Dillian Whyte (23-1, 17KOs) is approaching a make-or-break night in his topsy-turvy professional career.
Hungrier than ever, the 30-year-old heavyweight has less than a fortnight to stew until his eagerly anticipated showdown with New Zealand’s Joseph Parker; a fight labelled as the “last step” before a guaranteed world title shot.
Whyte - fighting out of Brixton, London - has had to do it the hard way. Troubled upbringing, gang violence and shootings aside, the former kickboxer has battled with promotors, fighters and stable-mates in a detoured route to the pinnacle of the sport.
After turning professional in 2011, Whyte’s stock began to grow, culminating in a date with Anthony Joshua at London’s 02 Arena in December 2015. This fight was sanctioned for the WBC International, Commonwealth and vacant British heavyweight titles, with Whyte looking to add to the WBC silver title he won against Brian Minto three months previous.
This was a huge step up for Whyte, and his first step big step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
We know what happened next. Whyte fought gallantly in a bruising encounter with the, then raw, ‘AJ’, losing by knockout in the seventh round amidst the palpable bad blood.
However, therein lies the problem: we still look back to this loss as Whyte’s signature night.
Underwhelming contests against the likes of Ivica Bacurin; Dave Allen; Ian Lewison; Malcolm Tann and Robert Helenius were the bread to the Dereck Chisora filling, in a sandwich that hardly oozed flavour. The missing piece and perhaps anomaly to Whyte’s recent contests is his most recent victim, Lucas Browne, who he iced inside six rounds in a contest that finally showed improvements in Whyte’s technique and fighting style.
Revisiting the Dereck Chisora ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate has always been a temptation for Whyte. An enthralling twelve rounds exceeded expectation after a heated month of preamble; “Who’s the donkey now” as well as a press conference table-flipping were a tough act to follow!
A rematch would signal a step backwards for Whyte. Chisora has since shown that his best days are behind him, losing a majority decision to Agit Kabayel in Monte Carlo last November. Whether we saw the best Dereck or the worst Dillian on that infamous night in Manchester is an argument that will be debated and contested by both camps in years to come.
The fact is, Whyte, despite getting the win, looked well below par. Swinging wildly late in the fight after being caught on several occasions by ‘Del-Boy’, Whyte did little to state his case for an immediate shot at a world title. The split decision was disputable but fair, however, avoiding a return to these dangerous waters has been a sensible move for Whyte, if not frustrating for us fans.
Under the Matchroom banner, Whyte has been able to board the gravy train of recent high-profile shows in order to widen his appeal as one of the heavyweight contenders.
Repeatedly cited by Eddie Hearn as one of the top five heavyweights in the world, Whyte has chased Deontay Wilder, chased Tony Bellew, chased David Haye and even chased Anthony Joshua (for the third time), as well avoiding Kubrat Pulev (ahem!). It’s been a frustrating to watch, and I’m sure, even more frustrating to endure, for a fighter who has made no excuses in wanting to get in the ring with the best.
Whyte’s change in persona has underlined his struggle for acceptance with the fans, promotors and dance partners. From the ‘Villain’ to the ‘Body Snatcher’ and now, to the apt ‘Lone Wolf’, Whyte has tried everything to clear his path to the top table, with next Saturday’s date at the 02 perhaps signalling the last hurdle.
The truth is, until Whyte enters the ring on July 28, the question of pretender vs contender will remain unknown. Despite Matchroom’s marching band behind him, as well as Sky Sports exposure in the UK, Dillian is still clinging onto that left hand that rocked Joshua two-and-a-half years ago; we still don’t know the full potential of a guy with 24 professional fights.
It’s been easy to warm to Dillian. Transitioning seamlessly from the ‘heel’ of British boxing, to one of the most followed heavyweight fighters, his honesty and candidness has been refreshing in a sport often muddied by hypocrisy at all levels.
Judging his career should be left to retrospect once he has hung up his gloves, however, the next two years signify a huge opportunity for Whyte to make his mark on British boxing history. Beat Parker, and Whyte will either fight Deontay Wilder or rematch Anthony Joshua: two HUGE paydays and two chances to grab an elusive world title.
Timing is everything in sport. Aged 30, Whyte is still young for a heavyweight; if he peaks next Saturday, who’s to say there is a ceiling to what the ‘Lone Wolf’ can achieve.
He’s been written off enough times in his life to ignore you, ignore me and ignore nearly everyone with an opinion in boxing. His fate is held in two gloves.