Dillian Whyte was advised to never fight again as he laid in a hospital bed after his brittle body finally shattered following a brutal battle with Anthony Joshua.
With his shattered hand in a cast, Whyte had been determined to fight on earlier that year and tried to avoid a face-to-face meeting with promoter Eddie Hearn, who was eager to secure a September showdown against Joshua.
When the Matchroom Boxing boss eventually met Whyte in a Brixton pub, he cursed loudly at the sight of the south Londoner’s left fist, but negotiations for a big domestic clash would only be delayed by a matter of months.
“I’m quite tough, probably a bit stupid as well,” Whyte told Sky Sports. “It’s still my mindset now to be honest. As soon as the cast came off, I went back to training. I had some 20 ounce gloves, I just started using them and then I went straight back to training.”
The Brixton man had bludgeoned his way up the rankings, relying more on brute force and raw power, rather than refined skills, and placed further strain on his creaking joints in a high-profile warm-up fight for his inevitable showdown with Joshua.
Brian Minto posed few problems to Whyte, who had hoped for a more physically imposing foe, but his eagerness to impress, while sharing the same O2 bill as Joshua, would aggravate a serious underlying injury.
“I thought it was maybe a bit of stiffness and stuff in my shoulder. I’m not somebody to really complain. I just get on with it,” said Whyte, who quickly broke Minto’s resolve with clubbing punches in the third round.
“I wish I had got it sorted back then. It ended up setting me back a long time – and I ended up heading towards my first defeat as well.”
Whyte begrudgingly made his first ever visit to a physio, and after struggling to manoeuvre his left arm behind him, was swiftly referred to an orthopaedic consultant.
Trainer Chris Okoh had been absent from Whyte’s corner since April, having been left seriously hurt in a hit-and-run incident, and American Johnathon Banks would oversee his preparations.
Banks, the cornerman in the latter stages of Wladimir Klitschko’s career, would unknowingly worsen Whyte’s physical decline as he was urged to become overly reliant on his injured left arm, while training sessions had to be fitted around the Ukrainian world champion’s schedule.
In spite of his impaired punch power, Whyte ploughed ahead with the Joshua fight, a reunion of feuding Londoners who had met before in the unpaid ranks. Whyte had floored and defeated Joshua on points in his first-ever amateur bout, and the demeanour of the Olympic champion darkened whenever he shared the stage with his adversary.
Cortisone injections, an accepted medical procedure in boxing, were needed to numb the pain in Whyte’s shoulder in the days ahead of the fight, and news of his opponent’s injury reached the ears of Joshua’s camp.
“They knew about my shoulder. Even in the press conference, he kept on saying to me: ‘Make sure your shoulder is alright. If you need a good physio, I will get one for you’.”
An enraged Whyte demanded a ‘straightener’ with Joshua after their fight on December 12 and had long since dismissed any suggestion that he should not renew hostilities with his fellow Londoner.
This stubborn desire for battle was so nearly rewarded.
In the midst of a wild brawl, with incensed entourages even entering the ring, Whyte picked his moment in the second round, uncorking a left hook that sent shock waves through Joshua, but he was unable to deliver a fight-ending punch.
“I was like, ‘Listen, it’s my opportunity. All I’ve got to do is – get the left hook off and that will be enough’, because Joshua when he attacks, he leaves his right side open all the time. But obviously the shoulder was so bad.
“I actually did land the punch I wanted to land, but when I landed it, my whole AC joint shattered. The pain was intense. My adrenaline was pumping, so I was just trying to keep it in, but the pain was crazy man. Every time I was jabbing or hitting him, it felt like the bone rubbing on bone and there was no power, no snap in the joint anymore.”
An exhausted Whyte, who had never fought longer than four rounds, wilted by the ropes in the seventh, with the referee swiftly signalling a stoppage. The fight was over, and he was later advised that his boxing career had also concluded.
He had been advised that surgery was necessary, even before the fight, and the ensuing operation revealed a series of issues as bones were shaved down to reconstruct his shoulder joint, which had also been severely hampered by arthritis.
Sitting in a hospital ward, Whyte produced a defiant smile as he posed for a picture that was released on social media, a few days after the fight, but behind the grin, he feared for his future.
“I thought to myself my career was finished,” said Whyte, who was informed that he would not regain the strength in his shoulder for two years, if ever.
Looks like surgery has been successful. Big thank you to Dr Jon Houghton and surgeon Livio Di Mascio. Thanks to all for your support & wishes. I will be back stronger next year #TEAMBODYSNATCHER #HEADACHEMAKER #
A post shared by Dillian Whyte (@dillianwhyte) on
“I’m not going to lie to you. It took me about a year before I really started to get that confidence and self-belief back.
“I’d just suffered my first defeat as well, my shoulder was shattered. But I thought, at least I fought for the British title. I gave it a run, I had 16 fights, or whatever it was. At least I gave it a try.”
But the loss of his unbeaten record instilled fresh motivation as Whyte sought advice on rehabilitation and strength and conditioning to rebuild his broken physique. He also learned to restrain his all-out aggression under the tutelage of new trainer Mark Tibbs, having tweaked his troublesome shoulder in a comeback win over Ivica Bacurin.
Whyte preferred to use new-found ring craft in commanding victories over David Allen and Ian Lewison, although a hard-fought points win over Derek Chisora proved that he could withstand a punishing encounter for 12 rounds.
An explosive showdown with Lucas Browne would finally signal the end of his lengthy rehabilitation following stringent training sessions at Loughborough University.
Whyte stormed out for the sixth round and gave a reminder of his concussive power.
Two years ago today @DillianWhyte landed THAT left hook on Lucas Browne 😱
Can you think of many better heavyweight KOs in recent years? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/mkKqL9o8rh
“Against Browne, I had the training camp, and we did loads of shoulder mobility. I wasn’t getting so much pain in it anymore.
“I just got so much more confidence. All I need to do is, set this guy up, get the timing right, and I’m going to put this guy to sleep.”
Browne toppled face first on the canvas. Whyte was back. Joseph Parker and Chisora were both blasted to the canvas by left hooks as Whyte continued his charge towards a world title.
Alexander Povetkin, a fearsome puncher himself, is next in line for Whyte at Manchester Arena on July 4, live on Sky Sports Box Office, as he works towards a WBC mandatory title fight on February 2021.
But what about that Joshua fight? A chance for a rejuvenated Whyte to gain revenge?
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