Aside from being a combat sport, boxing is about entertainment too. Bad blood and trash talk sell fights, even if the animosity isn’t genuine. Fabricated narratives and heightened rivalries are quite common, because there aren’t many other ways to sell tickets and make substantial money. For that reason, it can be quite hard to tell which rivalries are born out of genuine hatred, and which are just well-constructed PR spin. Make no mistake, however, Joshua vs. Whyte is not the latter. Dillian Whyte feels an untameable hatred towards Anthony Joshua – whether the cameras are rolling or not.
Following the end of the Bad Intentions press conference, I was told there would be a two-minute break before the head-to-heads and interviews were due to take place, in which I made my trip to the men’s bathroom. Just as I was drying my hands and preparing to re-enter the chaos, Dillian Whyte emerged through the door. “I can’t wait for Saturday now,” he grunted as I grinned. “I can’t believe he actually said something today. He’s getting knocked out.” He continued, before I headed out to take my place amidst the mayhem.
For the next hour or so of interviews, he continued the verbal assault, and things began to get pretty personal. “He must be snorting the stuff he was selling!” Whyte exclaimed, obviously still in shock after Joshua surprisingly repeatedly taunted him earlier on. Not only did Whyte make reference to Joshua’s criminal past, he also took aim at the fact his opponent has gained in excess of 20lbs of muscle mass in under three years – implying there had been use of some form of banned substance.
It isn’t about selling tickets for Dillian Whyte – he genuinely wants to put Anthony Joshua to sleep and genuinely hates his guts. This isn’t anything like Tyson Fury jibing, taunting and occasionally serenading Wladimir Klitschko as part of a plan to gain publicity and psychological advantage. There will be no handshakes, no respectful remarks and no remorse following Saturday night, which is why I worry.
Ask any elite-level sportsman, and they’ll tell you how important it is not to get distracted by emotion. Arousal levels need to be at an optimum in order for an athlete to perform at their highest level, and if you take emotion into the ring, you risk leaving your game plan back in the dressing room. Dillian Whyte has to leave all the anger, animosity and hatred behind. He cannot let overwhelming emotion derail the execution of the tactics himself and Johnathon Banks have undoubtedly worked on.
If he goes into the ring seeking the emotion-fuelled street-fight he has frequently asked Joshua for, he might not make it back to his stool after the first round. The pedigree of fighters Joshua has fought to this point count for little – he is an animal. If Whyte charges out recklessly seeking blood, he could find himself being the victim of a devastating right hand (ask Raphael Zumbano Love, it’s a killer).
If both fighters do leave their baggage at the door, however, we could be in for one of the most exciting, gruelling fights in British heavyweight boxing history. Come Saturday, all talk will be over. It’ll be two men, two pairs of gloves and one square-circle. Here’s hoping Dillian can channel his hatred and turn this fight into a real 50/50, between two probable future world champions in the sport’s marquee division. Who knows? We may even see a handshake when all is over and done with.