When WBC no. 1 contender Dillian Whyte steps into the ring at Wembley Stadium in front of an estimated 94,000 fans, against defending champ Tyson Fury, he’ll be doing so with the knowledge that he is, absolutely, not supposed to be there.
That’s not just a reference to his status as a much-avoided challenger. THAT part of his personal journey is well-documented and part of his professional bio. Fight fans know that Whyte has waited a long, long time for his title shot, since he first became the WBC’s no. 1 contender back in 2017. They know that, while he sat as a mandatory challenger, he had to see seven other WBC title fights play through before he finally got his shot.
What fans might not know, though, is of the rough road he had to travel to even get to the point where he could make a living in the boxing game.
The Jamaica-born London resident had to endure extreme poverty as a child and fight his way to survival on the roughest streets of south London. Along the way, he ran with the roughest of crowds, ran afoul of law enforcement, courted death, and nearly tossed his life away multiple times.
Whyte became a father at 13. He was shot twice, once removing the bullet in his own leg with a pen knife. He was stabbed three times, once sewing up the wound himself. He served time.
“I grew up tough, I never had no choice. I had to be tough, I had to do things to survive,” Whyte told BT Sport. “I had kids early, I had responsibilities so I got acclimatised to a certain lifestyle and was doing certain things. Thank god I was able to make the decision ‘I need to stop this and do something else’.
“At the time I had multiple attempts on my life, I’d been shot and stabbed. going to my house and people jumping out of bins trying to shoot me. Things that happened to me, if people don’t know they would think it’s a movie.”
What got him through everything, though, was his undying love for his mother, who worked three jobs to keep a roof over their heads and who, ultimately, inspired him to strive for a life above and beyond street survival.
With a new lease on life, Whyte found himself a bit of salvation in a local boxing gym called Miguel’s, where the bullish battler repurposed his anger and learned self-discipline. The gym inspiration first led to a run as a kickboxer and then as a boxer, where he’d eventually find his niche as “that guy” you’d rather not fight if you didn’t have to.
Like everything up until that point, there was no such thing as easy sailing for Dillian as a young professional prizefighter.
Purses were slim, money was scarce, and he lived on the kindness and/or self-interest of those who recognized the talent in him. In just his 17th pro fight, while still extremely green and unrefined, he was matched against Olympic gold medalist and rising future superstar Anthony Joshua, who he had actually beaten as an amateur.
Predictably, Joshua stopped Whyte, but not after getting buzzed by a big shot early in the fight that threatened to flip the intended script entirely.
Whyte would take the Joshua loss in stride and build a skill set around his toughness that saw him eventually earn a spot as the WBC’s top contender. Most recently, he came back to flatten former world titlist Alexander Povetkin in four rounds after suffering an upset KO loss to the Russian seven months prior. Wins over Dereck Chisora, Robert Helenius, Lucas Bowner, Joseph Parker, Oscar Rivas, and Povetkin serve as high-water mark wins over the course of an 11-year professional career.
This Saturday, Whyte will make a guaranteed $7.4 million (USD) for his shot at the WBC belt, plus another $4.1 million winner’s bonus should he emerge victorious. If he takes the belt, there’ll be infinitely more on the table in a full 4-belt unification clash down the line against the winner of the upcoming Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua 3-title battle.
“I’m not meant to be here,” Whyte recently told The Independent’s Steve Bunce.
He’s right. Kids like Whyte rarely make it in life. They usually wind up dead, in prison, or laboring, defeated, in jobs that pay too little and demand too much.
Win, lose, or draw this Saturday, Dillian Whyte has already won at this thing called life. He’s going to be a tough man to beat in the ring.