The boxing story has been told before many times – about the bullets, the blood, the underdog, the sacrifices, the belief and the wait for justice in a ring.
Dillian Whyte has made the tale his own.
Whyte removed a bullet from his leg once with a knife. He never wanted to bother his beloved mother. He sewed up a slash wound for the same reason. On the streets of south London, Whyte was shot twice, stabbed three times and was a proud father at 13. He was a ruthless baby having babies.
“I’m not meant to be here,” Whyte told me last week in Portugal. He is right.
On Saturday, Whyte will walk first at Wembley Stadium to fight his old friend, Tyson Fury. He has no fears of the walk, the pressure, the fight – Whyte has no fears, they were left somewhere on the streets of Brixton, Clapham and Stockwell. It’s not an act, it’s fact; it’s his bloody history.
And then fighting saved him; first kickboxing, then the ancient art of pugilism. He could fight with support, hit people for more than a burger, more than a promised kebab or a few quid. In school, boys would pay him whatever they had in their pockets to do their dirty work. In Whyte’s old life, giving somebody a clump was currency. And food.
In Whyte’s new life, giving somebody a clump has changed him forever. The kid with the scars and the memories is now a millionaire; on Saturday night he fights to become world heavyweight champion. A win will make him about £10m richer; his next fight would be double that. It’s a fairytale, make no mistake.
Whyte was still a little boy when his mother left him in Jamaica to travel to London for work. It was nearly a decade before he joined her and it had not been a fun time. His mother sent money back, but the people left in charge of him spent the money elsewhere; Whyte had to survive from a very young age on his own. He remains an independent person, influenced and ordered by no man. It makes him stubborn, hard at times to deal with. He looks after Dillian first. And is still devoted to his mother. They have been on a journey.
A prison visit from her, with tears flowing down her cheeks, convinced him to find another way. It saved his life. He found a boxing gym in Brixton and that was it; Whyte was off the streets. The gym was called Miguel’s and it’s still there, in a railway arch near Loughborough Junction; just before Covid, Whyte ran something called Sunday Smoke each Sunday at the gym. “Anybody could come down and talk or go on the pads,” Whyte said. He was giving back, not hollering, just getting on with it. That’s a bit like Dillian Whyte’s boxing career: Just getting on with it.
He eventually turned professional. He fought at shopping centres, old cinemas and forgotten venues. He often had to pay his opponents and he was often short. “I had to ask friends for the last 500 quid,” he said, shaking his head at the memory. He once made just £100. And there were other fights when he never made a penny. Whyte, you see, was chasing the dream, a seemingly impossible dream for a south London boy fresh from a late-night life on the corners.
He lost for the first time as a professional in 2015 to Anthony Joshua; it was revenge for Joshua after a defeat in the amateurs. It was a bitter loss, but not the end, and by 2017 Whyte had fought his way into a position to fight for the WBC heavyweight title. The champion at the time, Deontay Wilder, had no interest in Whyte. The simple truth is that nobody wanted him; it has cost a lot in legal fees to secure Saturday’s fight. Boxing has never been a fair business, trust me.
“I had to keep watching as men got a second chance – I was waiting for my first. Nothing shocks me in boxing,” added Whyte.
The facts are harsh: The WBC, one of the sport’s leading sanctioning bodies, agreed to seven heavyweight world title fights during the time that Whyte was supposedly their No 1 contender. Admittedly, Whyte compounded the problem when he took a risky fight against Alexander Povetkin and lost in the summer of 2020; last year he put that right in a vicious rematch and was restored to mandatory status. He has served as the patient sentinel of boxing’s insanity for over 1,000 days.
“What more can I do?” he once asked me. “I’m not going to fight easy fights and just wait – I’m a fighter, a warrior.”
Fury has known Whyte was going to be part of his future since he regained the heavyweight title from Wilder pre-Covid in 2020. Fury was ordered to fight Wilder again and Whyte was forced to wait. The negotiations for this fight started in November and they have been ugly; there were still talks and unresolved issues at the start of this week when Whyte finally broke camp in Portugal and flew in to London.
It’s on now. The bloody streets of Whyte’s early life have been replaced by the brightest of neon lights shining down on the Brixton boy as his dream continues. In a week of bleak boxing revelations, the Dillian Whyte story is a wonderful lift.
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