The Whyte stuff
John A. MacDonald
On 12 December, Dillian Whyte will enter the ring inside London’s O2 Arena as a big underdog with the bookmakers. The man standing opposite him will be the London 2012 Olympic heavyweight Gold medallist Anthony Joshua – who has despatched all 14 of his professional opponents within three rounds. He will be boxing on a show staged by Joshua’s promoter – Eddie Hearn – and in front of a hostile crowd, with the British, Commonwealth and WBC International heavyweight titles up for grabs.
Whyte remains unfazed as he possesses a resolute belief that he simply won’t be defeated. His confidence stems from a positive outlook, a diligence towards training and the knowledge that he has defeated Joshua before.
“It’s going to be one of the hardest fights I’m probably going to have, to be honest, but it’s one that I’m 100% confident in winning,” Whyte told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his London home. “I just have this feeling in my heart and mind and body and soul that I will not lose.”
The enormity of the task Whyte (16-0, 13 KOs) faces was magnified when long-time trainer Chris Okoh was seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident on 30 April. Needing to find a new trainer, Whyte turned to Johnathon Banks – coach of former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The pair met during a Klitschko training camp, where Whyte had been enlisted as a sparring partner. Instantly, he was impressed by Banks’ knowledge and eye for detail. When it came time to find a new mentor, Banks was his first choice.
“When I was in camp some of the stuff he was saying to me, and some of the stuff we were doing, it just made so much sense,” Whyte told BM. “He was breaking me down. He’s a very experienced coach. He used to help Emanuel train guys. He’s been under the tutelage of Emanuel Steward since he was 14 years old, you must pick up a thing or two.”
Since forming their partnership, Whyte has had two fights. Their first contest together could not have gone any better as the Brixton heavyweight disposed of Irineu Beato Costa Junior within a round.
Things didn’t go as smoothly as they would have liked in Whyte’s last contest. Having sustained an injury to his left shoulder in the second week of training camp, Whyte found it difficult to throw a jab or left hook – two of his favoured shots. Against medical advice, he opted to fight through the pain rather than disappoint those who had bought tickets.
His performance against late replacement Brian Minto only received a “C grade” from Banks even though Whyte dropped the former cruiserweight world title challenger in the first round and finished him in the third when the American failed to beat the count, having been dropped to the canvas.
On the same night, Joshua dispatched of the undefeated Gary Cornish within a round. Understandably, both their performances have been compared but Whyte doesn’t believe they are comparable.
“I damaged my shoulder pretty bad,” he admitted. “I got some advice from a physio about fighting and stuff, they said: ‘It might be best to cancel the fight etc etc.’ But I’m not one for making excuses so I thought: ‘You know what? I know the situation, I know I won’t be looking my best but the main thing is to get the win.’ Fighting is about overcoming situations and for me that was a big thing. I went into a fight with an injury and I got through it and did what I needed to do.
“People compare me and Joshua’s performances but in all honesty, if I fought Gary Cornish, Gary Cornish would probably have got knocked out early in the first round but Minto is tough, he’s tricky. Brian Minto is no Gary Cornish. Brian Minto is a good, strong, capable fighter and Minto has always been involved in hard fights. He’s no chump.”
Overcoming adversity is nothing new to Whyte. Having been born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, he moved to London with his family at the age of 12. Despite the tales his Irish grandfather had told him, he wasn’t prepared for the shock of British weather.
“It seems so simple but I remember the first time I came in winter and saw snow,” Whyte said with a laugh. “I was like: ‘Man we used to see this stuff in the movies and hope we’d see it someday.’ I laugh about it now but it was a big deal seeing snow for the first time.
“My grandad used to tell stories about being in Ireland and stuff and it was always raining, it was wet, winters were cold, it was windy and it’s next to the sea and stuff. I used to think: ‘It’s not that bad.’ Then I came here and the first wind hit me and I was like: ‘Wow!’”
Not only did he have to adapt to the change in climate, he had to endure the taunts of school children who teased him over his thick Jamaican lilt. With both his father and grandfather having been bare-knuckle boxers, Whyte had been taught from a young age to stand-up for himself.
When he stood up against those who mocked him, they promptly left him alone. He sees similarities between those days on the playground and his upcoming bout with Joshua.
“People at school tried to pick on me because I spoke different from them and I had an accent but they soon stopped because I started knocking people out. I’m not just saying it, they do stop. I’ve always been straight up; if there’s a problem we can duke it out.
“You’ve got to stand up to bullies. Bullies are weak mentally, that’s why – a lot of the time – they bully other people. The minute you start standing up to them, their attitude normally changes.
“I think Anthony Joshua is a bully. He’s been having things his own way and doing things his own way. That’s what Sky are doing to him. They get these guys with good records who can’t fight. When you take it to a bully and stick it on them, they normally break. I’ve been dealing with bullies my whole life, this ain’t nothing new for me.”
This method of conflict resolution resulted in Whyte being in trouble a lot as a child. To try and find a more creative outlet for this aggression he took up kickboxing. He displayed a natural aptitude for it and picked up several titles. His conversion to boxing took place by accident. He went to Miguel’s Boxing Gym to learn how improve his handwork. There, Chris Okoh spotted his talent and told him he believed he had a future in boxing. Whyte decided to turn his hand to it, although the transition wasn’t easy.
“It was crazy,” he recalled. “I had to forget everything I’d learned and re-learn everything again. My stance was different, my approach was different, the style was different, everything was different.
“I remember, I used to spar boxers and I used to have a bloody nose every day and my jaw would be hurting because my style was too wrong. I was too open, I was too off-balance. Even now I’m style correcting some of the faults in my style. That’s why I’m working with Johnathon Banks because Johnathon is pure boxer. I’m still struggling with it.”
In 2012, Whyte’s boxing career stalled when he received a two-year ban from UK Anti-Doping for testing positive for the controlled substance, methylhexaneamine, following a victory over Sandor Balogh. He protested that he had consumed the stimulant unwittingly through an over-the-counter stimulant - which has since been banned. The appeal tribunal accepted that he did not knowingly take the substance but upheld the ban.
The remarks Joshua made regarding this incident, antagonised Whyte who feels his rival isn’t being true to himself and is instead displaying a contrived persona.
“He [Joshua] started slagging me off in the Boxing News [calling me]: ‘A drug cheat and this that and the other.’ For no reason. That annoyed me so I responded and it’s all kicked off from there really. I just told him: ‘He’s a shithouse.’
“At the end of the day, he’s an Olympic Gold medallist, he’s done a lot of media training, sports psychiatry and all that stuff. He’s been trained to be a certain way, to talk a certain way and act a certain way and do what he’s been told to do. I like to be myself, be natural and be honest. When you put on an act or do something that’s not you, you always get found out. If you tell lies you get found out sooner or later so you’ve just got to be yourself. If you respect me, I respect you. It’s a simple, honest way of life and that’s how I try to live it.”
Although their first fight took place in 2009, when they were both novice amateurs, Whyte believes the victory has given him a psychological advantage over Joshua and that this may prove vital on fight night.
“If there’s a stair in your house that when you are walking down, you slip and hurt yourself on – for as long as you live in that house you are always going to be wary, you are always going to be think: ‘There goes those stairs I’ve slipped on before.’
“In his mind, when he even thinks about me he knows what I bring and he knows what happened in the fight. He knows I have the power to put him to sleep. He knows I’ve dominated him before, I’ve beat him up, I destroyed him and broke him mentally. At the end of the fight he was flopping over them ropes because he got broken mentally.
“I believe I have the mental edge going into the fight because if someone beats you up and smashes you up you are always going to be a little bit wary of them.”