LAST year was a particularly trying one for Dillian Whyte. After defeating the previously unbeaten Oscar Rivas in July, a dark cloud soon cast a gloomy shadow over this triumph. Just four days following the victory, a report surfaced stating that the Brixton heavyweight had failed a UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) test in the lead-up to the bout. It emerged that, at a hearing on the day of the fight, an independent panel had cleared Whyte to take part in the contest, though Rivas and his team had no knowledge of either the hearing or the failed test.

After, in his own words, “walking around like a zombie” for over four months, Whyte received the news he had been hoping for in early December. UKAD released a statement declaring that they had withdrawn their charge and cleared the Jamaica-born Londoner of any wrongdoing. They announced that the “trace amounts” of steroid metabolites contained in Whyte’s sample were “consistent with an isolated contamination event” and were “not suggestive of doping.”

While this investigation had been in progress, the long-time WBC No. 1 challenger had had his mandatory status provisionally suspended by the sanctioning body. However, following UKAD’s withdrawal of the charge, Whyte’s position was re-instated by the WBC. He concluded a taxing 2019 with a win over veteran Mariusz Wach.

Having been promised a shot at the WBC title by February 2021 at the latest, Whyte – who is closing in on 1,000 days as the organisation’s No. 1 contender – did not take kindly to last month’s news that WBC champion Tyson Fury had agreed a financial deal in principle for two fights with fellow world titlist Anthony Joshua next year. With Fury also having to fit in a third clash with former belt-holder Deontay Wilder before any bouts with Joshua could occur, this raised yet more questions about Whyte’s mandated challenge for the championship and when it will finally take place. In reaction to this, Whyte decided to take legal action against the WBC, which is currently ongoing.

Speaking to the media on a Zoom call from his lockdown training base in Portugal, Whyte opened up on his situation with the WBC and looked ahead to his crucial 12-rounder with Alexander Povetkin, whom he meets behind closed doors at the Matchroom Fight Camp in Brentwood on August 22.

NB This interview was conducted prior to Whyte revealing that he had amicably parted ways with his trainer, Mark Tibbs.

Dillian Whyte v Oscar Rivas
Dillian Whyte fights Oscar Rivas. Photo by Dave Thompson

How did you feel when you heard about Fury and Joshua agreeing financial terms on a two-fight deal for 2021?

I was enraged. It’s frustrating because I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me by the WBC and more. I’ve been committed to them and paid years of sanctioning fees. I’ve won the WBC International Silver title, the International title, the Silver title and the Interim title. I’ve waited a long time [for a WBC title shot]. I was like, ‘They’re taking the piss. This is 100 steps too far, let alone one step.’ I got on the phone to [promoter] Eddie Hearn straightaway. My guys got on the phone to the WBC. The belt can’t go from one coward [in Wilder] to another coward [in Fury]. Something needs to change. Enough is enough. I knew I needed to do something about it.It’s been a long, hard, rocky road, but it’s made the story even better I guess. Now, when I win the title, it’ll make it even sweeter.

Do you expect to get your WBC title shot by February 2021?

That’s what [WBC President] Mauricio Sulaiman is saying. He’s saying that I’m the mandatory challenger and I must get my fight by then, so let’s see. You never know in this game, but that’s the plan and that’s the hope. My team is still sorting out the nitty-gritty of whatever is going on.

Is there any sum of money that would make you step aside in February?

Nah, I’ve waited long enough. I’m 32 – I’m not getting any younger. I don’t just want to be a world champion and that’s it. I want to be a world champion and reign and unify. The sooner I win the title, the sooner I can get started on doing that. I don’t want to be one of those guys like Charles Martin who wins the title and then loses it in his next fight. I’m not looking to step aside at all.

Do you think that Hearn has done everything that he can to get you your title shot?

I don’t know. The problem is, he’s got me and he’s got Joshua, who’s the golden boy at the minute. He has to try to keep Joshua happy and he has to make out that he’s doing the right thing for me. He’s got a world champion and a No. 1 contender to keep happy. It’s been hard because he has to tell Joshua, ‘I’m trying to make the fight’ and he has to tell me, ‘I’m trying to make the fight.’ Then actively who is he trying to make the fight for? I’ve come close to leaving Eddie at times. It’s no secret that I’m the kind of guy that, when I’m not happy with something, especially something that I’ve worked for, then I’ll try to change it. That’s common knowledge.  

Do you have any regrets about turning down a rematch with Joshua last year, who is the only man to beat you?

Well, that fight was never serious. There was never any serious offer. Listen, as I’ve said to Eddie, I’ll fight Joshua – put the purse in the middle, the winner takes all. In the fights where I’ve had no issues, just full and proper training camps, I’ve put these guys to sleep. Against Joshua, I knew what punch I had to land, but unfortunately when I landed it I shattered my shoulder. If I fight him again fully healthy, with a good training camp, I believe I’ll stop him. As was shown when he fought Andy Ruiz the first time, if you hit him and you’re relentless, he gets stopped.

Povetkin is coming up to 41 years old. Do you think you are facing him at a good time?

I think that this is a very dangerous time to fight him because there comes a time in a man’s career when he knows, ‘I need to look good here tonight, otherwise that’s it.’ It’s always hard fighting guys like that. He knows what’s at stake. He’s been around long enough. He knows that if he beats me, he’ll get a major payday and a world title shot. So it’s probably going to be the best Povetkin we’ve seen. I’d say he’s the most seasoned guy I’ve fought, especially with his amateur pedigree. He’s tough and strong, with very good punching power. We’ve got similar styles. We’re both big hookers and we’re both front-foot fighters. He’s still got ambition and he’s still got a lot left in the tank.

In the heavyweights, one punch to the side of your head can send you spinning like a wheel, so I don’t take any fight lightly. I train hard. A lot of people are judging me on my last fight against Wach, but that fight was what it was. I still won convincingly, even though I was out of shape and my head was in a completely different space. I know how dangerous Povetkin is. For well over 10 years he’s been consistently operating at a high level, beating top pros. But when I train right and I come prepared, I don’t fear anyone.

What has it been like training in Portugal during lockdown?

The nice weather has definitely helped – being locked down somewhere hot! I’ve been training at a private gym. Lockdown couldn’t have been any better for me, to be honest. I’ve been able to work, chip away and stay motivated and stimulated. Put it this way, I’m a lot leaner now than I was in Saudi Arabia [against Wach], and there’s still a few weeks until the fight. Stress affects people in one of two ways. You either lose weight or you put on weight. That weight was just stress.

I’ve got my team here with me. Three of the guys are medical professionals. We’re taking precautions. I’ve been having to spar with the guys I came over with – middleweights and light-heavyweights – because we’ve not been able to bring anyone else over. The guys that I came here with are the same guys that I’ll still be with until things have calmed down. Then I’ll be able to bring some heavier guys in. We’ve got protocols in place. I’m doing the best that I can do to be safe. We’ve had the local police come down to check everything over at the gym – making sure everyone’s alright and everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We have to sign in and all that kind of stuff. I’ve had to do all of the bloods and all of the swabs to make sure that we have everything covered. My guys are professional.

How do you feel about fighting Povetkin without any fans in attendance?

It’s obviously going to be strange because we’re used to the big events. It’s going to take some getting used to, but it is what it is. I’m an adaptable kind of guy.These are testing times, so as human beings, we need to adapt. We can’t just stop and sit around. Yes, there’s a pandemic going on, but safety procedures have been put in place so that we can still go to work in a safe and healthy environment. We have to adapt. As humans, that’s what we’ve been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. When there’s a heatwave, we adapt. When there’s a cold spell, we adapt. When there’s Spanish flu, we adapt. When there’s a plague, we adapt. Now there’s COVID, we have to adapt. That’s one of the strengths of the human race – we’re very adaptable and we’re able to survive.  

Boxing as a sport has also had to change and adapt over the years. For example, fighters used to fight over 20 rounds and even more. Then it was 15 rounds, now it’s 12 rounds. We adapt, and that’s what we have to do now as boxers. We can’t just say, ‘I’ll wait until the crowds can come back.’ No, get on with it. I’d happily have another fight behind closed doors after Povetkin. By doing my job I can give others inspiration and something to look forward to. Boxing is a big thing for people. They meet up with their family, have a couple of beers and watch the fights. We all have to play our part in this.