If Dillian Whyte fights like he talks then Anthony Joshua has been forewarned: there will be plenty of low-handed potshots scudding violently towards him on Saturday night.
At the final press conference before their sellout British and Commonwealth heavyweight title bout, Whyte claimed his rival was “a fraud” and “a robot”, and then followed it up with two wild and untrue allegations – not only claiming that Joshua took performance-enhancing steroids but that he sold drugs, bought with part of his national lottery funding when he was an amateur.
Joshua took it all in his stride, and matched Whyte blow for verbal blow through several spiky exchanges. Typically Whyte probed for openings while Joshua took the higher ground, treating his opponent like a minor irritant. To wit:
Whyte: “After the fight it’s not going to be the end of it. I’m going to find you and we are going to have a street brawl.”
Joshua: “Just compose yourself.”
Whyte: “That’s the problem with you. You are fraud, you are not this nice guy, you are scum. I’m more of a warrior than you are.”
A smile from Joshua. If Whyte was such a warrior, he asked, then why had he pulled out of a proposed fight in September?
“What am I going to do, fight with a broken hand?” sneered Whyte.
“You talk a good game, then you come up with excuses,” came the stinging retort. Back and forth it went, both unbeaten fighters always wanting the last word. Then, when they were asked whether they were 100% physically fit, Whyte suggested Joshua’s heart needed testing and then claimed that his rival was “loaded-up” on steroids.
Joshua’s riposte was swift: “You got a two-year ban.”
The audience laughed. They knew that Whyte was banned from October 2012 until October 2014 for unknowingly taking a banned stimulant in a nutritional supplement called Jack3D, which was later removed from British shelves. But he kept pressing, with another wild allegation. “You were on the GB squad getting paid and getting your money out to sell drugs,” he told Joshua.
As Joshua told us later, Whyte had got his facts wrong. “With the drug dealing – my charge was possession, not with intent to supply,” he said. “There’s a difference there. Talking about steroids – I class that as a compliment for all the training I’ve been doing over the years.”
Joshua then got to the heart of the matter. “I think he’s probably just doing anything to assassinate my character,” he said. “That’s all. That’s good. Boxing is physical and it’s a mind game as well. He’s really trying to dig up my mind before we get into the ring.”
And if it also helps sell a few more tickets on Joshua’s first headline pay-per-view fight he will happily brush off the attempted slurs on his character.
There is an added kick to Saturday’s fight at the O2 because the pair are old rivals, with Whyte having beaten Joshua in the amateurs in 2009. Back then they were novices, with Joshua only having his third amateur fight and Whyte his first, although he had been a kickboxing champion for many years.
As Joshua, 26, explained: “I brought some people with me because my first two fights had been knockouts, and when I first started boxing I thought I was the man. But then I fought Dillian, who was very experienced. He had the ring generalship of a kickboxer. We fought, he knocked me down, but my heart had the courage to pick myself up and fight on until the final bell. It gave me the realisation that I had to step up my game.”
Unsurprisingly, Joshua says that what happened six years ago will have now bearing on Saturday’s fight. “I was a raw novice,” he said. “I had only trained for six months. I was on a tag at the time so couldn’t even train full time, I had to leave the gym early at 7.30pm to be back for 8pm. OK, I made some mistakes, but I had the courage to get up and fight on. So I added some arsenal to my game, and built myself up, and that’s why I am here now.”
However Whyte, 27, still sees many of the old flaws in Joshua. “I can’t wait to smash this robot to pieces,” he said. “I grew up around big brothers, and most big guys crumble under pressure. He’s made a mistake taking this fight. I’m not old, I’ve got ambition. I’m undefeated. I believe I can be a world champion and I am going to do what I do naturally, which is to fight.”
Towards the end, Joshua and Whyte were supposed to toss a coin to see who came out last. But as the MC Michael Buffer moved into position, Joshua said he was happy to let his opponent choose. It was a rare moment of peace. It did not last. And when asked for his fight prediction, Joshua was emphatic. “He’s just another fighter,” he sniffed. “My heart don’t beat no fear for him. I’ve trained for a 12-round fight, but I think it will go three or four rounds.” Whyte rolled his eyes. It will surely be spicy and intriguing – however long it lasts.
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