Dillian Whyte’s journey from a fight with Anthony Joshua in front of 200 people to a title fight against Tyson Fury

In front of about 200 people, Dillian Whyte raised his arm in victory. At Chadwell St Mary Working Men’s Club, just 40 miles south-east of Wembley in London, then-amateur Whyte received no payment for a decider victory over another up-and-coming amateur: Anthony Joshua. The humble venue hosted a small but emotional audience who witnessed a time in the careers of two heavyweights that few could have predicted would be remembered forever.

Both fighters turned pro shortly after this fight. After winning an Olympic gold medal in his last amateur bout, Joshua’s pro career accelerated and he won three of the four major boxing titles. On the way to that fame, he defeated Whyte at a time when winning fights mattered most.

Whyte has never been a world champion, but he has interim WBC gold around his waist. On Saturday, 13 years after that amateur fight against Joshua, Whyte is looking to change his own career path. After years of waiting for other rivalries to settle down, he’ll finally get his chance when he takes on Tyson Fury for the WBC and lineal heavyweight championship (2pm ET, ESPN + PPV).

But the stakes don’t end there. In addition to the £5.5million prize money, should he beat his England rivals he will have the prospect of fighting the winner of Oleksandr Usyk-Joshua later this year for the undisputed heavyweight championship.

From 200 fans to an estimated 90,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium and a personal journey which he says has included multiple stabbings and one shooting, the only thing missing from Whyte’s dreams is the belt, which is now closer than ever.

Chris Okoh, a former professional boxer who won the Commonwealth cruiserweight title and retired in 1999, led Whyte from his first amateur fight against Joshua in 2009 until just before his professional encounter with Joshua in 2015. He was from the start Convinced of Whyte’s potential He worked with him at a boxing gym in south London.

“I [will] Never forget the first time I did a 30-minute pad session with Dillian,” Okoh told ESPN. “After that pad session I said this young man was good enough to be world heavyweight champion.

“I remember reading what Cus D’Amato said when he first saw Mike Tyson and it had the same impact when I saw Dillian. He was raw, but the ability was there. He had a great jab and he had this natural hunger, appetite. Sometimes fighters don’t have that drive or drive, but he had it as well as the talent.”

Okoh believes Whyte acquired this hunger through his harsh upbringing. Born in Jamaica, Whyte was raised by relatives after his mother Jerroleen moved to England. According to Whyte, he experienced hunger and the threat of drug violence from an early age.

Whyte joined his mother and siblings at the age of 12 to live in Brixton, south London. A year later he became a father. According to Whyte, he was stabbed three times and shot twice during his troubled youth.

“I’m used to difficulties – there was a lot of fighting,” Whyte told BT Box Office this week.

“Kids like me shouldn’t be where I am. I didn’t think I’d be alive past 20 or otherwise in jail on murder charges or anything. That was the lifestyle that was forced upon me…because that was what my life was like.

“Eating out of trash cans… that’s an achievement in itself.”

Boxing was Whyte’s chance to steer his life into safer waters.

“I got into big trouble at 15 and was about to throw my life away,” Whyte told ESPN in 2018.

“Then a friend took me to a gym and it started from there. i fell in love with it

“I was one of those kids that was written off and should be in prison at a certain age. I got in trouble because I was fighting and being a bad kid on the street.

“I found kickboxing and MMA and that kept me busy. When I started boxing, I took it seriously. It kept me out of trouble because I was too tired to do anything else.”

Meeting Okoh was a defining moment in Whyte’s life.

“Dillian did kickboxing training with Leroy Harris,” Okoh added. “They contacted me about boxing around 2006. He was making £200-300 a time from kickboxing, but he was not paid from amateur boxing.

“I told him that in the long run you’re going to make more than £200 or £300 a fight and he listened so we just taught him how to box and he boxed for Chadwell St Mary.”

Okoh was the head coach at Chadwell St. Mary Amateur Boxing Club (ABC) and made the match with Joshua, who was boxing for Finchley ABC.

“I found it difficult to keep up with Dillian, but I was told about this young guy at Finchley ABC who was good and that they would definitely take on Dillian,” said Okoh.

“It was … a really basic venue with a maximum capacity of 200 people and in the middle of nowhere. It was the polar opposite of Wembley Stadium. The location was like the location at the beginning of the first Rocky movie where Rocky fought Spider Rico, a low-class joint. Dillian had more fans that night.”

It was the 17th fight of the night at this intimate venue. They fought three two-minute rounds in a tiny ring.

“They changed in a back room backstage,” Okoh told ESPN. “You could have been swinging a cat in that room, and it was a far cry from the type of venues that Dillian and Joshua are fighting in now.”

Whyte was aggressive and it paid off when he knocked down Joshua, who was in his fourth amateur fight, in the second round. Whyte won the fight on points.

Whyte turned professional in 2011 and a year later tested positive for a banned stimulant, methylhexaneamine, found in a sports nutrition drink he bought from a store. Whyte served a suspension and returned to action in November 2014 after almost two years.

Okoh arranged numerous sparring sessions early in his career, including a set with Fury, to make up for the lack of amateur fights.

“It was around 2013 and Tyson was living in Belgium at the time,” Okoh said. “We spent ten days with Tyson over there and it was pure education. The first sparring session was very heated, I was very impressed with both. Dillian dropped Tyson with a left hook to the liver and Tyson went down on one knee and got up quickly. According to Dillian, he also knocked Tyson down again, but I can’t vouch for that.

“The sparring sessions with Tyson were competitive. The first day they did four rounds and it was very hot and after that they fought countless times. We got along really well. The Furys were really accommodating.

“He’s also fought with the likes of David Price and of course Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. He was over there in Austria where they trained five or six times. Dillian excels at bigger boxers, early sparring with these guys was a great learning for him and it will serve him well at Fury.”

Whyte and Joshua, who turned pro after winning the 2012 Olympics, met a second time – but this time Okoh wasn’t in the corner.

“In 2015, I was involved in a serious car accident and was in the hospital for a while,” Okoh said. “Dillian came to me and I had a mutual friend who wanted to train him while I was recovering, but he then went to train with Johnathon Banks … and that was it.”

Joshua survived a second-round crisis to defeat Whyte in the seventh round. It was a pivotal moment for both: Joshua was crowned world champion in his next fight (the first of two reigns) but it took Whyte seven years to land his first world title against Fury, who will make his second title defense.

“I would love to see Dillian win to fulfill our prophecy that one day he would be world heavyweight champion,” added Okoh. “Make no mistake, Dillian is capable of beating Tyson. Tyson will come in as a heavy betting favorite but I think this is a 50-50 fight. Dillian’s best option is to go for the knockout. He needs to get his tactics right Dillian can be hotheaded at the best of times, but he needs to keep his head level to be successful.

“Otherwise he might get lost. If Tyson underestimates Dillian in any way, he’s in for a rough night. Tyson will never have faced an opponent with the hunger that Dillian brings to the ring. I can see Dillian KO Tyson if he sticks to the game plan and jabs in.”

Okoh, who lives in south London, now works as a delivery driver for a supermarket chain and plans to watch Fury-Whyte on TV with friends.

“My son boxes for Chadwell St Mary and I am still in regular contact with the club, the venue is still where they boxed. I tell little kids Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte boxed there once and they don’t believe me.” Dillian Whyte’s journey from a fight with Anthony Joshua in front of 200 people to a title fight against Tyson Fury

Joel McCord

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