Let’s get one thing straight before we get stuck in: if the purpose of Dillian Whyte’s fight with Joseph Parker was to bring some clarity to the muddled heavyweight picture, it was nothing short of a dismal failure. With no baubles up for grabs, this was supposed to be a straightforward affair. An old-fashioned tear up for glory and pride, with the winner handed a golden ticket to the heavyweight world title jamboree, where both Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are waiting.
And yet, as the lights came up and the last of the drunks were kicked towards the exit, boxing’s blue riband division was no easier to make neither head nor tail of. A victorious Whyte was left conceding he is not yet ready for a world title shot. A gallant Parker once again emerged from a bruising defeat with great credit. And to cap it all off Dereck Chisora — remember him? — rolled back the years with a stunning comeback victory over Carlos Takam that suggested he is far more than just a gatekeeper.
All in all it was a brilliant, brutal, breath-taking night for British boxing, an evening of sustained drama that demonstrated perfectly why the sport is enjoying a captivating renaissance in this country. There were wins for Frank Buglioni, Dave Allen and Conor Benn, as well as an outrageous two minute win from rising star Joshua Buatsi. Ultimately, however, it was Whyte’s night.
This was the most significant victory of his career, made all the more impressive by a dramatic final round which saw him dispatched to the canvas by a resurgent Parker. He managed to pick himself up — just — to cling onto the victory he deserved, but he is all too aware he has an awful lot of work to do before making his first world title challenge.
“I would like to fight Joshua again if he wants it,” Whyte said in the ring immediately after his win, to raucous cheers from a sell-out crowd. And then for the concession which rather dampened the atmosphere: “But I have still got a lot to learn, so I would like to get one more [fight] in before him. I’m still inexperienced and making mistakes.”
Whyte may box wildly but he is far from stupid. And for all the positives he can take from this performance — the way in which he walked Parker down, how he did what Joshua could not and dropped the Kiwi, and how he himself climbed off the canvas — his technical flaws remain glaringly obvious. There is no doubt he is a future world title contender, just maybe not quite yet.
As he did against Joshua, Parker started very brightly. Setting up camp in the centre of the ring he set to work with his rapier-quick jab, taking aim at Whyte’s fleshy middle, attempting to make him pay for the extra stone he carried into this contest. He won the first and cruised throughout much of the second, only for a moment of misfortune that turned the fight.
After landing a chopping left hook, Whyte’s head dipped forward and caught Parker in the temple. Stung, Parker’s legs turned to jelly and he slid down oddly onto the canvas with the referee, Ian John-Lewis, rather unfairly calling a knockdown. It was the first time in his professional career the former WBO world champion had ever been felled.
It happened again in the ninth, albeit in far less equivocal circumstances. Well behind on the scorecards and tiring, Parker carelessly misjudged an uppercut and walked flush onto the end of a painful left hook. This time he fell to the deck with conviction, landing with an echoing thud and a lingering look towards his corner. He rallied of course, landing a succession of stiff headshots in the twelfth which eventually proved too much for a wearied Whyte to take, but in the end it was too little, too late.
Afterwards, having aimlessly trudged around the ring while Whyte had addressed his crowd, Parker graciously admitted that, once again, he had lost to the better man. “I say congratulations to Dillian, I gave it my best, the better man won and I will come back stronger,” he said to applause. “This shows I have a lot to work on, but I’m still young. We knew it would be a tough challenge, Whyte was so strong and is still progressing but it was a great opportunity to come to the UK for a third time.”
What a difference four months makes in this sport. As recently as March, Parker returned to this country having beaten Hughie Furywith a world title around his waist, harbouring very legitimate hopes of becoming the first heavyweight in history to unify the only four titles that matter. Two fights later and he leaves with a thoroughly blemished record, having lost his golden ticket to the fights that matter. He will be back. But it will be a long while before he is back to headline shows such as these.
Where both men go next is unclear. Parker would be wise to return to the drawing board having bravely — but naively — reacted to his points loss to Joshua by immediately accepting another fight of international pedigree. A first fight in New Zealand since May last year could be in order, as he begins climbing his way back towards the top of the heavyweight tree.
For Whyte, the picture is a little clearer, albeit not by much. His commitment to fighting again this year appears to rule out Joshua, while the conniving posse that pull Wilder’s strings have already made it clear that the WBC champion has little interest in fighting his No 1 challenger. That leaves a few options. Tyson Fury — an old sparring partner of Whyte’s — is one. A rematch with Chisora is another.
It certainly wasn’t before this incredible evening, of course. Chisora’s career appeared to be in terminal decline, after unfortunate split decision losses to both Kubrat Pulev and Whyte himself, and then a dismal points defeat to Agit Kabayel in Monte Carlo, a true stinker of a fight that appeared to prove the Londoner’s heart was no longer in the boxing business.
An easy stoppage win over Zakaria Azzouzi got Chisora back on track, before this remarkable win over his compatriot, the obstinate Takam. Chisora had taken significant punishment in the early rounds and was being beaten up on the ropes, only to land a shotgun overhand right in the eighth round which sent Takam sprawling. Just seconds later and he pulled the trigger for a second time, becoming just the second man after Alexander Povetkin to knock out the Frenchman.
“I’m 34 but I feel 21 right now,” he grinned afterwards. “I’ll tell Eddie to sort something out but he will just duck and dive. Ultimately I don’t fight for me, I fight for the fans, that’s it. And it is up to the fans to decide who they want to see me fight.” Chisora may not decide but he certainly has his preferences: after Whyte’s win his old rival could be seen attempting — and failing — to burst into the ring to confront him.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Katie Taylor enjoyed a rather more routine night in the office, stopping mandatory challenger Kimberly Connor in the third round to defend her IBF and WBA lightweight titles.
“Kimberly was tough. I happened to catch her with a good shot, stayed composed, and got a good finish,” Taylor said. “I’ve got two belts. Two more to go.” Belgium’s Delfine Persoon (41-1) holds the WBC strap, Brazil’s Rose Volante (13-0) the WBO. Taylor next fights Cindy Serrano in October, as part of the first Matchroom USA event to be carried on the DAZN streaming service.