‘I was a thug’: Whyte’s wild ride to the heavyweight title

FILE - Britain's Dillian Whyte celebrates his victory over Mariusz Wach of Poland in a heavyweight boxing match at the Diriyah Arena, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, December 7, 2019. The journey of Whyte towards a long-awaited shot at the world heavyweight title has followed a well-worn path for boxers, from a grim existence on the streets to salvation in the ring.  (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

FILE – Britain’s Dillian Whyte celebrates his victory over Mariusz Wach of Poland in a heavyweight boxing match at the Diriyah Arena, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, December 7, 2019. The journey of Whyte towards a long-awaited shot at the world heavyweight title has followed a well-worn path for boxers, from a grim existence on the streets to salvation in the ring. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

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Dillian Whyte’s journey to a long-awaited shot at the world heavyweight title followed a well-worn path for boxers, from survival in the streets to salvation in the ring.

The fighting got him in trouble.

The fighting game then saved him.

“I was a thug,” Whyte, 34, says bluntly of his wild teenage years.

He used to beat up bullies for sandwiches. He was stabbed three times and shot twice during gang wars in London. He spent time in jail.

“I’m a guy who as a kid had no future, no education, no family,” Whyte continues. “I’m a survivor.”

And there’s so much more to Whyte’s story.

He first became a father aged 13, a year after arriving in Britain from Jamaica – where he was born into poverty and brought up by another family, aged 2, because her mother moved to London to seek a better life for her and her children.

After turning to kickboxing, mixed martial arts and eventually boxing to escape a life of crime, he was suspended for two years in 2012 for testing positive for a banned stimulant. In 2019, another drug test came back positive for a banned steroid, although his suspension was later withdrawn after further tests showed the sample to be contaminated.

Then came the years of frustration, since 2019, of being the mandatory challenger for the heavyweight belt without being entitled to the title. He waited and waited, and was about to give up hope.

No wonder, then, that it is with a sense of pride that Whyte heads into the April 23 fight with Tyson Fury at Wembley Stadium, where there will be around 94,000 spectators – the biggest capacity ever for a fight boxing in Europe, according to those promoting the fight.

“Kids that come from where I was raised don’t often,” Whyte said in a video call.

“I show people that no matter how bad your situation is, no matter what happens to you in life, persist. Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to anyone who isn’t bringing positivity into your life, and keep pushing. All I do is grind and grind.

And that’s what he’s been doing for a few months, having decided to go to a base in Portugal for his training camp before the fight against Fury.

It’s warmer there, of course, but Whyte said he needed to escape the life in London that gave him so much trouble as a youngster.

“I needed to go somewhere where I could focus on my boxing and not get distracted and potentially get drawn back into things,” he said.

That’s why Whyte disappeared while the loud and charismatic Fury publicized the fight like only he can.

Fury and his team called out Whyte for his no-shows. Frank Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, called it a “shame”. Fury, 33, said it was “fear, terror” on Whyte’s part while dismissing him “because Tyson Fury against his own shadow sells”.

Whyte, however, insists his presence in the all-British fight is as important as that of Fury, who returns after fighting in the United States since late 2018 – recently completing an entertaining trilogy with Deontay Wilder.

“It’s not the Tyson Fury Show,” Whyte said. “Everyone says, ‘It’s Tyson Fury this, Tyson Fury that.’ If Tyson Fury was a big star, why didn’t he ever sell any of his fights with Deontay Wilder?

“I don’t dance to anyone’s tune… We can dance together. It’s hard to clap with one hand, it takes two hands to clap.

While Fury – the self-proclaimed “Gypsy King” – remains undefeated in 32 fights as a professional, Whyte has lost two of his 30 fights. They were against Anthony Joshua in 2015 and Alexander Povetkin in 2020, although he won a rematch against the Russian last year to become the WBC title mandatory again.

The other big win of Whyte’s career came against Joseph Parker in London in 2018.

Next up is Fury, and they go way back. Until 2012, in fact, when Whyte was a sparring partner for Fury prior to the latter’s fight with Martin Rogan and again in 2013 in the build-up to Fury’s proposed fight with David Haye which never materialized. .

Whyte remembers living and training “for months” with Fury and his team at a campsite in Warrington, in the northwest of England.

“He needed the help of strong guys to bring him up to level,” said Whyte, who at 6-foot-4 is still several inches shorter than Fury.

Now they are on the same level, given that they meet in one of the biggest fights ever staged on British soil.

Somehow, Whyte got there and will pocket almost $8 million – 20% of the purse bid – for the privilege.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Whyte said.

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