The silence when Dillian fell was deafening but the disappointment an age old tale, writes Steve Bunce
There was the truck
with the jets of cleansing mist, the temperature reading, the familiar lines that
could not be crossed and then there was a garden shed for my night of duties at
the backyard fight of fights.
Five hours later I
wandered through the debris of a fight gone wrong, inside the tent, wandered to
where the winner was holding court, laughing in Russian and there was a great
sense of the departed. Even Eddie Hearn had retreated to his office, closed the
door and was trying to make sense of it all.
I have never heard
a promoter or manager sound so shell-shocked. Eddie just wanted to be – for the
first time in ten years of running the boxing at Matchroom – left alone and
that is understandable.
It was not a night
for the squeamish. It was, however, a night for history, the latest in this
lunatic period of live boxing without crowds.
I have seen grown
men cry before when something unexpected has happened in the ring, seen the
utter look of despair on the faces of the men in the corner as their man
suddenly turns victory into defeat, is caught, hurt, caught again and then
stumbles over to land in the saddest pile on any canvas in any ring. That heap
is filled with broken dreams, that heap is the end of promises. And that heap
is also why we love and hate and adore and worship and try to convert the
non-believers to our sport.
The Whyte and Povetkin
fight will now be part of a savage show reel of what went wrong, what was lost.
It is in fine company.
I have watched the
film of John Tate’s glorious homecoming in March of 1980. the WBA heavyweight
champion of the world defending his title in Knoxville, in front of nearly
13,000 people. He was unbeaten in 20 and Mike Weaver, the challenger, had lost
nine and five of those had been by stoppage or knockout. Weaver was also three
inches shorter and two-stone lighter. They are similar dimensions to Saturday
night, similar to the obstacles Povetkin was battling before the first bell
Tate against Weaver
was over 15 rounds and going into the 15th round big John Tate, as
he was known, was leading by five rounds on one card and three rounds on two
cards. It was a gruelling Eighties fight, you know the type, the type that
Dillian Whyte would have loved. He has resembled one of those Eighties
heavyweights, a Lost Generation scrapper for a long, long time.
After two minutes
and 15 seconds of the 15th round, with both lumbering exhausted from
corner to corner, Weaver finds a tiny bit of space, whips in a left hook from
close – he is almost on Tate’s chest – and Tate hesitated for just a fraction
of a second and then fell like a tree. He hit the deck face and chest first and
never moved. Weaver had knocked him cold with just 45 seconds left. That’s not
a bad story, but the extra is in the small print, the same as it was on
Saturday night in the Garden. Tate, you see, had a fight with Muhammad Ali
agreed. It was a fight he would win, a fight that would make him rich. That
vanished as he fell, no need for a magician to wave a wand. Povetkin, just like
Weaver with his distant mirage of inheriting the Ali fight, will not get the
fight Whyte was promised with Tyson Fury. It’s cruel, sure, but it is boxing
and in our sport there are a lot of mirages. And a lot of cruelty.
Back in the Garden
at the end of round four, both Andy Lee – watching the fight and joining us
remotely on Five Live – and I wondered if we were a minute away from seeing
Povetkin finally become an old-man overnight. We have both seen that before and
I thought it possible. And then it was over.
In my garden shed
on the night – working next to Mick Costello – there was a frozen moment of
silence when Whyte went down. It’s hard to tell from the recording, but I was
there and we both lost the tiniest part of a second as our eyes watched the
end. Eddie Hearn talked about it looking and feeling like a dream and I know
exactly what he means. Did that really just happen? Yes, it did. Ten minutes
later Anthony Joshua walked over, joined us, closed the door on the shed
because he was freezing and he, like both of us, had that stunned look in his
eyes. “Pedigree is the key, Povetkin has pedigree and if you give him an inch
of hope he will take it,” Joshua said, throwing short punches in our tiny space
to keep warm and missing me by about six inches. “Dillian will win the
rematch.” The fight was not ten minutes old and a future was being planned
through the chaos left behind. Well, Joshua knows all about that.
The aftermath in
the Garden filled me with dread and sadness. As the men and women took the
ornaments of battle down and planned a 24-hour session to return the sloped
garden to nature, I walked through hundreds of satellite cables and lights and
flame-throwers and under the banners that had become so familiar. It was a
lonely stroll under the dark clouds. It will be the same this Saturday when
phase one of BT’s shows come to end. It’s a mix of melancholy, relief the
fights returned in the first place and some great memories left from the nights
so far. I really wish you could all have been there, I mean that.
It’s been an
unforgettable six weeks so far behind the closed doors. I just hope I can forget
that moment Whyte fell.