By Nat Gottlieb
There was a time earlier in the new millennia when heavyweight boxing had lost much of its longtime allure for boxing fans. The fights were largely dull affairs with a lot of mismatches.
But times have changed. The heavyweight buzz is back.
Not only have unbeaten champions Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua brought renewed excitement to the division, but there are several contenders who’ve also generated a lot of interest, such as Dillian Whyte and Lucas Browne.
Saturday night Whyte and Browne, two hard-hitting heavyweights with seriously bad blood between them, will square off in England with a title shot possibly up for grabs. The fight from the O2 Arena in London will be shown live on HBO Boxing After Dark at 6 PM ET/PT (replayed at 10 PM ET/PT).
Whyte (22-1, 16 KOs) burst onto the scene in 2015. At the time, while he was unbeaten in 16 fights, he had only faced the usual suspects. But then he was matched up against the future champion, Joshua, who had knocked out his first 14 opponents, none of whom had lasted beyond three rounds.
Few gave Whyte a chance to go any further than Joshua’s previous victims had gone. But Whyte was game. He caught Joshua’s attention in the second round by landing a hard left-right combo to the head that hurt the favorite and caused him to stagger backwards. Whyte went for the knockout, throwing a flurry of power punches. But Joshua lasted the round, and Whyte had clearly used up a lot of his stamina.
“When I fought Joshua, I wasn’t in the best of shape and got worn down,” Whyte says.
Despite Joshua having been hurt by Whyte, the heavily partisan crowd was still anticipating a quick end to the fight. Whyte disappointed them. Game, although somewhat depleted, Whyte took Joshua into round seven. Any hopes of an upset ended when a right hook to the temple by Joshua sent Whyte sprawling to the canvas. Whyte showed heart by getting up and fighting for 30 more seconds before a vicious uppercut put him down for good.
Although he had lost the fight, Whyte had gained in stature. After that bout, Whyte made a commitment to better eating and conditioning habits and has since won six straight fights.
The 38-year-old Browne (25-0, 22 KOs), who hails from Australia, took a different path to this fight. Two years ago, he traveled to Russia to face reigning champion Ruslan Chagaev on his own turf. Up until that bout, Browne had fought no one of distinction and was widely regarded as just a tune-up for Chagaev.
For most of the early rounds, while Browne boxed and moved well, it was clear Chagaev outclassed him and was piling up points on the scorecards. It looked even more dismal for Browne in the sixth round when Chagaev teased him with a right to the body and then landed a clubbing straight left to the face that knocked the Aussie down. When Browne got up, the champion moved in fast to try and take him out. Chagaev connected with six or seven power shots, but Browne managed to stay on his feet until the bell.
By lasting the round, Browne had changed the complexion of the fight. Chagaev had expended a tremendous amount of energy trying to finish Browne. The champion was clearly breathing heavily when he returned to his corner.
Over the next three rounds, Chagaev looked sluggish, and while he did land some power shots, they no longer had the same effect they had earlier.
Browne entered the 10th round behind on all three scorecards, 88-82 twice, and 88-81. But with just under a minute left in the round, Chagaev threw a left hook that Browne ducked under. Standing square-footed, Chagaev tried to follow with a right hand but Browne beat him to the punch with a right hook to the temple. Down went the champion. Chagaev managed to get up at seven, but Browne quickly trapped him on the ropes and threw a flurry of unanswered shots that caused the referee to step in and stop it.
Browne had made history by becoming the first Australian to win a heavyweight title. His day in the sun was short lived. A post-fight urine analysis showed the presence of a banned substance. The Aussie was stripped of his title two months later. Although the ruling was later overturned, and he was cleared of any wrong-doing, eight months after that Browne failed another drug test and lost his title.
It’s no surprise then that in preparation for his fight with Whyte, Browne has used the hashtag #roadtoredemption on all his social media.
Whyte also has some redeeming to do.
In December of 2016 he fought Derek Chisora, a heavyweight contender who had lasted 12 rounds with both Vitali Klitschko and future champion Tyson Fury. Whyte, who likes to work outside and box behind his jab, let Chisora bully him into an inside fight. For 12 rounds they brawled with the kind of ebb and flow reminiscent of a Gatti-Ward fight. When the donnybrook was over, Whyte had won a razor thin split decision, 115-113, 115-114, and 114-115.
Many writers, however, felt Chisora had won the fight. Fully aware of that, Whyte knows he desperately needs to beat Browne in order to keep his title hopes.
Adding some zest to what already shapes up as an enticing fight, there is some seriously bad blood between the two boxers.
At a press conference to promote the bout, both Whyte and Browne engaged in a verbal war, showing strong disdain for each other. “You’re a junkie, mate, a junkie,” Whyte said. When Browne asked how he was a junkie, Whyte said, “You failed a test, and eight months later, while the case is still going on, you fail another test. This is madness. Why would you ever do that?”
Strange words from Whyte, considering he was suspended from boxing two years from 2012 to 2014 due to a failed drug test of his own.
Clearly riled by Whyte’s words, Browne fired back. “I come to fight,” he said. “I do my talking in the ring. If he wants to be a pork chop on social media, that’s his problem. If he has to sell fights by being an idiot, I’m very happy to knock his head in.”
When asked if he was afraid of Browne’s power, Whyte said, “Look, I’ve fought many strong guys. No way Lucas Browne has the same power of AJ (Joshua). Browne is old and slow now.”
Browne laughed that off. “I’ve always got the power,” he said. “So, I can lose 11 rounds and still knock you out and win the fight. From that point of view, I’m dangerous to anyone on the planet.”
So is Whyte.
Given the bad blood between these fighters, and a title shot at stake, this promises to be a fierce and fan-pleasing bout.