There was the truck with the jets of cleansing mist, the temperature reading, the familiar lines that could not be crossed and then there was a garden shed for my night of duties at the backyard fight of fights.
Five hours later I wandered through the debris of a fight gone wrong, inside the tent, wandered to where the winner was holding court, laughing in Russian and there was a great sense of the departed. Even Eddie Hearn had retreated to his office, closed the door and was trying to make sense of it all.
I have never heard a promoter or manager sound so shell-shocked. Eddie just wanted to be – for the first time in ten years of running the boxing at Matchroom – left alone and that is understandable.
It was not a night for the squeamish. It was, however, a night for history, the latest in this lunatic period of live boxing without crowds.
I have seen grown men cry before when something unexpected has happened in the ring, seen the utter look of despair on the faces of the men in the corner as their man suddenly turns victory into defeat, is caught, hurt, caught again and then stumbles over to land in the saddest pile on any canvas in any ring. That heap is filled with broken dreams, that heap is the end of promises. And that heap is also why we love and hate and adore and worship and try to convert the non-believers to our sport.
The Whyte and Povetkin fight will now be part of a savage show reel of what went wrong, what was lost. It is in fine company.
I have watched the film of John Tate’s glorious homecoming in March of 1980. the WBA heavyweight champion of the world defending his title in Knoxville, in front of nearly 13,000 people. He was unbeaten in 20 and Mike Weaver, the challenger, had lost nine and five of those had been by stoppage or knockout. Weaver was also three inches shorter and two-stone lighter. They are similar dimensions to Saturday night, similar to the obstacles Povetkin was battling before the first bell sounded.
Tate against Weaver was over 15 rounds and going into the 15th round big John Tate, as he was known, was leading by five rounds on one card and three rounds on two cards. It was a gruelling Eighties fight, you know the type, the type that Dillian Whyte would have loved. He has resembled one of those Eighties heavyweights, a Lost Generation scrapper for a long, long time.
After two minutes and 15 seconds of the 15th round, with both lumbering exhausted from corner to corner, Weaver finds a tiny bit of space, whips in a left hook from close – he is almost on Tate’s chest – and Tate hesitated for just a fraction of a second and then fell like a tree. He hit the deck face and chest first and never moved. Weaver had knocked him cold with just 45 seconds left. That’s not a bad story, but the extra is in the small print, the same as it was on Saturday night in the Garden. Tate, you see, had a fight with Muhammad Ali agreed. It was a fight he would win, a fight that would make him rich. That vanished as he fell, no need for a magician to wave a wand. Povetkin, just like Weaver with his distant mirage of inheriting the Ali fight, will not get the fight Whyte was promised with Tyson Fury. It’s cruel, sure, but it is boxing and in our sport there are a lot of mirages. And a lot of cruelty.
Back in the Garden at the end of round four, both Andy Lee – watching the fight and joining us remotely on Five Live – and I wondered if we were a minute away from seeing Povetkin finally become an old-man overnight. We have both seen that before and I thought it possible. And then it was over.
In my garden shed on the night – working next to Mick Costello – there was a frozen moment of silence when Whyte went down. It’s hard to tell from the recording, but I was there and we both lost the tiniest part of a second as our eyes watched the end. Eddie Hearn talked about it looking and feeling like a dream and I know exactly what he means. Did that really just happen? Yes, it did. Ten minutes later Anthony Joshua walked over, joined us, closed the door on the shed because he was freezing and he, like both of us, had that stunned look in his eyes. “Pedigree is the key, Povetkin has pedigree and if you give him an inch of hope he will take it,” Joshua said, throwing short punches in our tiny space to keep warm and missing me by about six inches. “Dillian will win the rematch.” The fight was not ten minutes old and a future was being planned through the chaos left behind. Well, Joshua knows all about that.
The aftermath in the Garden filled me with dread and sadness. As the men and women took the ornaments of battle down and planned a 24-hour session to return the sloped garden to nature, I walked through hundreds of satellite cables and lights and flame-throwers and under the banners that had become so familiar. It was a lonely stroll under the dark clouds. It will be the same this Saturday when phase one of BT’s shows come to end. It’s a mix of melancholy, relief the fights returned in the first place and some great memories left from the nights so far. I really wish you could all have been there, I mean that.
It’s been an unforgettable six weeks so far behind the closed doors. I just hope I can forget that moment Whyte fell.