"You know what," Dillian Whyte says with a little smile on a tranquil Saturday afternoon in Portugal, "if you're going to swim in shark-infested waters, you need to prepare yourself mentally and physically."
We are a week away from the world heavyweight championship fight, when Whyte will try to rip Tyson Fury’s titles away from him at Wembley Stadium. Fury is a 6ft 9in giant who weighs 20 stone (127kg) and has considerable skill, power and resilience. His first professional bout was in 2008 and he remains undefeated after 32 fights. Fury is also a force of nature and a great world champion.
Yet Whyte suggests Fury is not the only shark circling him in the controversial build-up to this fight. The 34-year-old Jamaican-born Londoner shrugs as he details the murky battles he claims he and his team have faced while negotiating the contest. Whyte says they are still squabbling and scrapping over numerous contractual issues and he has yet to sign off the final agreements.
When you're swimming with sharks you can't act surprised and say: 'I can't believe I got bitten by a shark'
He also believes that, long after the Wembley fight is over, he will win his ongoing case against the WBC and Fury’s backers at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and receive much more than a 20 per cent split of the record $41,025,000 (€37.78 million) purse. Whyte says his role as Fury’s mandatory WBC challenger will be recognised with a judgment which rules he should receive at least 30 per cent , and possibly more, from the proceeds. He claims this usual guarantee from the WBC has been ignored by all other parties.
“When you’re swimming with sharks,” Whyte says, “you can’t act surprised and say: ‘I can’t believe I got bitten by a shark’. The risk is always there. But it is a shame because, if everything had been done properly, we could have had a gigantic fight. It’s still a big fight but it should have been massive. I’m not a pushover. If you try and put pressure on me, I’m not going to fold. I’ll fight back tenfold.”
Whyte has avoided all pre-fight interviews until now. He is in a strikingly good mood, with his outlook darkening only when he turns to Fury. “Me and Tyson were cool for a long time. I didn’t really say anything about him and he didn’t say anything about me. Then suddenly he started talking lots of shit. He’ll say some really disgusting stuff because his mouth is like a toilet.”
Whyte and his advisers raise numerous objections – from his share of the purse and doubts about the WBC's choice of officials to the smaller headache that he is apparently yet to receive a single ticket from the 94,000 that were available. They point to the relationship that developed between Daniel Kinahan, who has advised Fury in the past, and the WBC – whose president, Mauricio Sulaimán, recently defended Kinahan vigorously from allegations, which the exiled Irishman denies, that he is the leader of a drug cartel.
Sulaimán's remarks were made a week before the US Treasury imposed sanctions against Kinahan and promised to bring him and his associates to trial. The US government also warned that everyone in boxing needed to cut ties with Kinahan or risk being implicated in his alleged criminal activities. Bob Arum, Fury's American promoter, has emphasised that Kinahan has not been involved at any stage in the Wembley promotion.
Sulaimán has also reiterated that the WBC has no relationship with Kinahan. In a statement, he said: “Whilst visiting Dubai recently I was introduced to Daniel Kinahan, who has since been placed on a sanctions list by the US Treasury Department, concerning alleged links to drug crimes. This has generated speculation and attacks on myself and the WBC. I therefore feel it necessary to make it clear that at no time have we had any relationship with Daniel Kinahan.”
People say I have to get the knock-out to win but, to me, it's all good. I'm ready to risk everything
“It’s boxing, man,” Whyte says. “There’s always something going on, some sort of set-up. It ain’t ever going to change. But with this fight I don’t understand why there’re no British judges when we’re both British. You wonder why Tyson doesn’t want any British officials. He seems to have more lives than a cat, the way he gets away with stuff like that extra-long count [when Fury got up from near-unconsciousness in his first fight against Deontay Wilder in 2018]. I know what I’m up against. People say I have to get the knock-out to win but, to me, it’s all good. I’m ready to risk everything.”
Did he follow the Kinahan saga closely? Whyte laughs. “I don’t really get into that too much, man. I’d rather stick to boxing.”
Whyte looks taken aback only when I ask him if Kinahan, who hoped to become the most powerful man in boxing, ever contacted him. He pauses before insisting: “No, no, no. I let them do their thing and I do my thing. I’m in the Dillian Whyte business.”
As he lists the obstacles he had to overcome to make the fight, while rejecting step-aside money, Whyte suggests Fury never wanted to face him. “He knows I’m dangerous and I ain’t got nothing to lose. But then he says I’m a bum and a dosser. I’m an average heavyweight with average power. So why would he not get me out of the way years ago?”
His relationship with Fury "used to be cool", he says. "Back when he was preparing for the Martin Rogan fight [in April 2012] I spent a few months with Tyson. Peter Fury [Tyson's uncle and then trainer] is very clever. He brought in good, tough, skilled guys to help Tyson get better. I stayed in a Gypsy camp in Warrington and it was a good experience.
He obviously knows I possess the power to knock him out. Tyson's been getting knocked down from early in his career
“I liked learning about the Gypsy culture and their beliefs. I’m a strong believer that you only get to understand people when you live alongside them. We trained and lived together but Tyson wasn’t staying in no caravan with travelling Gypsies.”
Did Whyte learn anything from those months of sparring which could help him on Saturday? "It was a long time ago so I don't focus much on it. But he obviously knows I possess the power to knock him out. Tyson's been getting knocked down from early in his career. Neven Pajkic [a journeyman who floored Fury in 2011] did it. Those guys could knock him down and have him in trouble. I'm way more powerful than them."
Wilder knocked Fury down four times in their epic trilogy. But even the American, who is touted by many as one of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history, could not stop Fury. “Wilder has a funny kind of power,” Whyte says, “which is built on speed. He doesn’t set anything up properly and he is all over the place. When I hit guys I’ve got a thudding power and I know how to follow up. Tyson will feel the difference.”
Crime and violence
Whyte is a clear underdog but he stresses: “I’m a fighter and my mindset is clear. I know there’s going to be a pro-Fury crowd but who cares? I’ve been the underdog my whole life.”
He was separated from his mother for years as a small boy in Jamaica. He had to fend for himself and came close to starving to death before he was reunited with her in London where he soon became caught up in gangs.
At 13 he became a father and his teenage years were shrouded by crime and violence. He was shot and stabbed twice.
It was just: where can I get some food, where can I find somewhere warm to sleep where people won't touch me?
“I’m not one of those guys that’s been visualising becoming world champion since I was 10 years old,” he says. “When I was a little boy my only dream was to stay alive. I had no time for big dreams. It was just: where can I get some food, where can I find somewhere warm to sleep where people won’t touch me? Where can I be safe? A lot of people I knew didn’t make it to their teenage years.”
Whyte survived and, should he shock Fury, he says: “I’ll just go home to my dogs and my family. I’m just a normal guy. I’m not some Gypsy King, some fancy guy who goes on about being champion of the world, blah blah blah. I’m the same whether I’ve got £20 million or nothing.
“I’m just trying to change my life and show people you need to believe in yourself and keep trying, regardless of the ups and downs.” – Guardian