WHEN taken only as a fight, as opposed to the PR disaster it might become, Tyson Fury vs Dillian Whyte is a brilliant, mouth-watering matchup. So, to preserve my own sanity as much as yours, I’ll try to focus only on the boxing when previewing what should be one of the most anticipated world heavyweight title fights of the current era.
The problem is, when the champion’s former adviser has been outed by the US government as a man wanted for drug crimes, it’s only natural to wonder if Tyson’s concentration will be affected as he heads into his first fight in the UK since 2018. It might well be his last on home soil, too, given the stink radiating from this promotion as we head into fight week.
What Fury likes to do is fight. What he’s not so keen on is answering questions that could be perceived as personal attacks.
It’s not like Fury is fighting on an undercard either, against someone like Sefer Seferi or Francesco Pianeta – the most recent rivals he encountered in the UK. Back then, when Tyson refused to discuss his run-in with the UK Anti-Doping Agency that triggered a two-and-a-half year hiatus, when it was easier to brush off any difficult questions as insults, at least we knew that even a below-par Fury would have no problems with such overmatched opposition.
It’s different now. He’s no longer the comeback kid returning to beat depression and obesity, he’s the all-conquering world heavyweight champion facing a world-class challenger in a fight that took a record-breaking purse bid from Frank Warren’s Queensberry to secure it. That will all bring a different pressure to what he is used to, even before we consider the consequences of the Daniel Kinahan shitstorm.
Logic should dictate that Fury wins and wins comfortably. A distracted Fury, however, makes this harder to call and, perhaps, a much closer fight. So in a way, particularly as we’re in a glass half-full kind of mood, the grisly Kinahan subplot might actually enhance this as a contest when looking at it purely from a boxing point of view. Because regardless of what Fury might say, he is the one under the microscope here. Not only to explain the acquaintances he’s made outside the ring but also, after scoring the biggest wins of his career away from home, to prove his worth in front of a projected 94,000 British and Irish fans.
That’s not to downplay what he’s achieved in recent years, by the way. The two wins and a draw with Deontay Wilder were each, for different reasons, arresting displays of great quality and mental fortitude. It is unlikely that any active heavyweight would have been able to get up from the four knockdowns Fury endured in those three bouts, much less gone on to avoid defeat.
Yet his performance in each of those contests is worthy of closer examination, particularly the last two. In the rematch, after surviving that by now legendary fall in fight one, Fury was close to faultless. For the first time in his career he punched with all the might of seasoned slugger. He was spiteful and, technically, his feet and arms were perfect when it came to both closing the distance and keeping the fight at a sensible range. He was also the underdog. He was not expected to do what he ended up doing so spectacularly.
It was widely anticipated that fight three would be more of the same. It wasn’t, of course. Though it looked like Wilder was on the brink of defeat in the third round, the American roared back in the fourth. Fury went down twice, heavily. The remainder of the bout was like what Bert Sugar used to call, “a rock ‘em, sock ‘em robot war”. Though Fury appeared to hurt Wilder with every shot he landed, the Englishman was tagged frequently himself. At times, his defence was terrible and the elusiveness of old replaced by a seek-and-destroy mindset that invited Wilder to do his worst. In the end, all was rightly forgiven; he completed the job with a spectacular knockout in the 11th round as he again exhibited supreme stamina and mind-boggling powers of recovery. But it’s certainly worthwhile asking if the decision to ditch his fleet-of-foot style was made out of necessity rather than choice. Fury, after all, is now 33. For at least three of those years he was abusing his body. Two of the Wilder showdowns were beyond brutal. The decline that every single boxer experiences could already be underway.
It’s too soon to know for sure, however. And for those who might suggest that Fury’s out-of-the-ring issues will come back and bite him at Wembley Stadium, it’s only fair to point out that Tyson’s run-in to the third Wilder bout must have been excruciating for very different reasons. It all began with his baby daughter fighting for her life in hospital before he flew thousands of miles away from his family to start training camp. That alone should tell us plenty about what really makes Tyson Fury tick.
Forget his regular threats about retirement. Fury the boxer is unique, even in this violent world where superhuman feats of courage are so commonplace. Though every single boxer will tell you they love to fight, Fury’s adoration of life-and-death combat is next level. Only when he has his gloves on does he feel truly alive. His happy place is the only place on earth where he is in complete control. And it’s what he does when inside the ring, and how he conducts himself there, that makes him so very special.
“A lot of boxers look forward to what they’re going to do after the fight,” Fury said. “They’re going to go out, go on holidays, take time with their family, but not me. I like to enjoy every second in that ring. And for me it goes very quick. Even if it’s a 12-round fight, it goes like 10 minutes. I wish they would do a fight for a full-day long, like a full day of fighting. That would be more my style. I’d enjoy it. I just enjoy getting punched and punching someone in the face. Absolutely fantastic.
“For people who know what I’m talking about, they’ll understand. Other people would think: ‘That’s something a lunatic would say.’ But I’m really happy when I’m in the boxing ring, getting thumped in the face and, after climbing off the canvas or a big dramatic finish, it’s all very entertaining for me. I really look forward to it all.”
On Tuesday, at the open workouts, Fury brushed off any links to Kinahan or, more specifically, suggestions that he knew his US promoter Bob Arum had paid the Irishman $1m for his work in each of Fury’s last four bouts, all on US soil. “I’ve got a lot more to think about than other people’s business,” Fury said. “In my life, I’ve got a man who wants to punch my face in next week and I’ve got to deal with that. Anything else is out of my control.”
So far he’s controlled everyone he’s faced in a boxing ring. But naysayers who look at Fury’s record will say only two fighters stand out – Wilder and Wladmir Klitschko, who he outpointed so majestically in 2015 – with a third, Derek Chisora, worthy of an honourable mention. What if Fury has been flattered by those results? Klitschko was at the point of his career when the last thing he needed was a fighter like Fury, and Wilder, well, the case for him being overrated all along isn’t hugely difficult to construct.
Whyte, meanwhile, has come up against Anthony Joshua, Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Óscar Rivas, Chisora and Robert Helenius. Each a different fighter, each teaching Whyte lessons he appears not to have forgotten. He has come through several difficult moments to win all but two of his fights. And that pair of defeats were either avenged (Povetkin) or enhanced his reputation (Joshua). The only thing he’s had to worry about here are accusations that he’s not done enough promotion in the build-up. Big deal, he says.
“People forget that Tyson Fury didn’t turn up to the Wladimir Klitschko [rematch] press conference,” Whyte told BT Sport. “Everyone’s giving me stick, and he was contractually obliged to go to that – I wasn’t contractually obliged to go to any press conference.
“I don’t care what Tyson Fury says, he says a lot of s**t. His mouth’s like a toilet, he just keeps flushing and flushing and flushing and flushing. He just flushes any kind of random s**t that comes out of his mouth.
“Me and him are gonna have a fight regardless, so I don’t care about mind games. I’m a fighter, I’m a warrior. If he wants it – anytime, anywhere – I’m down. I don’t give a f**k about this, that and the other. He can’t get in my head. Even if he gets in my head, he’s only gonna find a lot of disturbance in there.”
All reports from his training camp in Portugal suggest he is in the best physical and mental shape of his entire career. Like Fury in those first two Wilder scraps, he is under zero pressure, he’s the underdog, and he’ll only feed from the fact that very few are picking him to win. His long arms and quickfire combinations could give Fury fits, too. It’s unlikely he’ll try and outbox the taller man. If he can tempt Fury into a physical brawl, the kind the Traveller ended up in last time out, and force the action by fair means or foul, he unquestionably has the firepower to win. Yes, Tyson has got up every time he’s been knocked down – six times in all – but invincible he is not.
However, Whyte is yet to encounter Fury face-to-face. Regardless of outside influences, Tyson will be primed and ready for mental warfare during fight week and there is no one better at it than him.
Should Dillian avoid any emotional bruises there it’s difficult to envision him steering clear of physical pain once they’re in the ring. Fury’s jab, in particular, is a very impressive weapon. It’s a thudding, hurtful lead when he plants his feet and when he’s on his toes, it sets a tempo that’s incredibly hard to alter.
For Whyte to win here, he needs to draw mistakes from Fury. And the only time Fury makes mistakes is when his mind wanders, when he feels like he’s in total control and he trundles in too close with his chin hanging like a punchball at a fairground. Fury’s dimensions make this a difficult ask for Whyte, too. Outsized by five inches and outreached by seven, getting inside won’t be an easy feat. One only has to think of Whyte having problems pinning down the much taller Robert Helenius and Mariusz Wach, who both took the Brixton man the full distance, as evidence.
Yet the feeling is that Whyte will have success. That his left hook will hurt Fury to the body and his overarm right – a shot that has decked Tyson more than once – has the length to hit the target and the potency to cause damage. For all of the Morecambe superstar’s in-ring brilliance, he only rarely dominates fights from start to finish. The champion will thrive in front of the humongous crowd, no question. But his natural showmanship may also force the odd error or two.
But if we’re to accuse Fury of carelessness it would be remiss not to level the same charge at his challenger. And if we’re to suggest that Tyson, at 33, might be past his peak it’s only fair to highlight that the best days of Whyte, a year older at 34, could also be in the rear view mirror. After all, the Londonder has endured serious punishment at the hands of Joshua, Chisora (twice), Parker, Rivas and was knocked cold in the first Poevtkin tussle. He too can lose concentration and, unlike Fury, he is yet to beat anybody who could claim to be in the world’s top three at the time of fighting them. Forget what those aforementioned critics say about Fury’s career, his résumé tops Whyte’s by some distance.
The pick simply has to be Fury to survive some hairy moments and punish the perennial contender down the stretch to force a stoppage late on. Even if under pressure, even if drained by answering questions about an Irish mobster, all worries will slide off his shoulders the moment he begins his ring walk. He was born for an occasion like this and it seems unlikely he’ll allow himself to get distracted to the point of disaster. Expect Whyte to be energised by the atmosphere, too. And expect both, regardless of outside influences or miles on the clock, to turn in the kind of performances that will make us forget – if only for an hour or so – that Daniel Kinahan exists.
The Verdict If we can ignore the subplot, the fight itself could be spectacular.
A lot of criticism has been aimed at what is unquestionably a disappointing undercard. We doubt anyone will care about that come Sunday morning, however
At featherweight, Liverpool’s unbeaten Nick Ball, 14-0 (7), can make a name for himself when he takes on Tyson Fury’s cousin, Isaac Lowe, 21-1-3 (6), over 12. Lowe [above] has been in with much better opposition, appears the better all-rounder so has to be the pick but, considering he’s coming off a damaging seventh round loss to Luis Alberto Lopez, if Ball can establish himself early in the contest an upset is not out of the question.
Anthony Cacace’s fight with Jonathan Romero of Colombia was cancelled this week but good British welterweight champion Ekow Essuman’s defence against Darren Tetley has been brought forward few days to be added to this card. The Commonwealth 147lbs belt is also on the line.
Heavyweight prospect David Adeleye, 8-0 (7), gets a worthwhile test against Stockport’s Central Area champion, Chris Healey, 9-8 (2) and Tommy Fury, 7-0 (4), will likely get a starring role on the undercard when he tackles Daniel Bocianski in a light-heavyweight six-rounder. Don’t be fooled by the Pole’s 10-1 (2) record, though. He hasn’t won a fight since 2019.