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

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

Fighting got him into trouble.

The fight game then saved him.

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

He used to beat up bullies for sandwiches. He was stabbed three times and shot twice in 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 became a father for the first time at 13, a year after arriving in Britain from Jamaica — where he was born into poverty and left to be raised by another family, at the age of 2, because his mother moved to London to seek a better life for her and her kids.

After turning to kickboxing, mixed martial arts and ultimately boxing to get away from 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 In 2019, another drug test came back positive for a banned steroid, though his suspension was later withdrawn after more tests showed the sample was contaminated.

Then came the years of frustration, since 2019, of being the mandatory challenger for the heavyweight belt without being given a title shot. He waited and waited, and was close to giving up hope.

No wonder, then, that it’s 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 boxing fight in Europe, according to those promoting the fight.

“Kids who come from where I was brought up don’t make it a lot of the time,” Whyte said in a video call.

“I’m showing people that no matter how bad your situation is, whatever happens to you in life, just persist. Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to no one who doesn’t bring positivity in your life, and let’s keep pushing. All I do is just grind and grind.”

And that’s what he’s been doing for the last couple of months, having decided to go to a base in Portugal for his training camp ahead of the Fury fight.

It’s warmer out there, sure, but Whyte said he needed to escape the life in London that got him into so much bother as a youngster.

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

It’s why Whyte has been missing while the loud and charismatic Fury has drummed up publicity for the fight as only he can.

Fury and his team have called out Whyte for his no-shows. Frank Warren, Fury’s UK promoter, called it a “disgrace.” The 33-year-old Fury said it was “fear, terror” on the part of Whyte while brushing it off “because Tyson Fury versus his own shadow sells.”

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

“It’s not the Tyson Fury Show,” Whyte said. “Everyone’s saying, ‘it’s Tyson Fury this, Tyson Fury that.’ If Tyson Fury was a big star, why did he never sell out any of his fights with Deontay Wilder?

“I don’t dance to no one’s tune … We can dance together. It’s hard to clap with one hand, you need two hands to clap.”

While Fury — the self-proclaimed “Gypsy King” — remains unbeaten 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, though he won a rematch against the Russian last year to become the mandatory for the WBC title once again.

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

Next it’s Fury, and they go back a long way. To 2012, in fact, when Whyte was a sparring partner for Fury ahead of the latter’s fight with Martin Rogan and again in 2013 in the buildup to Fury’s proposed fight with David Haye that never materialized.

Whyte recalls living and training “for months” with Fury and his team in a camp site in Warrington in northwest England.

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

Now they are at the same level, given that they are meeting in one of the biggest-ever fights on British soil.

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

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

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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