“I“It’s tough, but my life has always been tough, from the day I was born,” says Dillian Whyte as he prepares to step into the ring on Saturday to face Alexander Povetkin, the Russian heavyweight who knocked him out. with a devastating uppercut last August.
Whyte needed to win that night to guarantee himself a shot at the world heavyweight title and appeared to be in full control after knocking down Povetkin twice in the fourth round. He came out to finish the fight in fifth when, out of nowhere, Povektin threw a fierce punch that shook Whyte’s head back with sickening impact. Whyte was unconscious before hitting the mat.
The rematch was postponed twice, after Povetkin was in the hospital with Covid-19 and then he struggled to overcome the effects of the virus. As a consequence, and aside from a break after the knockout, Whyte has been training for Povetkin for over a year, as their first fight was originally scheduled for last May. The confinement intervened, and since then, it has felt like Whyte has been cursed by Povetkin. His career now depends on the result of Saturday when they meet again in the strange scenery of Gibraltar.
“I’m used to difficulties,” Whyte says with a shrug. “I was born in a storm, the night of a hurricane in Jamaica, and we survived. It took down part of the roof of our house, but my mother is a soldier and she just climbed under the table to do the deed, so they told me anyway. So adversity is the story of my life. “
Whyte had to fend for himself as a child in Jamaica and nearly starved to death before reuniting with his mother in London, where he was soon caught up in gang culture. At 13 he fathered a son and his adolescence was marred by crime and violence. He was shot and stabbed before finding refuge in kick-boxing, leading to his current occupation where, until his loss to Povetkin, he was one notch short of two world champions in Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.
Last July, a few weeks before fighting Povetkin, he spent his 1000th day as the No. 1 contender in the WBC rankings, while criticizing his bad luck in not giving him a world title shot. Now he has to risk it all once again against the dangerous Russian.
“If I said that sometimes it does not depress me, I would be lying,” he says. “But my mom always says that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. I keep moving forward because I don’t know anything else. “
Whyte takes me back to his destitute and often desperate childhood. “My mom left me in Jamaica when I was two and I didn’t see her until she was almost 13,” she says. “But even though she wasn’t there, I felt her. I always looked up to her and when we were together again she always apologized. I said, ‘No, you went to England to make a better life for all of us. It took longer than I thought, but I’m here. “
During those 11 years without your mother, did you ever talk to her on Skype or even on the phone? “At that time there was no Skype. In Jamaica, you’d be lucky if you spoke on the phone once a month. Where we lived there is no telephone. My mom wrote letters, but I couldn’t read. “
Did the adults around him read his letters aloud? Whyte shakes his head. “The people I stayed with didn’t do a good job. I became a survivor. Once I did not eat for two or three days. I will never forget it because the pain in my stomach was so bad. I have felt a lot of pain in life, going through ups and downs, mentally and physically. But the pain of hunger is insane. But these things made me and gave me such a positive outlook on life. No matter how difficult life is now, I still do better than when I was looking for food, a home. “
Was he homeless? “For a while I was. The family my mother left me with kept the money she sent them. They take care of their own kids first and if there are leftovers left, you get them. So we used to look for bottles of Fanta. He made money by returning those bottles and bought sweets because it was the cheapest.
“My dad was a farmer and a butcher and he was selling cattle. When he came back, I was almost dead and he got going. My dad went to his house and hit someone. He obviously wasn’t the best dad. He is from a harsh Irish background and raised me in a similar way to how he was raised. My dad thought that if she wasn’t dead, she was fine. It was just a circle of ignorance. “
When his mother finally brought him to England, Whyte remembers meeting her at the airport. “My mother hadn’t seen me in years, but when I got out she knew who I was. She started crying and ran to me. I felt good but it was like a rock. In Jamaica, at 13, you are already a man. I was like, ‘Hi mom, are you okay?’ “
He’s very close to his mother now, but he put her through hell to get to this point. “I was different from everyone in London,” he says. “People thought it was fun to make fun of my way of speaking. So I got into fights and one thing led to another and then I got into gangs. I was screwed, but you get carried away.
“Three times I thought I was going to die. They shot me and stabbed me. You can’t outrun bullets so you need luck to survive. Most of the time he was a silly kid running around London wreaking havoc. It’s gangster stuff and you think it’s cool to go to prison. But there is nothing good about it, you are a fool. “
Whyte is 32 years old and his oldest son is 19. “He is taller and much more handsome than me.” The boxer is thoughtful when I ask him how he felt after becoming a father at age 13. “I was a kid but I was really growing up because of everything that happened. It was still terrifying. As I got older, it gave me more purpose because I had to work harder. I did not want the child to suffer like me. Now we are close. He’s like my partner. “
Whyte is most attractive when he talks about his family, especially his mother. “My mom is my hero. She is probably the strongest woman there is. She raised all 12 of us alone and had three jobs. She is a nurse, but she also used to be a dinner lady at school and a cleaner at night.
“She still works in Brixton today as [community] nurse. Everyone is scared and tries to be safe, but she continues to help people who have no family. They have been discharged from the hospital after surgery and cannot receive care. Then she goes to their houses to see how they are and to change the bandages. Everyone is worried about Covid, but people can also die if their [surgical] they do not change the bandage or do not receive their diabetes medication. My mother helps them.
“My older sister Debbie is also a nurse and works 12 hour shifts in the Covid wards. They have seen so many bad things in this pandemic. So in my difficult days, I think of my mom and my sister. Boxing is tough, but they do a lot more grueling job. “
How did your family react to your knockout loss to Povetkin? “It was devastating for everyone. I was devastated, but you can’t start crying, ‘Oh God, I’m never going back in the ring.’ I accepted the loss. It was a huge setback, but let’s do it again.
“The first fight was going to be planned. My boxing was good. I was cunning. He was making Povetkin fail and hurting him all the time. But this is heavyweight boxing and it only takes a second and a lapse of concentration to finish. That is why it is the star division of boxing. You never know what will happen to the heavy hitters. “
Have you seen the brutal knockout? “Two or three times. It’s high-speed, high-level boxing. I used a short right hand to set him up and then threw the left hook, which was going to take him down for good. But he just went to the middle with the uppercut. It was just a good hit and I’m happy it wasn’t a sustained beating. That deals you more damage than a big hit. In five minutes I was telling Eddie Hearn [his promoter] I wanted revenge. He knew he had been dominating Povetkin until that mistake. So I was ready to go again. “
Surely there will be a psychological barrier that he must overcome on Saturday? “I see it this way. He knocked me out with a punch. But he was more hurt and damaged than I was because I was taking him down with those body shots. You will not have forgotten to go down twice. So it is very interesting. People won’t think, ‘Oh, Povetkin wins that easy’ or ‘Dillian Whyte is going to win that way for sure.’ No. There are certain fights where he’s in the air and you can defend both. That is why this is the most intriguing fight out there.
“He is taking the fight because he thinks he can win again. And he seems to have a good chance of winning. That’s why I take it seriously. That’s why I didn’t take any breaks during Christmas. “
Perhaps the biggest uncertainty surrounds Povetkin’s recovery from Covid at the age of 41. Whyte shakes his head. “He is a former world champion and Olympic champion. He’s already delayed the fight twice due to Covid, so he wouldn’t fight if he didn’t think it’s okay. Your team will not put you at risk. He is not a day laborer. It will come ready.
“I want to fight the guy who hit me. I don’t want to fight a shell. And I think the free time has allowed him to recover. I’ve seen pictures of him and he looks good, he looks healthy.
Will Whyte be more nervous than usual because his future in boxing depends on the outcome? “Not really. I’m not going to be like, ‘Oh well, they stopped me last time, so I’m going to run and score points.’ No, I come to fight and hurt. I made the adjustments I needed and I’m going to knock him out ”.
Have you ever gotten tired of fighting after fighting most of your life? Whyte pauses. “I do,” he finally says, “but you can never give up or stop fighting. That’s when you die early, man. That is not me. I’m a survivor.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism