Here we are again, haplessly and helplessly, returning to an abusive relationship. Countless degenerates, having sworn ‘never again,’ having scoffed at the threadbare undercard, still find themselves unable to resist the lure of another Tyson Fury event, for an event is surely what this was. After what can modestly be described as an atypical fight week, with more attention devoted to the business machinations of a man whose presence was strikingly absent, we finally arrive at the locus of months of hype, bustle and speculation.
To call the undercard lacklustre is to pay it a compliment, and at that, one most glaringly undeserved. More a platform to showcase friends and family, the empty seats in the arena bear testament to the indifference of the paying patrons. Tonight is for one purpose alone: the main event, and as that moment draws upon us – surprisingly punctually for a championship clash bearing the smudge of Frank Warren’s involvement – the arena fills to something more like the claimed 94,000.
With maximum eyes upon the centre of the arena, the screens above are filled by former Fury foe, Wladimir Klitschko, delivering an impassioned plea for support and awareness for the embattled and besieged Ukrainian populace and the upcoming sporting contest seems rightfully trivial by comparison. The now former champion demonstrates the same class we have come to expect from him as an athlete, and with the sobering moment complete, our attention is directed to the approaching showdown.
First; the challenger. Whyte emerges into the expectant crowd, throwing back his head and howling skyward as his ring-walk music plays, John Williams’ “Jaws” theme followed by AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” a duo of superb, rousing compositions, yet somehow both seem standard and predictable. The challenger takes his time, pausing once inside the ropes, a moment of silent meditation to focus himself on the challenge ahead. This done, Whyte in turn is made to wait.
Perhaps the wait is Tyson Fury’s way of repaying Whyte for his unwillingness to participate in the promotion and build-up for the fight. The champion emerges to a bristling atmosphere, throned and resplendent in ring finery depicting the Cross of Saint George. The skeptic in me might say it was a cynical attempt to stir national pride for this all-British title fight on the patron’s day, Fury’s homecoming in front of an apparently record-breaking crowd. It certainly didn’t hurt the reception the champion received, with nary a thought spared for when, in perhaps more certain times, Tyson Fury was vocal in spurning the soil of his birth, in favour of courting crowds in far-off lands.
As the champion begins his approach we hear strains of: “A long, long time ago…” and then it’s revealed that Don McLean himself has been recruited to serenade “The Gypsy King,” though as he stiffly croons via video-link, from a boxing ring someplace further afield. To this observer the spectacle conjured memories of Tom Jones, at gunpoint, serenading Marge Simpsons, but before McLean has time to finish the song we’re segued, via more contemporary, radio-friendly soft-rock, into “God Save The Queen,” the proper version too, not even the more credible Sex Pistols song of the same name, and it was evident that Tyson Fury was leaning heavily on the whole homecoming, “man-of-the-people” angle. By the time he finally reaches the ring the crowd seem suitably roused and eager, if nothing else. Quite the feat in itself, given how instantly forgettable everything up to this point had been.
As the two competitors disrobe it’s apparent the challenger’s time in self-imposed isolation has been well-spent; he looks in decent shape if nought else. Fury by comparison looks characteristically soft and malleable, but this being the norm for him, no cause for concern. The referee’s final instructions, a touch of the gloves, and moments later the bell ushers in Dillian’s moment of reckoning. For years he has complained of his perceived mistreatment at the hands of all and sundry. Never mind that his record lacks a defining win, or that he’s wrung every last drop of momentum out of the split-second he wobbled a pre-championship Anthony Joshua over six years ago. Overlook if you will that he shunned requests to face viable competition to validate his claims, or that he scoffed at proposed opponents based on their grasp of the English language. Disregard even that he was flat-lined a mere two fights prior, stretched like a corpse on a slab. Instead believe that this lead-footed plodder is a second-coming of Joe Frazier, a maelstrom of ferocity and intent, who will no longer be denied what is rightfully his.
He goes about this by emerging from his corner in a southpaw stance, showing that for whatever criticism you could ladle upon his performances under normal circumstances, he reserves the capacity to be worse. It isn’t long before the folly of his ways is recognised and corrected, and he reverts to orthodox. He’s better this way, though “better” is still plodding and unimaginative. He offers nothing Fury hasn’t dealt with before, the taller man wisely opting to keep the fight at a comfortable distance, aware that the only real chance Whyte has is to land one of the wild, wind-milling right hands that fires from such a distance only a blind man could fail to see it coming.
It’s quickly very apparent that a punch from the gods is the only thing that might shift the momentum in Whyte’s favour. By the fourth round he’s bleeding, and his mouth is slightly agape. It would be easy to sing the champion’s praises and, in fairness, he performs near-perfectly, but to exalt Tyson Fury without due contemplation is to flatter his opponent excessively. After being a conspicuous no-show throughout the build-up to the fight, Whyte demonstrates his commitment to that bold strategy by failing to show-up between the ropes. He loses every round until finally, in the sixth, it comes. Fury measures and delivers the kryptonite blow and a right uppercut separates Whyte from his senses and plants him heavily on the canvas. He rises, which in fairness is more than many in that moment would have managed, and the referee hesitates before waving the fight off as Whyte stumbles in a manner leaving no doubt as to his ineligibility to continue.
It’s over. Years of griping, months of silence, and finally any pretence is dispelled. Whyte sold the lie and sold it well; credit where it’s due for a man some £8 million wealthier than I. Turns out that for all the sound and fury before he faced Tyson Fury, in the end all Dillian delivered was Whyte noise. — Nelson Wills
Photos by Jeff Lockhart.