It has been over two and a half years since Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte pressed the pause button on their heated rivalry.
The two British heavyweights went toe-to-toe, for pride as well as titles, inside London’s O2 Arena on December 12, 2015. The bitterness of the build-up carried on into the ring but in the end, the more polished Joshua proved too much for Whyte, stopping his emotionally charged opponent in the seventh round.
Since then, the pair have had 13 fights between them (Joshua 6, Whyte 7) with ‘AJ’ going on to be a boxing superstar selling out stadiums, winning world titles and becoming one of sports biggest global attractions.
It’s been a long and quiet journey on the road back for Dillian Whyte. The 30-year-old dusted himself down with wins over Ivica Bacurin, David Allen and became British champion against Ian Lewison.
The L plates were taken off again when he played his part in a 2016 Fight of the Year contender against Dereck Chisora. Momentum was building, confidence likewise, Whyte was on the up once again. Further wins against Robert Helenius and a dismantling of Lucas Browne have put him on the cusp of another world title shot.
On July 28, he risks all his hard work, sacrifices and lofty world ranking against former WBO Champion Joseph Parker.
“It’s about the risk. In life if you don’t take risks you don’t get anything,” Whyte told GiveMeSport.
“Anyone that’s successful in life, whoever they are wherever they are, have had to take a lot of risks and a lot of chances. It takes a lot of discipline and sacrifice.
"That’s why I signed with Matchroom (in May 2016). That was a risk because I know they had Joshua and Joshua’s the golden boy, but I knew that. It’s a process and I believe in it, and if I stick to it well enough, keep doing what I’m meant to be doing, keep winning the fights, then I’ll get there. And that’s what happened.
"I’ve always been a risk taker since I was a child, to be honest. That’s how I survived. I ended up where I am today. It’s another day in the life of Whyte.”
Another day in the life of Whyte takes the Jamaican-born Brit back to the capital’s premier boxing venue on a night where he headlines a pay-per-view show for the very first time.
Main Event Player
Whyte is no stranger to the big stage and has played his part on numerous occasions, but this time the ‘thousands in attendance’ will be out in their droves – a possible 20,000 sell-out – to see him and Parker, with the likes of former IBF Welterweight champion Kell Brook on the undercard.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Whyte reflected.
“I feel as though I’ve done enough to deserve it. I’ve fought everyone that’s been asked of me to fight. I feel good. Course it comes with added pressure… fighting anyway there’s pressure because you have to perform, but your first pay-per-view is a massive event. We’ve already smashed the first part of it which is making it a great event with the main event and undercard.”
Pressure and expectation is nothing new for Whyte, who is trained by Mark Tibbs. He's fought in front of crowds well beyond the norm, having been the villain on occasion – to now many fan’s favourite anti-hero – and he's headlined his own Saturday night fight night (against Lucas Browne).
Whyte has been through the mill and he’s come out the other side with a beaming smile and poses a danger to the heavyweight hierarchy.
With the talent comes the infectious heart on the sleeve personality. He’s had his share of feuds where atmospheres have reached boiling point, but with every year he understands more and more about boxing. Whyte is mellowing.
“Life is about progression and growth,” he added.
“If you’re not progressing, you’re not growing. So, then what’s the point? You can’t be in the same place today that you was last week. You have to change something. I’m obsessed with improving. As long as I’m progressing and improving then I’m happy.”
GiveMeSport asked Whyte what the differences were, if any, between the man and fighter that fought Joshua in December 2015 to the man and fighter he is now.
“My mindset has probably improved a bit," he answered. "Mentally I deal with things different or approach certain things differently.
"The desire is just as great as it was when I fought Joshua but I’m in better shape physically and mentally. I’m living a better life. I’m training properly. My training team is much more together.
"Last time when I fought Joshua I had started working with Jonathon Banks, following (Wladimir) Klitschko around. I never had enough time to prepare. You can’t really do that, so everything’s changed. My whole game is changed.”
Now he risks it all in a high-stakes clash against a man who took Joshua the distance, but not to the well, back in March. Joseph Parker will arrive in London as confident as he has ever been.
Parker told GiveMeSport that he will be more aggressive and will look to make a statement, hopefully knocking Whyte out. Dillian Whyte says he’s heard it all before and doubts we will see anything different from the Parker who went the distance in lacklustre fashion against Joshua and, prior to that, Hughie Fury.
“If he didn’t come to fight against Joshua, which is the biggest fight of his career, probably going to be the biggest fight ever of his career, what’s he going to change now?” said a defiant Whyte.
“He could have come back and had an easier fight, but he didn’t, I respect him for that. But Parker and his team, they just talking. They’re just trying to get me into a false sense of security where I expect them to come and trade, and then they come and try and out-box me and move on the outside, and then I fight different.
"I understand, I know how the game goes. I’ve been around it long enough now.
“Who knows. They might surprise us, and he might come out and go for it in the first couple of rounds. Don’t get me wrong I’m expecting him to have a go here and there but I don’t expect Parker to try and come and mix it with me in the centre of the ring, because if he does that he gets dropped early.”
And should Whyte do that you can expect the wheels to turn very quickly for a rematch between himself and Joshua next year.