How ‘the Body Snatcher’ saw World Heavyweight Glory Slip through his Fingertips

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count”.

This iconic quote from the late, great, Muhammad Ali is one that we should all try to live by, especially during this global pandemic, which seen a lot of us just watch time fly by, without any real sense of progress being made.

For British heavyweight Dillian Whyte in particular, Ali’s wisdom rings especially true, with Whyte watching 1000 days begin and end, all whilst he was the WBC’s no.1 ranked contender and all without receiving a shot at the WBC Heavyweight title, at the time held by American Deontay Wilder.

In that time, Whyte remained active, risking his ranking in fights against elite-level fighters, such as Joseph Parker and Óscar Rivas. Whyte could have sat on his ranking, occasionally boxing the odd journeyman to maintain his fitness levels and simply waited for his opportunity. He chose not to.

In doing so, he has established a better résumé than most of boxing’s heavyweights and arguably on a par with those who actually hold the world championship belts. Dillian Whyte is the epitome of everything boxing fans want from their favourite performers. A fighting champion. Just without a belt worthy of his title.

Having defeated Derek Chisora on the judge’s scorecards in their first meeting, in one of the most exciting, straight-up brawls I have ever witnessed, Whyte could have left their rivalry there. But no. The fans wanted a rematch, so Whyte gave them a rematch. He then proceeded to knock out Chisora in convincing fashion.

By contrast, Wilder dodged fight after fight against legitimate contenders, instead preferring a rematch against a wildly unfit Bermane Stiverne, who quite clearly had just turned up to get his pay check. It is a travesty that Dominic Brezeale has received two world heavyweight championship matches before Whyte has even received one.

But that is just part and parcel of the politics in boxing.

The top promoters are aligned with rival platforms, which makes arranging fights between boxing’s best operators rather challenging. To put that into context, Top Rank is exclusive with ESPN, Premier Boxing Champions works with Fox Sports and Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions and Matchroom Sport both have deals with streaming service DAZN. It is quite the negotiating conundrum.

In addition, different promotion stables want their ‘top fighter’ to remain relevant, which means staying in the limelight provided by headlining events with a world title still around their waist, for this provides the best possible exposure to their brand.

It is no coincidence that Wilder elected to fight Tyson Fury as soon as possible after Fury’s near 3-year absence from the sport, where he went through numerous issues with his mental health, gaining weight and using drugs. Wilder’s team chose this fight over a unification fight with Anthony Joshua for all the world heavyweight belts.

The most logical explanation for such a choice is that Wilder’s promoters were aware that their fighter is frankly not all that great a boxer and is simply a power merchant. Heck, he was even outclassed by Artur Szpilka, before he knocked the Pole unconscious. Szpilka is by no means an elite fighter, showcased by his later loss to Derek Chisora, who is notorious for being ever so slightly below elite level himself.

However, even when fighters are represented by the same promotion stable, contract negotiations often prove to still be just as complex. After all, despite signing with Matchroom, Whyte has yet to receive fair terms for a rematch against Joshua, Eddie Hearn’s renowned golden boy. Everybody who follows boxing knows that particular fight would be a must-see event, with their first fight, back in 2015, remaining one of Joshua’s most challenging encounters to this day. Since then, Whyte has come on leaps and bounds, with the outcome of a potential rematch far less clear.

Part of this is due to Joshua’s career being meticulously managed, much like Floyd Mayweather managed to do with his own career, where he fights individuals either side of their boxing peak. However, most of it is down to the simple fact that, with boxing having four recognised championship titles at each weight division (five if you include the Ring Magazine belt and six if you consider the IBO a major title), mandatory fights sanctioned by boxing’s governing bodies take up the majority of the calendar, so matches such as Joshua v Whyte 2 often get left on the wayside.

With the athletic freak that is pound-for-pound no.1 Canelo Álvarez being set aside, most professional boxers tend to fight around two times a year. Therefore, if each of the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF enforced their world champion to fight a mandatory challenger, or faced being stripped of the title, that would be the world heavyweight championship picture set in stone for the best part of the next two years.

Two years in which boxing fans will likely not be given the fights that they crave for. Two years in which fights will oversell, yet underdeliver. Two years, well… pretty much wasted.

This is a ridiculous period of time, especially when it is considered that many of those selected as mandatory challengers are not even the no.1 ranked contender in the ranking provided by the very governing body who sanctioned their mandatory status.

It infuriates me how infrequently the best fight the best in boxing. What’s worse is the fact that the governing bodies do not even attempt to hide it anymore. Time and time again they make completely arbitrary decisions when handing out mandatory status to a fighter that, by very definition of their own rankings, they don’t think is the worthiest contender.

For Whyte, the theory was that if he kept on winning, he would eventually get his shot. 21 months into his 1000+ days as no.1 ranked contender for the WBC, it seemed as if he finally would, when he forced a world-title fight by winning a final eliminator against Óscar Rivas. Still though, it wasn’t enough.

An allegedly ‘adverse finding’ turned up in one of Whyte’s pre-fight drug tests and the WBC quickly suspended the mandatory status of ‘the Body Snatcher’, despite an ensuing six-month UK Anti-Doping investigation later clearing him completely of any wrongdoing. By that time, Whyte’s opportunity was gone.

A future knockout loss to Alexander Povetkin, courtesy of a sweet left uppercut that caught Whyte unsighted in a fight that he had been dominating, saw Whyte slip out of the world title picture that he had spent so long to remain in. His risky strategy of being a fighting non-champion finally caught up with him.

It is perhaps telling that Whyte was never suspended from boxing during UK Anti-Doping’s enquiry and the Rivas fight was allowed to go ahead despite the British Boxing Board of Control being aware of Whyte’s failed test three days before the bout.

Alas, despite his recent revenge against the Russian Povetkin, in a convincing knockout win, Whyte is likely to have to wait once more for his opportunity at world heavyweight glory.

Here’s hoping another 1000 days don’t have to pass before that finally happens.

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Luke Saward

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September 2021
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