ON APRIL 23, Tyson Fury scored a one-punch, sixth-round knockout over Dillian Whyte before 94,000 spirited fans at Wembley Stadium in London to retain his world heavyweight championship.
Fury, age 33, entered the ring as the number-one heavyweight in the world by virtue of consecutive knockout victories over Deontay Wilder that brought his record to 31-0-1 (22). He’s a huge man (6-feet 9-inches tall) with considerable flab around his waist that defies the contemporary notion of what an élite heavyweight’s body should look like.
Whyte, now 28-3 (19), is 34 years old and had been knocked out previously by Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin. His signature victories were against Derek Chisora (twice), Joseph Parker, and (in a rematch) Povetkin.
Whyte was entitled to fight Fury by virtue of being the WBC “mandatory” challenger. On December 7, 2021, the WBC ordered that a period of “free negotiation” of unspecified length begin in an effort to finalise a bout contract. But the parties were unable to reach an agreement. Thus, on December 30, the WBC announced that a purse bid would be held on January 11 and that the purse would be split 80-20 in Fury’s favour. The bid date was pushed back several times amidst rumors that Anthony Joshua (who’d lost his WBA, IBF, and WBO belts to Oleksandr Usyk last September and was contractually entitled to an immediate rematch) had been offered an eight-figure sum to step-aside and let Fury-Usyk be contested immediately, with a guarantee that Joshua would face the winner. On January 26, Fury posted on Instagram, scornfully reporting Joshua had refused a step-aside package (AJ probably did) worth $90 million (it probably wasn’t) that would have allowed Fury to fight Usyk.
Ultimately, the purse bid was held on January 28. Queensberry Promotions (Fury’s primary promoter) prevailed with a bid of $41,025,000. Matchroom Boxing (which had promoted Whyte’s recent fights) bid $32,222,222. Under the terms of the purse bid, 10 per cent ($4,102,500) of the total was designated to go to the winning fighter. The other 90 per cent would be split on an 80-20 basis ($29,538,000 to Team Fury and $7,384,000 to Team Whyte).
Meanwhile, Whyte was expressing dissatisfaction with the purse split. “They keep going about the money and percentages,” Fury told journalist Ron Lewis. “But this little shit is getting eight times more than I got when I beat Wladimir [Klitschko]. This sucker has done nothing but get chinned by a 45-year-old man [Povetkin was 41 at the time]. He would be very sensible to take his money before he loses it. It is like this idiot has won the Euro Lottery.”
On February 1, the WBC set a deadline of February 21 for signed bout contracts to be submitted to the sanctioning body. Whyte complied on the deadline day. Thereafter, he refused to attend the March 1 kickoff press conference in London because Queensberry was unwilling to augment its winning purse bid by giving him an upside on pay-per-view buys. That left Fury to tell the media, “The buildup to this fight will be fantastic because Tyson Fury versus his own shadow sells for sure.”
Whyte also objected to the use of his photograph to publicise the fight, leading Frank Warren (Queensberry’s primary owner) to declare, “This guy is getting 32 times the purse he got lodged by the WBC for his last fight. We’re paying him good money. He’s obliged to do certain things. Everything he doesn’t do is going to be a problem afterward. Breach of contract is a breach of contract. He needs to show up and he needs to meet his obligations. He needs to do all the things that all boxers do when they’re involved in big fights. Up to now, he has not done that. He’s in breach.”
On April 13, Whyte broke his silence with a brief post on social media that read, “I’m ready. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on the 23rd of April. #LetsGooo!” A day later there was a Zoom media conference call and the declaration, “This is not the Tyson Fury show. Everyone is saying, Tyson Fury this, Tyson Fury that. He didn’t sell out any of the fights with Deontay Wilder. This fight sold out because of me and Tyson Fury. We’re both in the show together.”
But by then, a shadow had descended over the proceedings. Daniel Kinahan (an Irish national currently living in Dubai) is widely believed to have been the controlling force behind MTK Global (the fighter management company headquartered in Dubai that managed Fury). On April 11, Kinahan was sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury for what the government says is his role as leader of the Kinahan Organised Crime Group.
More specifically, Kinahan was one of seven individuals and three companies sanctioned by the United States government. Statements from various U.S. officials read in part, “The Kinahan Organized Crime Group smuggles deadly narcotics, including cocaine, to Europe, and is a threat to the entire licit economy through its role in international money laundering. Criminal groups like the KOCG prey on the most vulnerable in society and bring drug-related crime and violence, including murder, to the countries in which they operate. The U.S. government will continue to use every available resource to dismantle these criminal networks.”
Under United States law, all property and interests in property of a sanctioned party that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to the government. Moreover, government regulations generally prohibit “all transactions by U.S. persons or persons within or transiting the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.”
On April 14, MTK Global issued a statement that read, “MTK Global will comply fully with the sanctions made by the U.S. government against Daniel Kinahan. MTK parted ways with Mr Kinahan in February 2017. He has had no interest in the business since then and will have no future involvement with us. MTK operates ethically, transparently and lawfully.”
The MTK statement included a quote from MTK Global CEO Bob Yalen, who said, “MTK Global will take every measure to ensure the company and those who deal with it are fully compliant with the U.S. sanctions announced this week and take this matter extremely seriously.”
That highlighted the question of why, if MTK and Kinahan parted ways five years ago, Yalen moved from the United States to Dubai (Kinahan’s current home base) after assuming his position with MTK Global. Then, on April 19, MTK announced that Yalen had resigned as CEO “for personal reasons.” The following day, MTK Global announced that it was ceasing operations. In part, the MTK Global statement read, “As a business, we have faced unprecedented levels of unfair scrutiny and criticism since the sanctioning by the US Government of Daniel Joseph Kinahan. It is a matter of public record that Mr Kinahan’s involvement in MTK ceased in 2017, and despite repeated reassurances in this regard, unfounded allegations about his ongoing association with us and our fighters persist. Since leading promoters have now informed us that they will be severing all ties with MTK and will no longer work with our fighters, we have taken the difficult decision to cease operations at the end of this month.”
It’s widely believed within the boxing industry that Kinahan was intricately involved in the operation of MTK Global throughout its existence and had the final say on matters of substance involving MTK Global fighters. Indeed, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum recently told Yahoo Sports that he paid four million dollars in consulting fees to Kinahan (one million for each of Fury’s last four fights in the United States, all of which were co-promoted by Top Rank) and that the money was sent to a company registered in Dubai.
If Kinahan had been tied to a major sport, his curriculum vitae would have led to his ouster long ago.
Four days before Fury-Whyte, Dillian failed to appear at a scheduled open media workout. One day later, he did participate in the final pre-fight press conference and, addressing his status as a 6/1 underdog, said, “This is one of those fights where I’ve been working on being adaptable. I’m going to have to adapt, make smart decisions when I need to, do what and how I need to do it. There’s no strategy here. I just need to go in there and do my thing.”
Fury had offered varying views on the impending battle during the build-up to the fight. At one end of the spectrum, he’d declared, “I’m gonna tell you the game plan. Straight out of the block, straight to the middle of the ring, push him back straightaway, big heavy artillery from round one and see how long he can take it. When I land a ‘Lancaster Bomber’ on his jaw, it’s going to be over. That could be in round one or it could be in round six. I don’t see it going past that. I will chop him to bits. I will smash his face right in.”
But one had to consider the fact that Fury has accumulated considerable boxing mileage on his body in addition to abusing drugs, eating his way to obesity, and struggling with depression for longer than he cared to recall. And Whyte is a world-class fighter. Thus, during fight week, Fury acknowledged, “A lot of people are underestimating Dillian Whyte, but not me. Dillian Whyte is a good fighter. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s tough. He’s game. He’s got good power. He’s knocked out a lot of men. He’s got a lot of experience in the fight game. He’s got a big left hook and a big right hand. Who knows? It could be me chinned on the night.”
Fury’s most recent five fights had been contested in the United States. Before that, he’d fought Francesco Pianeta in Northern Ireland on the undercard of Carl Frampton vs Luke Jackson in August 2018. His most recent appearance in England had been in Manchester in June 2018 against Sefer Seferi on the undercard of Terry Flanagan vs Maurice Hooker.
But since then, Fury’s victories over Deontay Wilder had significantly elevated his public profile. Their trilogy (and particularly their third fight) reminded people that boxing can be great. And Tyson has an outsized personality that has come to resonate with fight fans in the United Kingdom. All of this made Fury-Whyte a historic event, with seating at Wembley Stadium reconfigured to accommodate the largest crowd in the history of British boxing.
The undercard was undistinguished. Then it was time for the main event.
Fury’s massive size compensates for his flaws as a fighter. Early in the promotion, he’d declared, “I’m gonna try and come in at me heaviest weight of all time. For the biggest fight and the biggest crowd, you’re gonna see the biggest Tyson Fury. I’m gonna come in like a man mountain.”
But, like much of what Fury says, that had to be taken with a grain of salt. When it was time to step on the scales, Tyson weighed in at 264 ¾lbs; 12 pounds less than he’d weighed for his third fight against Wilder. Whyte (a big man in his own right) came in at 253 ¼lbs; six pounds heavier than for his last fight when he’d knocked out Povetkin.
After the dubious scoring that gave Josh Taylor a split-decision verdict over Jack Catterall in Scotland two months earlier, Team Fury had demanded that there be no British judges for Fury-Whyte. Thus, the nod went to Guido Cavalleri (Italy), Robert Tapper (Canada), and Juan Carlos Pelayo (Mexico). Mark Lyson (from Liverpool) was the referee.
The singing of Sweet Caroline . . .The ring walks . . . Flashing lights . . . The pre-fight spectacle was enthralling and cosmeticised the brutality of what was about to take place. As with all fights, violence at a very primal level would be unleashed.
Fury was the clear crowd favourite.
Prior to the bout, Lennox Lewis had opined, “Only Tyson Fury can beat Tyson Fury right now. That means if he’s not focused, if he sticks his chin out there, if he plays around, that’s the only thing that can beat him.”
But Fury didn’t beat himself. He fought a strong, tough, measured fight.
Whyte (an orthodox fighter) fought the first round from a southpaw stance. Nothing much happened. But when a fighter deviates from what he usually does, it’s often a sign that he doesn’t think what he usually does is good enough to win.
In round two, Fury established his jab.
Whyte was a bit more aggressive in round three but to no avail.
In round four, things got ugly. Whyte suffered a cut above his right eye from a clash of heads, and there was a lot of illegal mauling on the inside, with Dillian more of the transgressor.
“He tried to make it rough,” Fury said afterwards. “He was trying to manhandle me in there. But have you ever tried wrestling with a dinosaur before? I’m like a T-Rex in there, 270 pounds. It’s difficult, especially when you’re shorter and not as quick.”
Each man fought cautiously in round five with Fury landing a bit more convincingly and continuing to control the action.
Then, late in round six – BOOM!!! Fury threw a jab followed by a right uppercut that landed flush on Whyte’s jaw. Dillian went down flat on his back with his arms stretched out on the canvas above his head, struggled to his feet, and lurched forward. Lyson reached out to keep him from falling again and stopped the fight at the 2-59 mark. It was the right call. Given a minute to recover, Whyte might have been able to answer the bell for round seven. But it’s unlikely that he would have lasted long.
According to CompuBox, Whyte landed only 29 punches over the six rounds, while Fury landed 76. This writer agreed with judge Robert Tapper who scored all five rounds for Fury. To be honest, enormous crowd and massive stakes aside, it was an ordinary fight with one memorable punch.
As for the future… Fury said before the bout that this would be his last fight. “I’m getting too old for this,” he told the media during fight week. “I’m 34 this year. I’ve had everything to deal with, weight loss, up and down, alcohol problems, drug problems. I’m probably round about 60 when it comes to boxing years. Age catches up very quickly, so you’ve got to move over for the younger guys. I said to Klitschko all those years ago, ‘You were a good champion in your day, but Father Time has caught up with you. You’ve got to move over for the younger guys coming through, give us a chance.’ The mistake Wladimir made was he wanted to take on the next era of champions, and it didn’t work out for him.”
Then, in the ring after defeating Whyte, Fury declared, “I promised my lovely wife Paris of 14 years that, after the Wilder III fight, that would be it. And I meant it. But I got offered to fight at Wembley at home, and I believe that I owed it to the fans, I owed it to every person in the United Kingdom, to come here and fight at Wembley. Now it’s all done. And I have to be a man of my word. I think this is it. This might be the final curtain for the Gypsy King.”
If Fury does retire now and stays retired, all credit to him. But few people take his declaration seriously. More likely, he’ll fight the winner of the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk with a possible interim bout (conceivably a hybrid martial arts contest against UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou) before then.
Boxing fans can be forgiven for feeling like the victim of a three-card monte hustle or some other variation of the old shell game. First, we were looking for Joshua-Wilder under the cup. Then we were looking for Fury-Joshua. Despite endless promises, neither of those fights came to pass.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Fury-Whyte, there has been considerable hyperbole about Fury being on the short list of greatest heavyweights of all time. That’s unsupported by the record to date.
Fury decisioned an ageing Wladimir Klitschko to claim his first title in 2015 (a feat that Anthony Joshua bettered by knocking out Klitschko 17 months later). Then, after a 30-month absence from the ring, Tyson returned and worked his way back into shape with victories over Seferi and Pianeta. The trilogy against Wilder (a dangerous but flawed fighter) mixed in with wins over Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin followed.
Fury has good boxing skills that are keyed to his size. When he sets his feet, he punches with authority. Against Wilder, he showed exceptional recuperative power after being whacked on the chin. He has made a remarkable comeback from drug abuse, obesity, and depression that left him contemplating suicide six years ago. Not one to shy away from touting his own ability, after beating Whyte, Tyson proclaimed, “There’s never been one who can beat me. Do you know why? I’ve got a 6-foot-9-inch frame, 270 pounds weight, move like a middleweight, hit like a thunderstorm, and can take a punch. I’ve got balls like King Kong, the heart of a lion, the mindset of the Wizard of Oz.”
But the Wizard of Oz was a little man who relied on smoke and mirrors. And yes; Fury knocked out Whyte with a one-punch uppercut. But Povetkin didn’t just knock out Whyte with a one-punch uppercut. Povetkin knocked Whyte unconscious. Joshua also knocked Whyte out with an uppercut, and Dillian didn’t get off the canvas from that one either.
How would Fury have fared against Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko, and other big men in their prime? We’ll never know. But he’s a fighting man worthy of the title “The Gypsy King.” And he’s the best heavyweight in the world right now.
Thomas Hauser’s most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honoured Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honour – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.