Frontline diary: The beats go on...

Chris Williamson
24/07/2019 8:51pm

Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Chris Williamson reports from ringside at the O2, as Dillian Whyte moves a step closer to a WBC world title shot, and brings you all the ringside gossip involving Ellie Goulding and Jose Mourinho among others...

Prior to the brawl that made his name three-and-a-half years ago, Dillian Whyte’s opponent Anthony Joshua was famously accompanied to the ring by the grime artist Stormzy.

Back then it seemed that Whyte was invading Joshua’s turf in what proved to be the future heavyweight champion's penultimate fight at London’s O2 arena.

Well, this is Whyte’s territory now and as the house fighters have changed then so too have the A-list fans, with popstar Ellie Goulding seated at ringside next to press row on Saturday. Goulding was present to support cruiserweight Chris Billam-Smith in his spirited but losing effort against Richard Riakporhe, having become friends when training alongside the Bournemouth-based fighter and trainer Shane McGuigan at Miami’s 5th street gym.

Carl Froch was his usual diplomatic self while introducing himself to Goulding’s fiancé Casper: “Blimey,” said the former super-middleweight champ, “you must be a young lad with a name like that.”

BM judged Riakporhe (now 10-0) a fairly clear ten-round winner, albeit the young Londoner does tend to smother much of his good work, as after flooring Billam-Smith (now 9-1) in the seventh. One feels that both men have a solid future in the sport and will benefit from this early exposure to pushing themselves against opposition whose ambition matched their own.

The two chief supporting bouts featured older heavyweights seeking to prolong their days in the sun and both delivered, big time. As he enters the autumn of his career a more relaxed Dereck Chisora (now 31-9) once again received a terrific reception as he ring-walked to ‘Hotel California’.

I scribbled that Chisora was clearly telegraphing the right hand in the first versus Artur Szpilka (now 22-4), but this lack of subtlety didn’t matter a jot as the Pole found himself on the end of a hellacious right-hand swing in the second session which resulted in him leaning as stiff as a board against the ropes.

Unfortunately for Szpilka, instinct had left his gloves up around his head which gave the appearance he was defending himself when in fact he was spent. Two further blows from the reborn Finchley man resulted in Szpilka polexed on the canvas. Referee Mark Lyson looked genuinely upset and thankfully the burly Pole was conscious and talking relatively quickly.

Fight fan Jose Mourinho sat quietly enjoying the fights, barely bothered by anyone. Mourinho timed a mobile facetime with his family badly as the main event fighters were ringwalking. BM likes to imagine that even multi-millionaire football managers are subject to “what time do you call this?” curfew questioning on solo nights out. Tony Bellew is a big fan who still can’t believe Mourinho has sat watching Bellew fight at this arena.

If the Eagles music seems appropriate for the soaring final phase of Chisora’s career, then a composition from Ennio Morricone is perfect to introduce Scouse gunslinger David Price, who scored the most significant win since he was an up and coming contender back in 2012 with a tenth-round retirement victory over Dave Allen.

BM gave Price (now 25-6) every round as he controlled the action and successfully smothered Allen while the Yorkshireman was in close. The action was so repetitive that it became almost tedious, albeit with tension sourced from the feeling that Price just might fall apart. With Allen’s eye swollen from Price’s clubbing punches, Darren Barker mercifully pulled his man out at the end of the tenth.

“F*cking get in!” shouted Price’s old friend Tony Bellew, before motioning as if his hands were a mouth talking “now open that, sell yourself and make your own matches now.”

Price didn’t get a chance to do so and there were worrying scenes as ring supplier Mick Goodhall adjusted the ropes for a stretcher and Spencer Oliver – who fully recovered from a serious injury in 1998 - looked on pensively. Thankfully Allen recovered without major incident.

Sky executive Barney Francis smiled ruefully through the boos that Eddie Hearn received while addressing the crowd during a Lomachenko vs Campbell head to head to promote their fight here next month. There had been speculation that this upcoming match hurt ticket sales for this event, which attracted around 12,000 fans according to Matchroom. Oleksandr Usyk smiled at ringside and motioned to Hearn that with the score currently 1-0 to Ukraine in light of Usyk vs Bellew, it would soon be 2-0.

The main event delivered breathless entertainment as Canada-based Columbian Oscar Rivas (now 26-1) tested Whyte’s claim to be top contender in the division. It was an examination that Whyte passed while encountering a few puzzles he struggled to solve.

The second session in particular was a round of the year contender which Rivas shaded while looking to overwhelm the Brixton man with raw aggression. As he has done repeatedly during this winning run of ten fights, Whyte was able to find the will and skill to battle back and regain control, his double jab in particular signifying a significant improvement made under trainer Mark Tibbs.

At several periods in the battle it seemed that each fighter would attempt to best the other using similar tactics and approach; in particular they exchanged wicked body punches and wicked right uppercuts, the latter of which contributed to a knockdown against Whyte in the ninth. Whyte willed himself on during the championship rounds which he took comfortably, as Rivas’ swollen left eye took further right hand blows from the Brit.

BM marked Whyte (now 26-1) as winning 7 of 12 rounds with the knockdown against him in the 9th resulting in a 114-113 card.

It is to Whyte’s credit that he doesn’t appear to take the interim belt he was awarded terribly seriously. This win was certainly no more significant than Lennox Lewis’ stunning KO of Donovan Ruddock back in October 1992 which in retrospect led to the future all-time great being awarded the WBC title.

With Whyte’s title-shot all but assured veteran journalist Colin Hart reminded BM of the time when he was ringside in Tokyo alongside top contender Evander Holyfield, who watched as a $12m deal he’d just signed to challenge Mike Tyson went up in smoke.

Hart recalls that Holyfield took that Tyson vs Douglas upset in his stride, comfortable that his title shot would come. After several rounds of outside of the ring wrangling with the WBC and a run of impressive performances inside it, Whyte’s challenge now seems similarly assured.