The long buildup to next Saturday night’s world heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte, in front of a record crowd of 94,000 at Wembley Stadium, was strangely muted and even uncertain for months. An all-British showdown between the outspoken Fury and Whyte, who is such a raw and jolting talker, should have conjured up an entertaining prelude. Instead, the silence was broken only by complaints from the Fury camp about Whyte’s elusive absence from all promotional duties and rumors of constant bickering between the rival camps.
Then, last Wednesday, there was a dramatic and explosive twist when the US Treasury confirmed that it had imposed sanctions against Daniel Kinahan – the controversial Irishman who has long been a friend and adviser to Fury.
Kinahan, who has been investigated by the Irish police for years because of his alleged leadership role in a drug cartel associated with his family, is now based in Dubai. Kinahan, who has no criminal convictions and has always denied any wrongdoing, had emerged from hiding with growing frequency over the last year. His obvious desire for him to sanitize his reputation for him by becoming the most powerful man in boxing emboldened him. There have been copious social media posts of Kinahan smiling cheerfully alongside some of the many fighters he advises, including Fury again earlier this year.
But his troubling confidence has hit an almighty road-block. The US government has stressed that it is a priority for President Biden and his law enforcement departments to bring the full weight of their considerable powers to bear against the Kinahan cartel which an American state spokesman compared to mafia groups in Italy, Japan and Russia. A reward of $5m has been offered to anyone who can help secure the arrest of Kinahan, his father, his brother and their closest associates.
Suddenly, speculation over the reasons for Whyte’s silence and apparent refusal to attend an earlier press conference, and whether the fight might even be cancelled, seems very tame. Even a world heavyweight title extravaganza appears redundant when the attention surrounding it is led by the US government stressing its determination to crack down on “a murderous organization”, international money laundering and “deadly narcotics” which leave devastation in their wake. The Americans also made blunt warnings that everyone in boxing should severe all ties with Kinahan.
A day after those extraordinary announcements Fury and Whyte finally appeared on a Zoom media conference call in front of around 100 journalists from America, Britain and Ireland. Of course it was engineered so that the only reporters invited to put any questions to Fury were those intent on swapping ingratiating greetings with him or asking him about his golf swing, his faith in him or how it will feel to fight on St George’s Day. Kinahan’s name was not mentioned once in over 50 minutes of banality, deception and stupidity. It was a shameful day for the charade of boxing journalism.
At least the fighters themselves chose not to trade in duplicity or sanitisation when describing what is likely to happen when they face each other in the ring. There was no attempt from either Whyte or Fury to dress up the brutality of a heavyweight scrap in flowery clichés about the noble art or the sweet science. They did not discuss the complex psychology or rigorous discipline of boxing. The challenger and the champion spoke about violent mayhem and their apparent relish for danger and hurt.
“Listen,” Whyte said. “I know what I am, and I know what I bring. I’ve got a lot of pain and frustration to take out on someone and it looks like it’ll be Tyson Fury. So let’s go.” He then added: “You know me. I eat with maximum violence. I’m ready for it.” Fury was more jocular. “A lot of boxers look forward to what they’re going to do after the fight,” I suggested. “They’re going to go out, go on holidays, take time with their family, but not me. I like to enjoy every second in that ring. And for me it goes very quickly. Even if it’s a 12-round fight, it goes like 10 minutes. I wish they would do a fight for a full-day long, like a full day of fighting. That would be more my style. I’d enjoy it. I just enjoy getting punched and punching someone in the face. Absolutely fantastic.”
Fury was only half joking. “For people who know what I’m talking about, they’ll understand. Other people would think: ‘That’s something a lunatic would say.’ But I’m really happy when I’m in the boxing ring, getting thumped in the face and, after climbing off the canvas or a big dramatic finish, it’s all very entertaining for me. I really look forward to it all.
“For me, it’s not like: ‘Ooooh, I’m going to the guillotine before a fight.’ It’s like: ‘Damn! I’m going to be on TV!’ It’s amazing. I’m really happy to be getting paid for a job that I absolutely love to do.” Whyte has been written off by many but he has overcome great tumult, deprivation and violence in his life. Last year, when describing how he had almost starved to death in Jamaica as a boy, fathered a child when he was just 13 and been shot and stabbed in London, Whyte told me: “I was born in a storm. Adversity is the story of my life.” He will not fear Fury and, rather, he is likely to be bolstered by the fact that the champion was knocked down four times in his dramatic trilogy of fights against Deontay Wilder.
Fury has incredible powers of recovery and he remains unbeaten and the dominant force in heavyweight boxing. One day, the diminishing impact of those heavy blows will become obvious. But the Gypsy King is convinced that he operates at a far higher level of skill and power than Whyte – who insists that “I’m used to being the underdog. I’m used to climbing up hills and mountains and struggling. But I just persist and keep pushing and keep burning, man, because that’s all I’ve ever done. I just grind and grind and grind.”
Blaming his absence from earlier promotional duties on unresolved contractual disputes, Whyte said he is now ready to play his full part in fight week: “People forget that you need two hands to clap. It’s not the Tyson Fury show. Everybody’s saying: ‘Tyson Fury this, Tyson Fury that.’ But this is the Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte show. We’re going into this fight together so everything needs to be done correctly. I’m a warrior, I’m a survivor, so I don’t dance in no-one’s shoes. We can dance together but it can’t be one-way traffic.”
The bleak truth for boxing is that, despite both fighters’ aptitude for brutal drama, this will not just be the Fury and Whyte Show. Whatever happens in the ring at a heaving and roaring Wembley late next Saturday night, the real battle for boxing’s diseased soul will be decided elsewhere. A more serious showdown awaits between US law enforcement agencies and the reviled Kinahan cartel. A knockout victory for the Americans would be the sweetest outcome for the battered old business of boxing.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism