Declan Taylor reports from Gibraltar on the key factors that could decide the fate of Dillian Whyte ahead of crucial rematch with Alexander Povetkin
WHEN Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin took to the scales on a raised platform in the middle of the Gibraltar Rugby Football Union’s artificial pitch on Friday afternoon more questions were raised than answered.
In one of the weirder promotions in this generation of British boxing, Whyte has lived on a luxury super yacht for a week while Povetkin has set up shop in a hotel on the shore ahead of their anticipated rematch here in Gibraltar on Saturday night.
Eddie Hearn has revealed the promotion has cost upwards of £250,000 due to the red tape and provisions required to put on a show overseas during a global pandemic. He even chartered a jumbo jet to ship fighters, trainers and staff over from a private terminal in Stansted on Wednesday afternoon. Let the record show that Povetkin had a bit of extra legroom in an emergency exit seat.
A key theme of fight week has been the overall health of the Russian, who is the A-side by virtue of his stunning KO of Whyte in their initial rematch last August. However the rematch had to be postponed when Povetkin contracted COVID-19 which put him in hospital around the turn of the year.
A virus which affects the respiratory system is not exactly ideal for a professional athlete in a sprint sport like boxing while experts are still trying to get a handle on so-called ‘Long Covid’. Whyte, for his part, has suggested that Povetkin is lying about the whole thing. “Who knows? If he was sick, I’m glad he’s alright,” Whyte said at the final press conference at a botanical garden on Thursday. “But if he wasn’t, then f**k him.”
Povetkin has never been exactly body beautiful but as an Olympic gold medalist and multiple world title challenger, Big ‘Sasha’ is clearly fit for purpose. But what would Covid have done for his chances here if he really did have it? Whyte has suggested that the whole thing was an attempt at mind games and he was really preparing for the rematch with an extended training camp.
It did not exactly look like he had been on the scales. He was positively fleshy and four-and-a-quarter pounds heavier than he was when he delivered the uppercut from Hell on Hearn’s lawn last summer. Still, for a man of his size, the increase is pretty minor and any effect on his speed and ability to land fight-ending shots will be negligible. For context, he was a pound heavier when he drew with Michael Hunter in December 2019 but nearly half-a-stone lighter in the Anthony Joshua fight a year earlier.
He is, also, now 41 years old and Saturday night will be the 40th fight of a professional career which started way back in 2005. It is worth noting, too, that although he was not badly hurt at any point in the initial fight with Whyte, he was floored twice before the finish. He shipped punishment to both head and body so it is still unclear what the long-term effects might be.
Whyte, on the other hand, looked ripped and ready. He is five pounds lighter than he was seven months ago thanks to an extensive training camp in Portugal. At 247 1/4lbs, he is at his lightest since he knocked out Dereck Chisora in December 2018. Indeed, his insistence on nothing disrupting his camp is the main reason the fight is here.
When Portugal was placed on the red list it meant that fighting in Britain would result in a 10-day isolation period in a government hotel for Whyte and his team on their return. “That would have finished me,” he said. Up stepped Gibraltar, drivable by car from Portugal.
Whyte says everything has been perfect in camp, he even suggested that members of the team now monitor the acidity levels of his water. Whatever has been going on in Portugal, it seems to have worked. And, although lighter than last time, Whyte still has nearly 20lbs on his Russian opponent.
The 32-year-old also knows that a second consecutive defeat will all but destroy any hopes of ever fighting for the world title, considering the log-jam at the top of the tree involving Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and the likes of Oleksandr Usyk already. It is apparent that sort of pressure has driven him more than ever in training camp this time around.
But what will that have done for his body? He has struggled with shoulder problems in the past and we will not know until fight night how such a long and exhaustive camp might influence an already fascinating encounter.
Another little vignette is the addition to Whyte’s team of Harold Knight, best known for his work alongside Lennox Lewis. ‘The Shadow’ helped mastermind Lewis’ revenge missions against the likes of Hasim Rahman (immediate) and Oliver McCall (not so immediate), so there are simple parallels to draw to the current situation facing Whyte.
But will Knight have been able to implement any major changes since his arrival in October, and how will he have bedded into a team that already boasts a head trainer in Xavier Miller? Any mixed messaging might prove costly against a man who will be high on confidence following last summer’s Knockout of the Year contender.
Speaking of which, what will memories – or rather the lack of – from that uppercut affect Whyte. Will he be gun-shy? Whyte himself laughed off that suggestion. “Listen I got stabbed one week working on the door and then turned up to work on the same door the next weekend.
“I don’t think ‘oh no, I got stabbed there last week, I’m not going to go to work. I just showed up to work with my patch on. Where I’m from, you ain’t got time to be gun-shy. If you’re gun-shy or hesitant, you get killed.”