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 – long 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 – initially with one eye on making the Joshua bout – 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 performance enhancers he allegedly 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 Whyte’s misplaced head first to swivel on his neck, then to collapse and all semblance of coherence to disappear from his brain. The punch not so much turned out the lights but ploughed a wrecking ball through the entire building.
The silent shock and distress from ringsiders and commentators only volumized the extent of the disaster.
Leading up to the explosion, those ringsiders and commentators sang a wholly different tune. Whyte was in total command, it appeared. In command, they thought, from the moment he 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 left hooks 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 tempered the attack as Povetkin plotted his. He switched from head to body, attempted an uppercut but was 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 dramatic 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 – 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.
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 such is the heftiness of the punches being thrown in the modern era.
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.
The best fight of the night, of Matchroom’s entire four-week Fight Camp and arguably of the year to date, came in chief-support of this pay-per-view event when Katie Taylor again outpointed the ludicrously rugged Delfine Persoon over 10 savage rounds.
Fourteen long months ago in New York – back when face masks were only worn by bank robbers and travelling abroad was not a risk but a pleasure – Taylor was judged somewhat fortunate by most observers to get the verdict over her demonic Belgian rival after a hellacious affair that thrilled all lucky enough to witness. The thinking this time was that Taylor, by far the more skilled, would be too clever and good and disciplined to not get drawn into that kind of firefight again.
But this was more of the same. Persoon survived some horrific facial injuries (broken nose, both cheeks contorted and bloody) to leave Taylor nursing a potato-sized swelling on her forehead at the end. Again, this was a very close encounter that was awarded to the Irishwoman. Unanimous scores of 98-93 (tabled by Victor Loughlin) and two tallies of 96-94 (Mr Lyson and John Latham) that matched BN’s card meant that Taylor remains unbeaten and the undisputed lightweight champion.
After appearing to boss the first of this Mr John Lewis-officiated bout, Taylor scored with a three-punch combination in the second, moved off and changed direction to frustrate Persoon who instinctively swung at thin air. A left and right followed from Katie and Persoon emerged from the swift but hearty shellacking looking like an expanding gobstopper stolen from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was lodged in her right cheek. The hideous swelling grew quickly, ripped open and blood trickled down her face. Afterwards, Persoon spoke of also breaking her nose in this round.
The injuries were joined in the fourth by another under her left eye. It looked like a left hand did the damage but the heads were colliding regularly in what was already a brutal affair. No matter. Persoon’s truly astonishing ability to ignore pain coupled with her must-throw-punches-no-matter-what mindset ensured the injuries were never anything more than a nuisance to her.
In the seventh, it looked like Persoon might take over. A horrible swelling rampaged from Taylor’s forehead after a sustained attack (though whether a punch or limb or skull caused it is uncertain) and her breathing intensified. During the minute-breaks, Taylor desperately gulped back air and must have wondered why on earth she’d agreed to fight this freak of nature again.
In keeping with the rollercoaster nature of their rivalry, Taylor – who must only be applauded for her efforts – came back to life at the start of the final session. She snapped back the bruised and swollen head of her enemy with a right hand and, at the final bell, looked to have produced enough classy work to edge ahead.
It’s hard to fault Taylor’s approach. She feinted, she moved and at times bewildered Persoon with sharp counters and well-placed combinations. But the challenger, unlike what the boxing rule book will tell you, never once reset herself in an effort to avoid them nor acknowledged the shots coming her way. Instead the policewoman motored after her opponent, like Robocop in a bullet storm, and threw punch after punch after punch; attacks so frenzied, in fact, that at times they made a mockery of the longstanding basics of boxing.
In the end, though, the right fighter – and the right approach – won the day.
Zak Chelli looked a comfortable victor after 10 hard-fought rounds with Jack Cullen. Boxing News had the Londoner up 97-93, mirroring the opinion of judge Mr Lyson. The other two scoring officials disagreed, however, with Mr Loughlin scoring 96-95 in Cullen’s favour and Mr John Lewis tallying 95 apiece.
Bolton’s Cullen gave this everything. He enjoyed success in the early rounds and threatened to close his rival’s left eye in the fourth. Crucially, perhaps, he had a decent 10th as Chelli – after dominating the ninth with a series of brisk attacks launched off his excellent jab – appeared to coast safe in the knowledge he’d done enough. That should never be presumed, of course; Cullen’s last round efforts likely rescued him a share of the spoils.
But Chelli’s performance after 11 months out was impressive. He stayed low against his taller opponent, his lead hand was accurate and powerful, and his looping blows carried significant snap. Ultimately, this draw will not harm the progress of either. Mr Latham was the man in the middle.
Bermondsey’s Chris Kongo underlined his star potential with a nine-round drubbing of the talented Luther Clay. The bout – for the spurious WBO global welterweight trinket – was fought at a high pace and the South Africa-born Clay, a university graduate from Bracknell, threatened to take charge early.
He clipped Kongo several times with his right hand and was wise to target his rival’s long and lean torso. Yet Kongo seized the initiative in the fourth. A right hand buzzed Clay then in the fifth he seemed on the brink of a stoppage triumph as he pinned his opponent to the ropes with a series of ripping blows.
To his credit, Clay hanged tough, even rallying as Kongo seemed to tire, but by the ninth it was he who was exhausted. Left hooks plunged into Clay’s stomach as uppercuts socked back his chin. After a knockdown, and a sustained assault, Clay’s corner threw in the towel and Mr Loughlin accepted the surrender at 2-44 of the round.
In a one-sided mauling, Croatia’s Alen Babic ransacked the defences of Shawndell Winters, an American from Harvey in Illinois, dropping him in rounds one and two before Mr Latham ended it at 2-40 of the second.
THE VERDICT: A huge setback for Whyte but valuable to lessons to learn as the efforts of Taylor and Persoon are again overshadowed by a huge heavyweight upset
RESULTS: Alexander Povetkin (224lbs), 36-2-1 (25), w tco 5 Dillian Whyte (252 1/4lbs), 27-2 (18); Katie Taylor (134 1/4lbs), 16-0 (6), w pts 10 Delfine Persoon (132 1/4lbs), 44-3 (18); Zak Chelli (164 1/2lbs), 7-1-1 (3), d pts 10 Jack Cullen (164 1/4lbs), 18-2-1 (9); Chris Kongo (145 1/4lbs), 12-0 (7), w rsf 9 Luther Clay (145 1/2lbs), 13-2 (5); Alen Babic (205lbs), 4-0 (4), w rsf 2 Shawndell Winters (194lbs), 13-4 (12).
Povetkin: “I was watching Whyte’s fights and taking into account that he was missing uppercuts from the left and the right. During my training, I was training on putting combinations around those shots.
“[But] I didn’t feel that I would finish the fight like this. I was pretty confident in the fourth round that, even though I went down twice, it was okay. It wasn’t too much damage.”
Whyte: “Can we get the rematch in December? I’m good, I’m good. It’s just one of those things where it just landed didn’t it. I was bossing it. It is what it is. Rematch. It’s cool, it’s all good. That’s what boxing is about.”
Taylor: “I thought I boxed a lot better than last time and I stuck to my boxing a bit more even though I got drawn in a few times… It’s always tough, you can’t relax in there against someone like Delfine. Even though you hit her with clean shots she just attacks all the time.”
Persoon: “This time I couldn’t hurt her and if you can’t hurt her, she gets around you and boxes well. This time I didn’t do enough. She has my respect, she deserved this time to win and I have no problem [with the decision].”