The higher I go, the crookeder it becomes.
Michael Corleone, Godfather III (1990)
Dillian Whyte is a good heavyweight. He isn’t Earnie Shavers, or Ray Mercer. He is, as the Acorn and Merciless were, a good heavyweight in an era that belongs to others. Whyte has compiled a resume that stands comparison with most of his own contemporaries. And a few of his predecessors too. His era isn’t the golden one of Shavers and his thunderous right hand but it has the potential to rival or surpass many of the decades that preceded the glorious 1970s. Besides, no fighter chooses his or her own time.
However history will remember Fury, Joshua and Wilder’s era, their collective defeats and the emergence of Usyk is unlikely to remove any of their names from above the door of the decade they’ve cohabited but Whyte has been a perennial presence. The demise of his showdown with Otto Wallin, a credible if unexciting fixture, became ever more predictable following Joshua’s decision to opt in on the contracted Usyk rematch and the WBC mandating a victorious Fury negotiate with the winner of Whyte and Wallin.
The risk to reward ratio of the Wallin fight changed. Dramatically.
Whyte, as Interim Champion, no me either, is already positioned to have the first shot at Fury, if the ephemeral intentions of sanctioning bodies are to be believed, and any bout with Wallin only introduces risk; risk of defeat, risk of injury and in either event, the risk of losing a shot at the world title. Not just the WBC belt Fury holds, but those tangible and mythical decorations that confirm Fury’s status as the consensus, nay, undisputed Champion. Capital C.
An opportunity that may never come around again. In light of this, Whyte’s ‘injury’ becomes all the more understandable. The arrival of such a chance will not be a first for the sturdy, London based, Jamaican born contender. For all the martyrdom attached to his long held status with the WBC, he was offered a rematch with Anthony Joshua, for a career high purse, for the WBA, IBF and WBO belts – and declined. He over valued his stock and the opportunity to be the nemesis Joshua found in New York dissolved.
As fans, we want our heroes to be courageous and busy. Champions of social media don’t stir the soul like a champion of the type Ray and Earnie chased. Pragmatism is also a much tougher sell. But in a short career, which may have already peaked in the time since he opted not to box Joshua again, Whyte is understandably determined not to endure the excruciating disappointment of losing to Wallin and missing out on Fury.
The hiatus that will now afflict Whyte’s career, as he waits for Spring, blocks Otto Wallin’s number and negotiates the terms of his shot, will not improve his prospects of victory. In all likelihood he will have been inactive for more than a year when any Fury fight is planned and Whyte has enjoyed his most productive periods when he boxed three times a year. It built momentum and confidence. Whyte’s decision not to box has precedent. Few things in boxing are ever new.
In the late 1990s, at the height of Lennox Lewis’ reign as the king of the heavyweights, David Tua sat on his IBF mandatory standing, waiting for Lewis. He was active, but from his final eliminator victory over Hasim Rahman in December 1998 he boxed six minutes in 18 months. Winning three times against fighters far beneath the Samoan knockout artist’s level and posing minimal threat in return. A rib injury added to his woes and a compromised Tua remained at the end of Lewis’ jab on his way to a disappointing defeat.
Mike Tyson too has paused to be diverted from risk as he waited on the belated career finale with Lennox Lewis. A proposed fight with Ray Mercer, himself a veteran, but a durable and hard hitting one, evaporated when those closest to Tyson at the time considered the possibility of defeat and the vast purse waiting for him if he faced Lewis being lost. Mercer would have posed a threat to the Tyson of 2000, but instead six rounds with Brian Nielsen, in the 18 months before fighting Lewis, offered scant preparation for the richest fight boxing could make.
Whyte will pose a threat to Fury because he has power and the gumption to try and use it, but the 12 months of inactivity prior to the fight will, as it did for Tua and Tyson, do little to improve his chances.