the force caused his misplaced head first to swivel, then to collapse, and finally all semblance of coherence to disappear from it.
The ending was sudden, shocking and perhaps a symptom of the Londoner’s over-confidence. Before the first bell, Whyte removed his bullet-proof vest that read ‘Maximum Violence’ and then peeled off the t-shirt beneath to reveal an altogether more impressive physique than the one he’d almost apologetically exhibited while labouring to a 10-round victory over Mariusz Wach in Saudi Arabia nine months ago.
With the product of an arduous training camp in Portugal in place, Whyte – after swapping long-time trainer Mark Tibbs with Xavier Miller and giving Dave Coldwell a late call-up to assist – went to work. A quiet opener was followed by a commanding second. He pounded the body of Povetkin with arcing thuds and his long outstretched jab was enough of a distraction to dissuade the Russian from venturing too close.
But Povetkin was in the fight. There were moves to his left and right, shuffles forward and back, and jabs and hooks thrown more as decoys than anything else. A fighting man of significant ring intelligence, Povetkin was gathering information on his rival to enhance the homework he had already done. By the end the third, after taking more hearty whacks to the midsection, he was getting closer and a left hand whizzed past Whyte’s chin in a warning that was largely ignored.
Everything changed in the fourth. The Englishman scored with a gnashing left hand that followed two booming right crosses and it caught Povetkin as he was trying to change position. Down he went, off balance, and hopes of a dramatic home victory raised significantly. Povetkin regained his footing before Whyte reached a neutral corner. Dillian looked on the brink of victory. But the veteran switched from head to body, attempted an uppercut only to be beaten to the punch by a left hook-cum-uppercut from Whyte’s left hand that sent him down again. It was another brief stay on the canvas before the bell sounded to end the eventful session.
After 30 seconds of the fifth round, Whyte was unconscious on the deck and his pre-fight promise of maximum violence realised as referee Mark Lyson waived the count above him. Dillian’s long-awaited shot at a world belt was seemingly even further away than it was 1,000 days ago when he took his place atop the WBC heavyweight rankings. Yet the overused narrative that Whyte has been hard done by, that he’s been unlucky and ignored all along, must now be replaced by the truth that, through his own hard work, the sport turned his life around and during those 1,000 days made him a very rich man indeed.
Though we are led to believe that Whyte has been criminally overlooked, he was offered chances to cement his WBC title shot along the way. Presented with a lucrative opportunity, too, to fight old rival Joshua last year before Andy Ruiz Jnr eventually accepted the role and shocked the world. Whyte went elsewhere with Oscar Rivas – and came out the other side of an ugly brush with UKAD as an innocent man – and now, whether the rematch clause with Povetkin is triggered or not, he remains in the privileged pay-per-view position he’s been in for a long time. Crucially, he’s still a key player in a fascinating heavyweight division where one defeat does not mean the end of the line. Yes, this was a cruel result, but the lessons it generates are plentiful.
There is every reason to believe Whyte can regroup. He did so magnificently following the stoppage loss to Joshua in 2015, after all. The question marks over his punch resistance will intensify but there isn’t a heavyweight on the planet without similar uncertainty hanging over their heads.
One hopes Whyte again focuses only on what he can control, dispenses with concerns that he’s not getting what he deserves and puts to one side the falsehood that the boxing world is against him. If it was against him, or indeed Povetkin, neither would have got this far.