Smiles, respect, a tickle, and innuendos were not the summary of yesterday’s Tyson Fury-Dillian Whyte press conference you would have expected to read.
The two men, who fight for the WBC heavyweight title on Saturday at Wembley, are both combustible personalities and after a fractured and bizarre build-up you could forgive those who thought it might ‘Go off’.
Instead, the tone was low-key, which couldn’t be said for Fury’s suit, until the end when ‘Fighting man’ John Fury, Tyson’s outspoken father, forgot once again that he was not the star of the show when he stepped up to Whyte’s team at the face-off.
To the fighters’ credit they insisted and gestured for their team and entourage to move away, reminding those who won’t be donning the gloves that it is not about them.
Experienced boxing broadcaster Paul Dempsey was the man in the middle asking the questions with champion Fury, his trainer Sugar Hill, challenger Whyte, his second cornerman Harold ‘Shadow Knight, Queensbury Promoter Frank Warren, and Top Rank President Todd duBoef each taking turns on the mic to answer.
“The fans are in for a real treat. I know Dillian. I know him personally, and he knows me. And we’re going to rock n’ roll on fight night. We’re ready to throw down and treat us all to a hell of a barnstorm,” said Fury.
“It means everything to me to be fighting in my home country, and especially because it’s for the world title at Wembley,” said Whyte.
“It’s not too far from where I’m from. It means everything. It’s massive. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for. It’s a big fight. I’m here, but I’ve taken risks time and time again. I’ve had a couple slipups along the way, but I’m here and I’m ready to go. You won’t hear any bullshit from me. I’m ready to go.”
Dempsey brought up Fury and Whyte’s time together in a training camp many moons ago. Campfire whispers said he got knocked down, no he got knocked down but it’s all irrelevant. Fury recalled their time together fondly and told the top table and onlooking media that they did everything together including sleep! A Freudian slip which was soon corrected as Whyte’s masculinity shot down any suggestion, joke or not. If there had been any tension that certainly did a good job of mellowing it.
The blue humour carried on when Dempsey remarked about Whyte climbing to the top (of the rankings) which led the Brixton heavyweight to interrupt by saying, ‘That’s what she said’. It was good ‘bantz’ which fitted the peculiar countdown to the big fight which began with the celebration of winning purse bids and somewhere down the line had Warren and his staff videoing themselves singing Happy Birthday to Whyte. Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan might make a mockumentary of it all one day.
Matters turned serious when Whyte’s refusal to participate in the promotion of the pay-per-view event was discussed. Fury has carried it on his shoulders the only way he can with insults, training clips, Furocity and more insults for his opponent.
“There was no strategy,” said Whyte.
“There are two sides to his story. You only hear one side of the story because one side says a lot of things. Because I didn’t say anything, everyone was saying ‘you’re scared’ and ‘you’re hiding.’ I ain’t scared of shit. I ain’t hiding from shit. Stuff needed to get done. Obviously, the fight was signed. But there were other things behind the scenes that needed to get signed. Me and Frank got together.
Credit due to him as me and my team were trying to pick up the phone for a long time to get stuff done.”
Neither man goaded one another into snapping. Voices were calm, no fight predictions were made, it was all cordial and good-natured. But maybe this is what Fury wanted. Flicking Whyte’s switch does not take a lot of effort. A fired up, angry Whyte could be a problem for the champion. A calm, cool and collected version may play into the Fury’s hands. Whatever the psychology, if indeed there was any, everyone played their cards close to their chest.
Top Rank, who co-promote Fury, along with Queensbury sent their President Todd duBoef to represent them and he did a good job reminding everyone how big of a deal this fight really is.
“This is more than boxing. This is the world of sport. This is a global epicentre for entertainment and sport. It’s a tribute to all of us in the room.
It’s a tribute to Frank Warren, BT Sport and especially these two prizefighters who have brought it all for the many years and hard work in the gym to elevate the sport. The world is all going to be watching, not only 94,000. This is an honour to be a part of, and it’s going to be a wonderful night. We will all remember this.”
Fury and Whyte eventually faced off for the first time with the second to come at the weigh-in.
Despite initial fears before the press conference began each fighter carried out the stare-down with no pushing or finger pointing or verbal volleys. Instead… “Tickle, tickle, tickle,” said Fury as he playfully put his hands on Whyte’s stomach.
I wonder what someone like, Sonny Liston, 1970s George Foreman, Mike Tyson or Ike Ibeabuchi would have done?
Tomorrow’s weigh-in may not be as playful. The eve of a big fight. Reputations and ego on the line.
Anything could happen, especially if John Fury creeps into shot again.