About 90 minutes after knocking out Derek Chisora in the 11 round of their rematch, Dillian Whyte walked unassumingly into a hotel bar a stone’s throw from The O2 Arena that he’d helped ignite.
At first, wearing a cap and big coat, with head slightly bowed, he went unnoticed. But quickly a murmur spread and he was asked for photos and engaged in conversation. He obliged, no braggadocio. In fact, he kept saying “thank you,” in hushed and humble tones - to the fans and media people socialising and unwinding after a pulsating clash. He seemed fresher than most assembled and we’d just been watching!
A few had had a few so what would normally be whispers of, "wow, he doesn’t look like he’s been touched, no swelling,” were audible across the room.
He walked past me and said, “thanks for everything you’ve done this year.” I took this as a reference to me attempting to draw people’s attention to the Body Snatcher’s extraordinary story of disadvantage, resilience, redemption and achievement. The toddler left by his mother at two years old in Jamaica. The boy who came to South London, became a father at 13, was shot and stabbed before finding salvation in first kickboxing then boxing.
The novice boxer whose career was suspended after a banned substance was found in his system. The fighter who rattled his teenage nemesis Anthony Joshua at British level, but found himself on the canvas. He was out in the cold in career terms three years ago.
Now, a 30-year-old man on the cusp of world title tilts in 2019 after rebuilding with nine straight wins from that shuddering loss at the The 02 in December 2015.
Billed the brawl to settle it all, Dillian Whyte’s flashing and thunderous left hook that left Derek Chisora prone on the canvas settled many things. The beef between Brixton’s Whyte and Finchley’s Chisora, settled. They sat and talked together backstage.
Any dispute over who’s the premier contender to the heavyweight division’s towering top three of Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, settled. Whyte’s at the front of the queue.
Following on the back of big wins against Lucas Browne and Joseph Parker it capped an impressive 2018.
The nature of the performance settled too any debate over Whyte’s class and skillset. The 2016 match in Manchester was an epic encounter, but somewhat of a slug fest. Both men shipped so many shots in an unrefined battle. But no so Saturday night. It was refined and designed from Whyte.
Some ringside wondered what Whyte was doing in the first round when he clearly hurt Chisora, but declined to follow up and chase an early finish. Whyte’s most bitter rival, Joshua was commentating ringside for Sky and pondered aloud whether Chisora might make the younger man pay.
He nearly did. Despite two points deductions and the cleaner work seemingly coming from Whyte, two of the three judges ringside had Chisora up by a point at the time of the stoppage - the other, Whyte leading by one. It’s not wild to suggest another contentious and complicating draw might have been in the offing had it gone the distance.
If it had, Whyte may have been criticised for choosing to box at range. To move. To jab. To not engage in the same blood and thunder of the first fight. In contrast to the marauding Chisora, who marched forward relentlessly swinging hooks to the body, Whyte seemed cooly detached at times, keeping his powder a little too dry.
Chisora, who turns 35 December 29, looked to have reaped the rewards of the nutritional and fitness plan implemented by his former, foe turned manager David Haye. The body was muscled and glistened under the lights in a way we hadn’t seen before in his 12-year career. Chisora keen to capitalise on his shot at the big time that came about because of a spectacular knockout in the same arena July 28 against Carlos Takam.
But then that left hook.The punch that rocked Joshua to his boots in 2015. The punch that became the first to floor Joseph Parker in a professional ring. This time delivered with even more speed and devilish sauce to take Chisora’s chance away in a flash.
Chisora and his trainer, Don Charles knew about the left hook. Had trained to avoid it. But with fatigue setting in, he left himself open. Whyte said afterwards he deliberately avoided throwing the punch early to maximise its effect - it worked.
A ninth loss for Chisora. Is that his career settled? That remains to be seen. But the settling of the bad blood that began in a bruising spar many years ago, was a heartwarming boost to boxing. And why not a burying of the hatchet? They have more in common than most. Chisora was born overseas too (Zimbabwe) and could have been lost to the north London gang scene had it not been for the sport.
Surely it’s a night that settled the debate about whether heavyweight boxing is truly back?
The division has depth and a profile. A crowd of almost WWE-like personalities, plots and subplots. Wilder, Fury, Joshua, Whyte and behind them a pack jostling to go from support cast to A-listers.
Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller had flown over from the States and cut a dashing figure in his fancy jacket. He wants a big fight against a Brit next. And even those players who’ve called time on their careers, like David Haye and Tony Bellew, added to the sense that the big man division has a bigger cultural presence that at any time in 25 years.
Joshua’s still the lead act - the people’s hero. Wherever he strode around the arena attention shifted away from the ring and to him. He stole the show a touch post fight, taking the mic - literally - from a frustrated Dillian Whyte and commanding affairs like a polished MC. He said Dillian and he will dance again in April, but only if Deontay Wilder turns him down. So many stories to be written and matches to be made it 2019.
The next tier has well known names too. Carlos Takam turned 38 earlier this month, but rebounded from his shuddering loss to Chisora to stop the game Senad Gashi to reassert himself in a gatekeeping role. David Price, the giant Olympic medalist showed some of the old spark by stopping his friend Tom ‘Not So’ Little. With six losses on his resume and a concerning vulnerability, Price may never dine at the top table of heavyweight boxing, but he adds to the support cast with his size and CV.
The most clinical performance of the night came from Joshua Buatsi who moved to 9-0 in his light heavyweight career with his sixth win of 2018. He stopped Renold Quinlan in the first round - the Australian had taken Chris Eubank JR to the 10th.
Further down the undercard, Ryan Walsh defended his British Featherweight title with a classy points win over Reece Bellotti.
But the fairytale and the glory came from Surrey’s Charlie Edwards who boxed stylishly on the back foot to take Cristofer Rosales’ WBC Flyweight title. A world champion at 25 in front of his brother, his fiancé and, most emotively, his mother. Mum has been unwell for a while, but was able to witness her son’s magical moment.
All settled then. On a night when boxing fans attention was split between the O2 and the Frampton-Warrington card, the sport seems in rude health. But most of the attention will be on the heavyweights in 2019. And in that regard the brawl didn’t settle it all. Maybe next year will settle it all and we’ll have an undisputed champion.
It will be, as the cliche goes, a Whyte Christmas. But will it be his 2019? Surely, he’ll get a shot at someone’s title. Hard to argue he hasn’t earned it.