WHEN fighting for the first time back in 2013, heavyweights Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte were not unlike any other heavyweight prospects, fuelled as they were by youthful pride and a perhaps delusional belief that they would change the course of heavyweight history and become legends in the sport. So early were they meeting in their respective careers, many were of the belief that this would be the beginning of a long-running rivalry, with one or maybe two more fights to come once they had both gone on and won world titles and ensured any rematch was even more lucrative than the original.
Now, eight years on, Joshua (33) and Whyte (36) do indeed meet again, though not as planned, and not the way either of them likely envisaged it. Now, rather than colliding once more with one, or both, on top of the heavyweight pile and a horde of world titles on the line, Joshua and Whyte will instead meet on August 12 at London’s O2 Arena with the aim as simple as this: win to salvage your career.
That’s not to say either man is on their way out necessarily, nor that one or the other is showing obvious signs of regression at this stage. But certainly, when compared with how this plan was originally drafted all those years ago, there can be no escaping the fact Joshua and Whyte reunite not as world champions but as two contenders who are both equally wounded, humbled, and in need of a return to square one. They both need to go back there for numerous reasons, one suspects, but chiefly it is there, at square one, when staring across the ring from each other on August 12, they will be able to reconnect not just with an old foe but with the heavyweight they used to be.
“I’m definitely up for fighting,” said Joshua, who flew direct into London from his training camp in Texas for Monday’s (July 10) media conference at London’s Hilton Syon Park Hotel. “There are a lot of names in the division, but, at the same time, look at what this fight does. I’m a fighter but I also understand business. And this fight does good business.
“He (Dillian) is just another body. They’ve got a lot of hate for me, but I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about my lane and what I’m trying to do. I don’t focus on other people’s opinions.
“Boxing is about fundamentals. There’s two ways to skin a cat. You can knock someone out or outclass them. Everything I say today is irrelevant until that bells goes. I’m here to win.”
Whyte, for his part, said: “We’re still chasing improvement and we have new teams around us. We’re more experienced and have more skills. We’ve still got a lot of hunger and I can’t wait to get in there.
“I just prepare for the best version of him (Joshua). I don’t care what people are saying about him. I’m still coming to fight and I haven’t got anything to lose. I’m calm now – but the more you f*** about, we’ll soon find out.
“Is this a must-win fight? Every fight I’ve had with Matchroom has been like that. But I don’t worry about that. Let’s see what happens.
“I have the power to take anyone out. If the knockout comes then great. But I’m focusing on the victory. I’ll listen to what Buddy McGirt (Whyte’s trainer) says.”
Although sold as both a rematch between rivals and a chance to settle a score, some may well argue that the settling of this particular score is not something anybody was necessarily screaming for. Not only that, with the news that the fight will cost a whopping £26.99 to watch on DAZN PPV (already a subscription service) in the UK, one wonders how the event will do both at the gate and in terms of pay-per-view buys.
The names involved remain significant and well known, especially in Great Britain. Yet whether that ultimately translates into people shelling out money to watch them renew their acquaintance is another thing entirely.
“This is a fight I still can’t believe is happening,” said Eddie Hearn, the promoter tasked with selling the fight to the masses. “This is a massive fight for the heavyweight division. Little more than seven years ago, these two came head-to-head. I saw a picture earlier and they are unrecognisable to where they are today. Some seven years on, two world heavyweight titles and a plethora of huge heavyweight fights between them in sold-out stadiums and all around the world, these two heavyweights collide in London once again. Victory in the amateurs (for Whyte) and victory in the pros (for Joshua). Some are calling this ‘The Decider’. I call it a must-win for two of Britain’s biggest heavyweights.”
When considering the other names linked with Joshua for this August date, Whyte, 29-3 (19), would appear not only the sensible option, but also the most appealing. Because clearly, when taking into account a UK audience, as well as pure entertainment value, this is a far better fight than any involving Joshua and Agit Kabayel, Jarrell Miller and Otto Wallin, all of whom were touted as potential Joshua opponents in recent weeks. Whether Whyte in the end has enough to make things competitive remains to be seen, but if he has anything at all left at this kind of level it is surely someone like Joshua, a rival he has never particularly liked, who will bring it out of him.
Similarly, Joshua, 25-3 (22), is someone who needs a statement victory following a pedestrian one against Jermaine Franklin – also Whyte’s last opponent – in April. That night, when afraid of another loss and therefore understandably reticent, Joshua cut an unusually pensive figure; someone who looked far removed from the heavyweight who, circa 2013, chopped Whyte down to size in round seven having been wobbled badly in the second. The hope now, of course, with Joshua once again in the company of his London rival, is that the mere sight of Whyte prowling in the opposite corner on August 12 will reignite something in the former world heavyweight champion his doubters believe was extinguished for good in back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk.