JThe long build-up 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, has been eerily quiet and even uncertain for months. An all-British showdown between the outspoken Fury and Whyte, who is such a raw and choppy 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 rival camps.
Then, last Wednesday, there was a dramatic and explosive twist when the US Treasury confirmed it had imposed sanctions on Daniel Kinahan – the controversial Irishman who has long been a friend and adviser to Fury.
Kinahan, who has been under investigation by Irish police for years over his alleged role as a leader 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 come out of hiding with increasing frequency over the past year. His obvious desire to clean up his reputation by becoming the most powerful man in boxing emboldened him. There have been numerous social media posts of Kinahan smiling happily alongside some of the many fighters he advises, including Fury again earlier this year.
But his unsettling confidence ran into an almighty obstacle. The US government has stressed that it is a priority for President Biden and his law enforcement to bring the full weight of their considerable powers to bear against the Kinahan cartel which a US state spokesperson likened to mafia groups in Italy, Japan and Russia. A $5 million reward has been offered to anyone who can help arrest Kinahan, his father, brother and their closest aides.
Suddenly, speculation about the reasons for Whyte’s silence and his apparent refusal to attend a previous press conference, and whether the fight might even be called off, seems very weak. Even a world heavyweight title extravaganza seems redundant when the attention surrounding it is led by the US government emphasizing its determination to quell “a murderous organization”, international money laundering and the “deadly narcotics” that leave havoc in their wake. The Americans also issued blunt warnings that everyone in boxing should sever all ties with Kinahan.
A day after those extraordinary announcements, Fury and Whyte finally appeared on a Zoom conference call in front of a hundred reporters from America, Britain and Ireland. Of course, it was designed so that the only journalists invited to ask Fury questions were those who intended to exchange carefree greetings with him or ask him questions about his golf swing, his faith or what what it would be like to fight on St. George’s Day. Kinahan’s name hasn’t been 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 have chosen not to trade duplicity or sanitization when describing what is likely to happen when they face each other in the ring. Neither Whyte nor Fury attempted to disguise heavyweight brutality as flowery clichés about noble art or sweet science. They didn’t discuss the complex psychology or the rigorous discipline of boxing. Both the challenger and champion spoke of violent mayhem and their apparent taste for danger and injury.
“Listen,” Whyte said. “I know what I am and I know what I bring. I have a lot of pain and frustration to face someone and it looks like it will be Tyson Fury. So let’s go.” He then added, “You know me. I come with maximum violence. I’m ready for that. Fury was more pleasant. fight,” he suggested. “They’re going to go out, go on vacation, take time with their families, but not me. I like to enjoy every second in this ring. if it’s a 12 round fight it’s about 10 minutes I’d like them to fight for a full day like a full day fight That would be more my style I would appreciate I just like 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 will understand. Other people would think, “That’s something a madman would say. But I’m really happy when I’m in the boxing ring, getting punched in the face, and after coming off the canvas or after a big dramatic finish, it’s all a lot of fun for me. I’m really looking forward to all of this.
“For me, it’s not like, ‘Ooooh, I’m going to the guillotine before a fight.’ It’s like, ‘Shit! I’m going to be on TV!’ It’s amazing. I’m so happy to be paid for a job that I love to do. Whyte has been written off by many but he has overcome great turmoil, deprivation and violence in his life. Last year, describing how he nearly starved to death in Jamaica as a boy, fathered a child when he was just 13, and was shot and stabbed in London, Whyte told me, “I was born in a storm. Adversity is the story of my life. He won’t fear Fury and, rather, he’ll likely 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 recovery powers and he remains undefeated and the dominant force in heavyweight boxing. One day, the diminishing impact of these hard knocks will become evident. But the Gypsy King is convinced he operates at a far higher level of skill and power than Whyte – who insists “I’m used to being the underdog. I’m used to climbing hills and mountains and wrestling. But I persist and keep pushing and burning, man, because that’s all I’ve ever done. I just grind and grind and grind.
Blaming his absence from prior promotional duties on unresolved contract disputes, Whyte said he was now ready to play his full part in fight week: “People forget it takes two hands to clap. This is not the Tyson Fury show. Everyone says, “Tyson Fury this, Tyson Fury that.” But this is the Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte show. We go into this fight together so everything has to be done right. I’m a warrior, I’m a survivor, so I’m not dancing for anyone. We can dance together but it can’t be one-way.
The sad truth for boxing is that despite both fighters’ aptitude for brutal drama, it won’t just be the Fury and Whyte Show. Whatever happens in the ring at a hectic and roaring Wembley late next Saturday night, the real battle for boxing’s sick soul will be decided elsewhere. A more serious confrontation awaits between US law enforcement and the reviled Kinahan Cartel. A knockout win for the Americans would be the sweetest result for boxing’s battered old business.