The Road to Recovery
Originally posted on 4 September 2020.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston S Churchill
The sport of boxing in many ways is a metaphor for life. A long and glittering history is resplendent with heroic moments (Joe Louis’ victory for ‘good’ in spectacularly knocking out Max Schmeling in 1938, Muhammad Ali regaining the heavyweight title at 32 in the depths of the African jungle, Diego Corrales pulling himself off the canvas to stop Jose Luis Castillo in 2005, to name but a few).
Careers are marked and emphasized by peaks and troughs, losses and redemption (Roberto Duran’s destruction of Davey Moore in 1983 after the ‘No Mas’ humiliation) and; inevitably losses again. Ultimately a defining, and maybe devastating loss, provides a suffix to a career that is on full consideration, either deemed a success or a failure of some sort.
Failures or losses, as in life, are part of boxing. The important thing that defines a fighter at the end of their career is when this loss came, the manner and circumstances under which it happened, and most importantly, if and how the said boxer recovered professionally (or maybe sadly didn’t) from the loss.
A loss in early career can cause circumspection, self-analysis and the boxer to really consider whether the sport is for them. If a fighter is to persevere and resume their career there are good precedents to observe. The sport is littered with examples of when a boxer has lost their professional debut and then gone on to have an elite career, and in some cases ultimately end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Consider the careers of Alexis Arguello, Bernard Hopkins to illustrate this.
Some of the most difficult losses to deal with occur in mid-career, particularly when everyone expected you to win and move onto the next level or a title shot. This is what I wish to examine here.
A little over two weeks ago we saw British contender Dillian Whyte, after spending the oft quoted 1,000 plus days in the WBC sanctioning body’s mandatory position for a world title fight, lose in devastating fashion to Russian Alexander Povetkin. This followed hot on the heels of Anthony Joshua’s loss to Andy Ruiz in 2019 when he famously lost his multiple world titles.
Dillian, in his case was clearly ahead in the fight, dropping his opponent twice in the fourth round to then proceed to get knocked out by one devastating left hook-cum-uppercut around his guard in the following round.
This marked Whyte’s second pro defeat after coming up short against Anthony Joshua in December 2015 and rebounding over the intervening years to secure his mandatory contender status. The Brixton ‘Body Snatcher’ will know the risks and fragility of the sport but also the stark nature of the Povetkin defeat will reassure him that it was a one punch knockout, that certainly in the heavyweight division, can happen to the best of them.
He will know that he was ahead in the fight and a momentary lapse of concentration gave an elite heavyweight (certainly by virtue of Povetkin’s amateur accomplishments and company mixed with as a professional) the opportunity to land the defining blow.
Povetkin is no mug, but Whyte will need to re-group again to prove that the defeat is a mere ‘blip’ in his developing career. In fistic terms the Brit whilst an elite heavyweight from recent competition and by virtue of his world ranking is still a ‘work in progress’ with a 27-2-0 (18 KO’s) pro record but no amateur career of note. Most of his skills have come ‘on the job’ and honed from early life across the streets of south London.
Rather like Anthony Joshua proved in avenging the Ruiz defeat, and Lennox Lewis before him on two occasions, a loss mid-career, whilst temporarily derailing progression, in many cases is not career defining. It is most likely Dillian has the fortitude and experience to believe he can avenge that defeat, regain the mandatory contender status and still fulfil his aim of gaining the world heavyweight title.
His strength of character as a boxer has not been in question before, rebounding in spades from the Joshua defeat, showing the resilience and skills to come through difficult moments in fights since, and also deal with the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) allegations and WBC ‘politrics’ over the last year.
The most important considerations will be; firstly to secure the rematch (apparently there was a clause in the original contract so this is a given), the date and timing of the rematch, how he will plan to rectify the shortcomings that resulted in the defeat, and finally how his opponent enters the rematch.
Whyte has gone on record saying “I think Povetkin was more surprised he stopped me than I was”. The impact of the victory on the 41 year old Russian could go one of two ways. It could serve as motivation to repeat the feat and fight again for a version of the world title, or it could lead to a complacency in preparation and on the night that a second victory is inevitable. Look no further than Andy Ruiz conditioning and state of mind when entering the rematch with Joshua.
One would point to Povetkin’s amateur career and the discipline required to fulfil his potential there and that fact that his conditioning is generally top level, to illustrate that a Ruiz-like repeat is unlikely. Dillian will therefore need to be sure to enter the rematch in the right frame, both in body and mind.
Whyte will know this. In the unlikely event of him not, his training team and the camp they engage in will emphasize this point. Once the rematch is secured good preparation should lead to a re-focus, the aforementioned self-analysis and a strategy being developed and ultimately executed that avoids him being felled by what appeared to be an opportunist punch, although there are some who consider this a planned strategic victory for Povetkin.
Dillian needs to look no further than the earlier stated Brits but also the courage and perseverance shown by Frank Bruno in the 1980’s and 90’s in coming back from devastating defeats on numerous occasions to win the WBC heavyweight title at a fourth world attempt in 1995. Other examples in the biggest division could be illustrated by Floyd Patterson regaining the title from Ingemar Johansson in 1960, and even the greats of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson who came back from highly publicised defeats to regain the heavyweight title.
The important distinction in this case is that Dillian Whyte has not fought for the title yet, he remains a contender, albeit one that has recently lost his number one status. If all is reflected on, lessons learnt and strategy executed this contender can prove once again that “failure is not fatal”.