Dillian Whyte

The relaxing slow Jamaican drawl down the phone makes me consider checking I have dialled the right number.  I have seen Dillian Whyte on TV plenty of times, heard him interviewed dozens, and he has always seemed a man with a laidback demeanour – but there is always the lingering doubt that he accentuates the laid back image to  enhance public perception.  After all, within the ropes Whyte isn’t a man known for longing things out – to date 12 of his 15 heavyweight wins have come within the scheduled distance. 
 
And I’m nervous.  Not because of the magnitude of the person (although I will confess to being a Whyte fan), but because this man prides himself on social media for his ability to switch on his beast mode in the run up to fights.  This isn’t even considering his nature in the ring; go back to February of this year and see his anger when his previously unbeaten opponent Beqa Lobjanidze failed to meet the referees ten count after being cuffed around the head – it wasn’t the punch that beat him, but Dillian had taken his heart.  Yes, this is a man who only five days out from fight night I am wary may be displaying the characteristics of a man ready for combat, not chit chat.  Add to this the fact that a previous attempt to catch up with ‘The Body Snatcher’ had ended with me interrupting a meeting of his, and a picture of my apprehension will start to paint itself clearly.
 
But I was wrong.  Very wrong.  Late into the evening my conversation with Dillian pierced the frightening depression of watching the England football team impressively dampen hope and expectations with their first half display against Switzerland.  Something about the boxer who resides out of Brixton cheered my spirits in a way Roy Hodgson and co had so competently failed to do. 
 
We start by discussing his upcoming fight on Saturday night, where he takes on American Brian Minto (41-9-0).  Is Dillian ready?  “I’m all set, I’m feeling good and feeling strong.  I’ve been out training and done all the hard graft, now I’m just ticking over and staying sharp” he tells me.  “The heavy training is done, I’ll do a bit of shadow boxing but I’m not going to get any fitter or better and I don’t want to be getting injured.”
 
Minto has gone under the radar in the UK.  Although a career cruiserweight, he has had forays into the heavyweight division at times, as well as challenging for world honours against Marco Huck in his more familiar weight category.  What does Dillian know of the American?  “He’s fought a lot of good guys, he’s strong and he’s tough.  He may not be the biggest puncher in the world but he’s one of those guys that breaks his opponent down.  He’s always in good shape and he’s always fit and he comes to fight.  Brian Minto is a decent opponent, he’s ranked in the top 50 which isn’t bad.  He’s a proud man and never lied down in any of his fights, I’m expecting the best Brian Minto.”
 
At 40 years of age, Minto’s prime may be behind him.  But it is not the current Minto that Whyte is preparing himself for, instead the peak contender who has knocked out the likes of much fancied Vinny Maddalone back in 2004.  “I’m not even watching his latest fights, the fights I’ve watched of him are his best fights.  Even the fights he’s lost are good fights – he’s not in bad fights.  I’m surprised he’s not bigger than he is as he’s got a fan friendly style.”
 
Finding out who he would be stood across the ring from this Saturday has been a protracted affair.  Initially another American, Dominic Guinn, was slated for the away corner – however at short notice he picked up a mysterious illness that meant with two weeks until the fight, Whyte was left not knowing who to prepare for.  The backdrop to this story is that the main event, Anthony Joshua vs Gary Cornish, was announced and set in stone months in advance.  Dubbed ‘Collision Course’ due to the intended fight between Joshua and Whyte, did it annoy the Brixton fighter that his opponent was not confirmed until late on?
 
“I knew Eddie Hearn (the promoter of Anthony Joshua) would play mind games at some point of this whole setup so I try not to let it get to me but it is a little bit of an annoyance.  As a professional athlete you have to get used to these things and it’s another part of getting to that elite level, you have to deal with the ups and downs and overcome them.  I’ve had lots of trials and tribulations in the past few years, so these little mind games I just laugh at.”
 
The trials and tribulations that Whyte refers to may be the ban imposed on him, banishing him from the boxing ring from October 2012 to November 2014.  The ban related to a supplement, which Whyte took without knowledge of the banned substance.  In that space of time, another British heavyweight has established himself at the top of the domestic tree, Tyson Fury.  If those two years weren’t spent in the wilderness, does Whyte believe he would be sharing the top level with the undefeated Mancunian on the verge of a world title?
 
“Yes, I would definitely 100% be world title level.  I’d probably be 30-0 by now.”  It must be hard to look on and see the success of Fury, so does it rankle with the Londoner that he doesn’t hold a place at the top table as well?  “I’m not jealous of Fury, I’m happy for him as he’s earned his shot by fighting his way to a mandatory position.  I hope he puts on a good show and does himself proud.  He has the tools to go out and win but he’s going to elite level with Wladimir.  I don’t know who will win, but it’s going to be a good fight.”
 
Re-calibrating the crystal ball, we look slightly less further afield and talk about the main event on Saturday night as Anthony Joshua takes on undefeated Scottish heavyweight Gary Cornish.  Cornish is unfancied for the fight, despite holding 21 wins with 12 knockout victories.  Does Whyte give the Scotsman a chance?
 
“I think he’ll knock Cornish out in a round – if the fight goes more than a round then he’s working on something or he’s practicing something that he’s learnt.  Cornish is terrible!  He couldn’t beat anybody in the top 200, he’s terrible!”  Scathing.  Cornish clearly doesn’t rank high on Dillian’s list of available opponents – this may be down to the fact there is history.  Whyte was supposed to fight Cornish himself, before Cornish withdrew from the fight for unknown reasons.  “He’s a bottle job as well, you could see how nervous he was around Joshua when the fight was weeks away.  At the press conference he was taking deep breaths, he was scared to look into Joshua’s eyes.  Let’s get it right – Cornish pulled out of the fight with me when he got offered the Joshua fight for better money.  What are you going to do?  He knows he’s going to get knocked out whichever one he fights, but at the moment the Joshua fight carries more credibility because of the Commonwealth title.  Eddie Hearn is paying him good money to sign his life away and get knocked out.”
It seems unlikely that either Whyte or Joshua are going to lose their own undefeated streaks at the O2 on Saturday night.  Collision Course is the title of the show, dubbed to highlight the path that Whyte and Joshua are on and which is due to culminate in a December showdown between the two.  To help facilitate the fight, Eddie Hearn has signed Whyte to a 3 fights promotional deal.  The first instalment of this saw Whyte knock out Brazilian Irineu Costa Junior in Hull on August 1st.  Part two of this alliance happens Saturday night, with the deal expiring in December providing all parties meet their obligations Saturday.  Is there scope to extend the working relationship with the Matchroom Promotions man Hearn?  “It’s a three fight promotional deal with Anthony Joshua being the last fight in December.  Business is business, it’s nothing personal.  When I take out Joshua if he offers me something good then we might be able to work something out.”
 
I ask Whyte about the aforementioned night in Belfast, and the opponent Beqa Lobjanidze.  His name is met with venom by Whyte, still unhappy with what transpired that night on the Carl Frampton vs Kiko Martinez undercard.  “That guy’s a coward!  I thought that this guy’s 10 and 0, he’s undefeated and had over 100 amateur fights, he’s got 8 knockouts so it must be a test.  We got in there are he’s moving about in the first round then half way through the second he’s doing the same and I think to myself “this guy’s a shithouse”.  He just wanted to move around and survive and make the fight a stinker, and I don’t want to be involved in those fights.  So I changed the landscape of the fight, and decided to get him out of there.”  It was noticeable watching the fight that Whyte, although still stalking his opponent and walking him down, did so with more malice than before.  Whereas in the first two rounds he worked his jab and occasionally the big left hook, he started to burden his opponent with body shots and powerful combinations.  Whyte continues:
 
“He was feeling the power as I was hitting him everywhere, on his arms his shoulders his ribs his forearms.  I’m not tooting my own horn but I can punch a bit and my power was breaking him down.  He was scared.  The first time I landed he thought “I’ve got my money and I’m getting out of here”.  I don’t blame him for that to be honest.  He was getting hurt so he took his money, sat down and pretended he couldn’t get back up.  He’s lost every fight since then so I broke his heart and took his spirit away.  It’s exactly what I will do to Joshua – break his heart and take his spirit away as well.  Eddie Hearn’s going to be crying!”
 
Although logically a fighter should be happy with a knockout victory, the contradiction is clear that the night in Belfast didn’t leave Whyte with the satisfaction of a stoppage he craved.  As part of his moving on from that night, Whyte has sprung a surprise on the boxing scene.  In the buildup to his Matchroom debut in Hull, Whyte revealed that in his corner that night and now on coaching duties would be the highly regarded Jonathan Banks.  Banks is the trainer of world champion Wladimir Klitschko, and himself has been a top fighter as well as learning from the best, as Whyte explains:
 
“It’s massive having him on board.  Jonathan brings a wealth of experience not only as a trainer but as a fighter as well.  He was cruiserweight IBF champion and he was a top heavyweight campaigner, so he knows his way around the ring.  Plus he was Emmanuel Steward’s protégé from the age of 14, he’s got so much experience.  You don’t be around great people and not pick up something – he takes a very technical approach to coaching.  I know as a fighter I can fight and I can box but now I have someone who is a technical coach who puts it together.”
Dillian Whyte
As part of his training camp for this fight Whyte relocated to America to work with Banks.  “He’ll be over in a couple of days” Whyte tells me, all in preparation for Saturday night.
 
Of course, as significant as Saturday night is for Whyte, in itself it serves only as preparation for the carrot at the end of the stick:  Anthony Joshua.  In the past, Joshua has been spoken of as the aim for Whyte – their two careers seemingly intrinsically bound and reliant upon one another, the end goal being the champion of London.  But recently Whyte has spoken differently of the man born in Watford, instead of having him as the milestone he is now the stepping stone, as Whyte explains to me “They didn’t want the fight, they never really have.  But once I got the fight and it was made I could really say how I feel – Joshua is a stepping stone for me to get to the next level.”
 
That “next level” is of course where Fury and Klitschko lay, keeping a momentary stranglehold on the world level heavyweight scene.  There is another man who holds gold in the division, Deontay Wilder.  Whyte would consider the American as a future foe.  “I’ll see.  It’s a nice problem to have, worrying about which world title to go after and a problem I will grab with both hands and squeeze the hell out of it.”
 
Of course, the ‘stepping stone’ fight is the one that lays before any charges to the world title.  I feel conscious asking Whyte about Joshua, almost the chiselled elephant in an ever shrinking room.  I realise that Joshua is his own character and Whyte has his own career to manage, perhaps he doesn’t want to have his name attached again to that of the London 2012 gold medallist.  But he does.  The reason he wants to be attached to him is so that in the end, he can let him go.

 
"I’ve already beaten him – the only reason I’m fighting him is for the British title.  It’s a big fight for Britain, it’s not a big fight for the world.  I want to put the record straight and knock him out this time as I didn’t knock him out last time.  I see myself being on top of the world one day, not just Britain.”
 
When he puts a global perspective on the fight it makes sense.  Joshua is spoken of worldwide due to the Sky backed hype train – Whyte’s pebble is starting to ripple across the Atlantic too.  But ultimately this fight isn’t a ‘mega fight’ – not yet.  There is the prospect that December may only be one of multiple fights between the two.  Perhaps a rivalry such as theirs deserves a bigger platform and higher status, and in the future they may meet again with world honours at stake, not just British.  But if Whyte gets his way come December he will send Joshua down a similar route to another recently hyped heavyweight and former Olympic medallist from Britain:
 
“I see Joshua just getting hurt all night long until he can’t take it any more and his heart breaks.  He’s going to try and front, but I’ve broken him once already and I’m going to break him again.  I don’t even think about the amateur fight as that was then and this is now but he knows as I know – in life if somebody knocks you down or hurts you once any time you see that person again you’re going to be wary of that person.  If you had a fight with somebody as a kid and that person beat you up, whenever you see that person again you’re going to be wary and in two minds about approaching that person.  All that matters in December is……I just want to hurt him!!  I’m not even joking, I just want to hurt him and keep hurting him.  I want to cause serious damage to his body and his health, I want to just beat him up you know?  I just want to get in there, have a good fight and keep pounding away, pounding away, pounding away until he is beat up so bad that after the fight he is just lost, like David Price is.  It’s going to be a good fight.”
 
The talk about Joshua isn’t some auto-pilot hyperbole from Whyte.  It’s personal.  He doesn’t talk with anger, venom or spite.  He talks like a man who has already strolled down this path in his head a thousand times, has worn out the brakes in his mind of the Joshua hype train.  I query if the rivalry is personal between the two behemoths, or as professionals is he detached from it?
 
“It is personal.  At first it wasn’t personal, but then he started talking a lot of smack and he’s this bad boy all of a sudden.  He made it personal, he went down the personal road.  If he wants to make it personal I’ll show up.”  Showing up in the ring is the final stage of the preparations, but first the two would presumably do the customary faceoff at a press conference.  Given Whyte has already seen signs of weakness in Gary Cornish well before he meets Joshua in the ring, does he look forward to confronting his old adversary for verbal sparring?  “The press conference?  I’m just looking forward to getting in the ring and punching him in his face!”
 
He makes it sound so simple.  Perhaps it will be, after all as he says he has potentially scarred the mental fortitude of Joshua from their amateur days.  But this is still an opponent that is ranked by one governing body as the number two heavyweight in the world.  Whyte pours scorn on their marking system:
 
“Once I take Joshua out they will have to give me his fake position of number two in the world.  It is a fake position – he’s beaten Kevin Johnson, Skelton, Airich and Rafael Zumbano.  That’s crazy.  I’ve fought much better opponents than him and I’m not as high as him in the ranking, but that’s what happens when you have a promoter like Eddie Hearn who can pull some strings.”
 
The relationship with Hearn by the sounds of it may need defrosting slightly should Whyte come out on top in December.  It’s understandable – Hearn has invested heavily in Anthony Joshua, his Olympic golden boy has been marketed well including various documentaries on his somewhat limited career to date and chequered background.  He has been repackaged from the young man who wore a tag for dealing illicit substances, instead now flitting between a man who sprays sanitised and inspirational copy and paste messages across his social media platforms to the man who is a dangerous heavyweight fighter ready to take on the best on the planet in due course.  It is understandable that Hearn wants to back his man, after all come December there is presently no deal in place for him to work further with Whyte. 
 
As much as Whyte exudes the confidence of a man who knows his fate, he also has the realism to understand the business of boxing.  The prospect of two domestic heavyweights settling an aged score in the ring is enough to elicit thoughts of bygone eras.  British boxing is seeing its most successful period at present since the mid 80’s and as such, Whyte and Joshua could become the headline acts.  He recognises that the holistic story between two fighters with a history can sell on many levels:
 
“Look it’s a good fight.  It’s the biggest British heavyweight fight since Lewis vs Bruno.  Two men with a genuine rivalry, not just two men chatting crap and trying to hype a fight.  I don’t like him because he’s a fraud, and he doesn’t like me because I tell everyone he’s a fraud!  I put heat on him and put him in his place.  He tries to play the fight down saying it’s not big, but that’s all his psychology and media training.  It’s all the GB squad – him, Luke Campbell, they’re all the same; they’re like brain dead robots.  They can’t be themselves because they don’t have confidence in themselves, they are who they’ve been trained to be.  That’s not me, I’m not a robot or a yes man to nobody.  I say what’s on my mind, like it or not.”
 
He’s right, he isn’t a yes man.  He’s his own man and one that you genuinely believe is using the name of Anthony Joshua to propel himself to not only bigger fights but a wider audience.  Whyte already holds the victory over his rival, who has gone on to secure the big Sky backing and the backing of the boxing establishment.  “If Eddie plays his card right and builds it to what it should be then it will be a good fight for Britain as well” Whyte tells me.  You can’t help but feel that in the build up to this Saturday Hearn didn’t make the most of the cards he was dealt.  He could have provided a better platform for Whyte, allowed him a larger part to play in the build up to this fight and, ultimately, December.  But then as Whyte points out, what if?  What if he is the man to test Joshua’s chin (again)?  What is he is able to recreate the footage that only exists on grainy tape from a poor camera angle of Joshua meeting the ring canvas with his shorts.  If that happens, then Hearn could have possibly backed the wrong horse in the race for a world title.  Whether Whyte will have bolted by that point remains to be seen – after all, business is business.