FOR Dillian Whyte, there have been no available shortcuts en route to a shot at a world heavyweight title. There have instead been detours, plenty of them, as well as roadblocks, checkpoints and speed bumps. There have been cars overtaking him and forlorn glances out the window as they pass. Forget movement. This year has, for Whyte, felt like one prolonged pitstop.
Thankfully, on Saturday (July 20) in London, with fresh tyres and impetus, the ‘Body Snatcher’ finally pulls away to meet Colombia’s Oscar Rivas on what he hopes will be the final lap. Checkered flag in sight, he’s within touching distance of a world title and, better yet, is powered by newfound relevance following recent events.
On June 1, Whyte, like the rest of the world, rubbernecked the scene of Anthony Joshua’s crash by the side of the road. A total write-off, he rued not getting there first, before Andy Ruiz Jnr, and wondered what the catastrophe meant for their long-running rivalry, one meant to continue this year at Wembley Stadium. As Whyte pulled away, he then allowed himself to smile. Told you so, he would have thought. Serves you right.
At the start of the year it seemed inevitable Whyte and Joshua would renew acquaintances and sell out the national football stadium. It was the logical next step for Joshua, following 2018 wins against Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin, and it was no more than Whyte deserved after piecing together a run of nine straight victories since succumbing to Joshua in 2015.
Yet, despite all the reasons why it should have happened, it never did. Whyte, having been elevated to pay-per-view headliner in fights against Joseph Parker and Dereck Chisora, apparently demanded pay-per-view headliner terms for a Joshua rematch and the people bankrolling Joshua didn’t much like this. Though happy for him to increase his profile as Joshua’s big British rival, they resented the idea that he should then demand some sort of parity when the time came to thrash out a deal at the negotiating table. The plan was for Whyte to become powerful, a headliner in his own right, but not that powerful.
This, of course, left Whyte, 25-1 (18), in limbo. What he assumed was a natural next fight turned into an impossible dream and Joshua, the man in control, the one with three belts and all the power, decided to leave his fellow Londoner in the dust. Rather than box him at Wembley, he fled Britain altogether and chose to make his American debut in June against Jarrell Miller.
Whyte, meanwhile, switched his attentions from Joshua’s IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles to Deontay Wilder’s WBC version and was linked to a fight against fellow contender Dominic Breazeale. There were rumours of an eliminator. There were rumours of an interim title being on the line. But then Breazeale was made mandatory challenger and Whyte was stepped over altogether. Breazeale went straight to Wilder and, in May, hit the deck inside a round. Watching from the sidelines, Whyte could only shake his head.
As for Joshua, his American coming out party was spoiled by Jarrell Miller failing a couple of performance-enhancing drug tests and Andy Ruiz Jnr, his replacement, rising from a third-round knockdown and having the nerve to fight back. Stopped in the seventh round, Joshua’s star power, the very thing he had used to belittle Whyte, evaporated in an instant. Perhaps he had it coming. Perhaps he tempted fate. Perhaps he should have fought Whyte after all.
It could be argued Whyte and Rivas are avoided members of a division consumed by politics and greed. They have both seen opportunities slip through their fingers because they were either not famous enough to make the cash register hum or too dangerous to be offered a chance on a whim. Essentially, they are the nowhere men; heavyweights too dangerous for the likes of Joshua, Fury and Wilder to lark around with yet not well-known enough to join their exclusive club and contribute to the pot.
Because of this, it makes perfect sense for Whyte and Rivas to join forces and have a bit of fun together. Somewhat fitting, too, that they do it at a time when Joshua is without a title, Wilder goes over old ground against Luis Ortiz, and Fury weighs up an October fight against Jarrell Miller – yes, that Jarrell Miller – or Trevor Bryan, a WBA ‘regular’ titleholder who hasn’t boxed since beating BJ Flores – yes, that BJ Flores – last August. While the rest dawdle and stumble, Whyte and Rivas are getting down to business and delivering, on paper at least, the most interesting heavyweight fight of the summer.
It’s interesting not only because everything else has been so disappointing, bizarre and cynical but because, stylistically speaking, the coming together of Whyte and Rivas should make for an action-packed fight. The battle for centre ring will be fascinating; a power struggle of the right kind, one that has nothing to do with sanctioning bodies, promoters, pay-per-view numbers or money.
Though 32, Rivas is a relatively new name in the heavyweight division who turned pro in Canada following the 2008 Olympics. As an amateur, he beat Andy Ruiz pre-Olympics, then Kubrat Pulev during the Olympics, before losing to the eventual gold medallist Roberto Cammarelle.
Since going pro in 2009, he has fought primarily in Canada, mostly against non-entities, and only recently stepped up his level of competition. Last December he snapped the undefeated record of Brazilian Fabio Maldonado, a man better known to MMA fans than boxing fans, before scoring the win of his career with a 12th round stoppage of former world heavyweight title challenger Bryant Jennings. Both results were impressive, the latter more so, and both helped Rivas graduate from protected prospect to a contender worth keeping an eye on.
The Jennings win in January, the very nature of it, was particularly noteworthy. In a competitive fight, one that swung both ways, Rivas managed to summon a last-ditch effort in the final round to stop Jennings and render three judges’ scorecards irrelevant. It marked only the second time Jennings had been stopped, but, more importantly, highlighted Rivas’ ability to remain powerful and threatening late on in a fight.
Based on his physique and style, this may come as a surprise. Bulky and explosive, he loads up on every shot he throws, including the jab, and looks to do damage from the moment the first bell rings. It’s a style hardly conducive to productivity late in a fight yet Rivas, at least against Jennings, made light of such concerns, thriving at a time most expected him to fade.
Maybe his relaxed, composed style helps. From a slight crouch, utilising a peek-a-boo approach, Rivas adopts the stance of an aggressive counterpuncher and waits for his opponent to make a mistake before firing. He has long forearms, which he uses to protect his torso, and tucks up well in the shell this creates. He also works the body of the opponent in a way many heavyweights nowadays neglect, his left hook, in particular, something of a honey punch.
In terms of his power, Rivas, 26-0 (18), seems a heavyweight whose one-punch finishing ability belies his musclebound physique. He huffs and he puffs and tries to blow opponents away, but, in the end, Jennings aside, many of Rivas’ better opponents have been savvy enough defensively to see his attacks coming and survive the onslaught. (Maldonado, Herve Hubeaux and Gabriel Enguema have all extended him 10 rounds in the last two years.)
Still, Whyte, 31, would be well-advised to be wary early and go to work when the Colombian’s arms get heavy and his ideas dry up. Patience will fashion openings for Whyte and Rivas’ proclivity to target an opponent’s body with his right cross at mid-range will play into his hands. Indeed, this could prove Rivas’ undoing, especially against someone with a left hook as potent as Whyte’s, a man whose confidence in this shot will only have increased following knockouts of Dereck Chisora and Lucas Browne. Should he throw it, and time it for when Rivas shoots to the body, it could pay dividends.
A victory for Rivas would be no great shock, however. Not after what Ruiz did to Joshua in New York. Not when considering how beatable Whyte has looked at times against men like Parker, Chisora and even Robert Helenius. In his prime and ambitious, Rivas will be a threat for as long as he’s upright; a threat possibly greater than Chisora, Browne and Parker; the sort of threat Whyte could have perhaps done without on his march to a shot at a heavyweight title.
If he travels well and rises to the occasion, ‘Kaboom’ has enough to trouble Whyte early with his variety and quicker hands and enough to ultimately defeat him. Equally, though, if Whyte continues his recent form, he has just the kind of physically draining style to make someone like Rivas, four inches shorter at six-foot, feel a long way from home and question his reasons for making the trip. Neither scenario would come as a great shock, but the latter, with Whyte riding out a scare or two before prevailing on the cards, seems the more likely.