When the match-up between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte was announced, boxing fans – not just from the UK but around the world – were licking their lips in anticipation of a bout that had all the ingredients to become an all-time classic.
No, it wasn’t Fury vs Anthony Joshua, or even Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk – but at least we’d get a blockbuster build-up between two British loudmouths who would put on a show both in and outside of the ring.
Or so we thought. Instead, I sit here, thinking: ‘Is it really less than two weeks until one of the biggest British bouts in recent memory? Until Fury’s long-awaited UK homecoming?’ Perhaps that’s just me.
Tyson Fury (left) and Dillian Whyte are set to go head-to-head at Wembley Stadium on April 23
That’s not to say there isn’t immense excitement ahead of the all-British clash; a record-breaking 94,000 fans will cram into Wembley Stadium to see the heavyweight duo do battle on April 23.
But, undeniably, a fight for the ages has certainly been marred by several ugly disputes between the two camps – some behind the scenes, others not – alongside a rather disappointing press conference no-show and a lacklustre build-up.
Yet, as it so often is the case with born showman Fury, all will be forgotten come fight night, when the heavyweight landscape, as it has done so frequently over the last few years, could drastically shift once more.
It’s those drastic landscape shifts that have led us to this moment. It was just over a year ago that Fury and Joshua agreed to a two-fight deal that would see a first undisputed heavyweight champion crowned since Lennox Lewis in 1999.
Those plans were derailed as Fury was forced into a third and final clash against Deontay Wilder – which he ended conclusively – while Joshua, refusing to relinquish his WBO belt, took on Ukrainian mastermind Usyk, who dazzled his way to a unanimous decision win.
In instantly triggering his contractually-agreed rematch clause, the immediate future became clear: Joshua would fight Usyk once more, while Whyte – after over 1,000 days of waiting, albeit needing to recover after that Alexander Povetkin blip – would finally get his shot.
Perhaps clear isn’t the right word; negotiations were underway between all parties that would have seen Joshua and Whyte step aside, with Fury and Usyk instead going head-to-head.
Those broke down at the final hour, leaving the Fury camp enraged – though their ill-feeling was eased as promoter Frank Warren shelled out a record £30.6million to win the purse bids to stage the fight against Whyte, with Eddie Hearn offering £24m.
Talks for an undisputed clash between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk broke down at the last hour
Usyk and Anthony Joshua are set to fight in their eagerly-anticipated rematch this summer
That ill-feeling quickly returned, though, after Whyte left it right until the last minute to sign his contract and finally confirm the bout – having been left furious by the 80/20 financial split in his opponent’s favour.
‘Oh my god Dillian Whyte has signed his contract for $8m,’ a sarcastic Fury said in response. ‘What a surprise. An absolute idiot. Should this even be a talking point? The man signed for the biggest payday he’s ever going to get in his life.’
Full steam ahead, then, you’d think. Get the promotion campaigns underway, get Fury and Whyte face-to-face, let the public know that the two fighters – who both insist they battered the other in sparring in their early careers – share a genuine dislike.
Perhaps not. Fury swiftly announced his decision to undertake a social media ‘blackout’, intending on speaking only at the impending conference – and of course during fight week.
But returning to the public eye for their March presser, Fury was left promoting the fight alone, as Whyte – who won’t be receiving a portion of the pay-per-view sales – opted against participating.
Mind games? Bitterness? Whatever it was, certainly for the fans, it was a shame.
Yes, Whyte is working away in Portugal, while Fury is putting everything into his Morecambe camp in preparation for what we hope will be a fantastic fight – but the British blockbuster the fans have been craving for years, as of yet, just doesn’t feel like one.
Fury was left to promote the fight alone with Whyte failing to show up for the press conference
Whyte’s absence – and subsequent refusal to engage – has left promoter Frank Warren furious
In fact, the fans, fellow boxers and pundits alike were left dismayed – and ultimately, angered – after it emerged that serial drugs cheat Jarrell Miller, who is set to return following his two-year ban, has flown over to the UK to become Fury’s latest sparring partner.
And all the while, the ill-feeling between the two camps remains. Warren and Whyte’s lawyer Jeffrey Benz clashed live on talkSPORT late in March, with both insisting agreements had been breached.
Benz believed Whyte’s fight purse should have been put into escrow, also insisting his fighter hadn’t been given any tickets for his family. Warren insisted the escrow demand depended on Whyte fulfilling his contractually-agreed promotional duties and branded the American a ‘liar’.
Warren, 70, has since slammed Whyte once again for failing to fulfil his contractual duties, while revealing they have a replacement opponent at the ready amid fears the Brixton fighter could pull out at the last minute.
‘The bottom of line of all of it is he [Whyte] signed a contract,’ he told SecondsOut. ‘That contract is full of what his obligations are – and by the way what our obligations are. We’ve fulfilled every one of our obligations.
‘All he keeps doing is going off centre, off course, coming up with other stuff that’s not in the contract.
‘All I want Dillian Whyte is what is in the contract. Nothing more, nothing less. And up to now, he has not done that. He’s in breach. He’s not done that.’
Warren has repeatedly insisted Whyte is not partaking in his contractually-agreed duties
Whyte’s promoter Eddie Hearn has insisted he’s ‘so glad’ he has not been involved in the fight
Hearn, meanwhile, has been somewhat of a spectator throughout, insisting he’s ‘so glad’ he’s not been involved due to the amount of problems going on behind the scenes.
Now, this all sounds rather negative. But, while there’s promise of an increased build-up after Fury broke his social media silence to state ‘Dillian Whyte is getting knocked the f*** out’, it’s also important to recognise what a brilliant fight this is.
Fury, as you’d expect, comes in as the overwhelming favourite, but Whyte can’t be entirely ruled out.
His knockout defeat by Povetkin is forgivable; he was caught with a stunning shot that would have stopped most heavyweights in the division – and he avenged the loss in clinical fashion just five months later.
Whyte’s only other defeat came against Joshua, who he hurt badly, all the way back in 2015. He’s strong, durable and has a thumping left-hook that anyone in the division should be fearful of.
Whyte avenged his loss to Alexander Povetkin with a stunning stoppage win in March last year
A fight against Fury at a sold out Wembley will almost certainly be an enthralling watch
But, the Briton is perhaps tailor-made for Fury, who is taller, quicker on his feet, has a seemingly unrelenting engine and – since partnering up with trainer SugarHill Steward – genuine knockout power of his own.
You would be foolish to predict anything other than a Fury win, but you’d also be foolish to simply dismiss Whyte. And, perhaps, you’d be foolish to think it will be anything other than a highly entertaining scrap.
And, should that prove to be the case, it’s the action inside the ring that will be remembered. The contractual disputes, the press conference no-show, the bickering between the teams, they’ll all be forgotten in a flash.
Instead, the 94,000 crowd fortunate enough to be in attendance on April 23 will, hopefully, have witnessed a true classic in British boxing – in what Fury maintains will be his last-ever outing.