Boxing Media Struggles with Intrusive Reality During “Strange” Lead-Up to Fury vs Whyte Title Fight
By John “Gutterdandy” Walker
While fans can argue about who may emerge victorious this Saturday when WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and challenger Dillian Whyte meet at Wembley Stadium in the UK, one thing the lead-up to this fight has made clear is that the mainstream boxing media itself is already a big loser before a single punch has been thrown. The media has too often shown itself to be asleep at the switch and remarkably incurious in the face of some very strange goings on.
The curious events surrounding this fight actually started back in October of 2021, when Whyte was supposed to face off against Sweden’s Otto Wallin, a rising heavyweight who gave Tyson Fury fits during their meeting in September of 2019. Early in that fight, Wallin ripped Fury’s face open with a punch, the gash so severe that it could have (and maybe should have) ended the fight, which would have seen The Gypsy King take his first loss.
Fury fought bravely, but by the final round, Wallin was dominating, literally knocking his opponent around the ring. The final scores submitted by the judges gave Fury a comfortable win that didn’t accurately reflect what had just taken place in the ring.
As the fight date with Wallin approached, the highly ranked Dillian Whyte was losing ground among bettors: Wallin’s strong performance against Fury, along with the fact that Whyte had suffered a devastating knockout at the hands of 40-year-old Russian veteran Alexander Povetkin in August of 2020 (he “avenged” that loss against a Covid-19 weakened Povetkin in the rematch in March 2021) were the main reasons given for this loss of confidence in “The Body Snatcher.”
The more the fight was discussed, the more it seemed to fans and analysts alike that the talented Swedish counter-puncher had an excellent shot at beating Whyte and setting up a rematch with the now WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
It was then that strange events began to occur.
It should be noted that Dillian Whyte was already no stranger to controversy. When he fought Montreal-based Columbian heavyweight Oscar Rivas in July of 2019 in the UK, Whyte emerged victorious with a unanimous decision (even though he had been knocked down in the ninth round), but it later emerged that steroids had been detected in Whyte’s blood before the fight, and that the Rivas camp was not made aware of this by either promoter Eddie Hearn or the British Boxing Board of Control.
Whyte was much later “cleared” by UK Anti Doping (UKAD), though they didn’t deny the fighter had steroids in his system, There were also complaints about Whyte’s very late switching of his gloves for fight, and a complaint was filed by infuriated Rivas trainer Russ Anber. One boxing publication said the Rivas-Whyte fight was buried beneath a “mountain of controversy.”
So perhaps it should have been no surprise when Dillian Whyte pulled out of his scheduled fight with Otto Wallin a mere ten days before the fight. The reason given was that Whyte suffered a “shoulder injury,” with no medical evidence offered up by the fighter or his promoter, Eddie Hearn. Wallin was understandably furious, but Hearn was dismissive, and the normally vociferous Whyte was mostly silent, a state of being that he would continue right into the lead-up to this Saturday’s title fight with Tyson Fury at Wembley Stadium in the UK.
Whyte inexplicably refused to take part in the promotion for this fight until he appeared at a Zoom press conference on April 14 (Whyte also no-showed the public workout during fight week). One might have thought the first question for Whyte from the carefully selected journalists in attendance would have been, “How is your shoulder holding up?” Shoulder injuries in boxing are often very serious, as both former WBO and WBC champion Vitali Klitschko and current contender Robert Helenius, who both suffered major career setbacks due to bad shoulders, can verify.
Dillian Whyte’s shoulder, if nothing else, was certainly set in the “cold” position during the lead-up to his upcoming bout with Fury, as he continually blew off media appearances and remained a ghostly figure.
If Dillian Whyte’s shoulder injury was bad enough to cause him to ditch the fight with Wallin with only ten days to go, it should have been logical to ask Whyte if he had experienced any problems with it in training camp. But not one of the selected journalists, many with years of experience and awards, even thought to mention it. Most seemed concerned with the usual “buddying up” to fighters with jovial greetings of “How’s it going champ?” and general inquiries that elicited superficial responses. It seemed as if no one really believed Whyte’s injury was legitimate in the first place, so why ask about it now?
After all, that might rock the boat.
This kind of obliviousness, intentional or otherwise, by the boxing media leading up to Fury vs Whyte has not just been limited to questions asked [or not asked] of Whyte. Tyson Fury’s involvement with reputed Irish drug cartel boss Daniel Kinahan, now a wanted man on the run from law enforcement with a $5 million dollar bounty on his head, was also given a pass in this initial virtual press conference. The reporters selected to ask Fury questions studiously avoided any mention of the Irish mob boss, a former close confidante of The Gypsy King.
When MTK Global boxing promotions, a Kinahan vehicle, finally collapsed and shut down entirely the following week, yet the boxing press still did its level best to ignore the situation. When Fury was finally asked a question about his former advisor Kinahan, he looked and sounded annoyed, and said that it was “none of his business,” but what he really seemed to be saying, judging by his tone, was, “it’s none of your business.”
This from a man who once wore the MTK logo on his clothing and who is making millions of dollars from his upcoming fight–which Fury now insists will be his last, in marked contrast to what he was saying before the Kinahan story hit the news.
A jittery and shaken Fury even claimed that the only time he’d broken the law was when he received a speeding ticket, yet spoke during the final press conference of the cocaine-fuelled binge that caused him to cancel two scheduled rematches with Ukrainian world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who Fury dethroned in 2015 during a period of tumult in Klitschko’s personal life.
At press time, snorting cocaine is still against the law in the United Kingdom. But no one in the press caught this contradiction either. Follow-up questions are not the specialty of the current mainstream boxing press.
In The Guardian newspaper, Donald McRae wrote witheringly that the initial Zoom press conference for Fury vs Whyte “was engineered so that the only reporters invited to put any questions to Fury were those intent on swapping ingratiating greetings with him or asking him about his golf swing, his faith or how it will feel to fight on St George’s Day. Kinahan’s name was not mentioned once in over 50 minutes of banality, deception and stupidity. It was a shameful day for the charade of boxing journalism.”
In fact, this entire promotion has shown that the mainstream boxing media has often become nothing more than “access journalism,” a term often favored by scrappy American cultural commentator Jimmy Dore. When a journalist is too afraid to ask a question because what he or she really wants to do is to be buddies with fighters and/or promoters, and to protect his or her access to those same people, then that person is no longer a journalist, but a PR flack. And that is what too many boxing writers have become in 2022: practitioners of access journalism; public relations hacks masquerading as actual journalists.
Asking a question that might rock the boat, that might upset the camps of Tyson Fury or Dillian Whyte, is thus often deemed not worth the price that might have to be paid by the questioner.
The fate of Otto Wallin, who due to Dillian Whyte’s mysterious “shoulder injury” was left holding the bag for a long training camp and its attendant monetary and physical expenses, and denied a possible rematch with Tyson Fury, is of little concern to “access boxing journalists.” There are free tickets to fights, free food at press events, and back-slapping superficial interviews to protect. Oppositional journalism is just not in style, and in fact now marks one as a pariah in the small world of boxing writers.
So Otto Wallin will sit and watch to see what happens on Saturday, and wonder at what might have been.
And to see if Dillian Whyte’s tricky shoulder holds up.
Waiting With 100 Media Aristocrats to Question Floyd Mayweather
By Ivan G. Goldman
I’m in a nondescript room in downtown Los Angeles with about 100 other media people, mostly writers, a few photographers. We wait for Floyd Mayweather. This is about two hours prior to the big media conference to kick off publicity for the welterweight superfight I will refer to hereafter as FloydPac, to be fought May 2 in Las Vegas between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Floyd is 50 minutes late, somewhere outside in the Nokia Plaza on the red carpet, we’ve been told. There are lots more media people out there, about 600. They were awarded credentials in other colors but deemed unworthy of the prized green credentials we have dangling from chains around our necks. We greenies, the hundred media aristocrats, will get to interview the fighters and their principal team members in separate, back-to-back, open-ended sessions.
I look around for “The Ghost,” Floyd’s adviser Al Haymon, who supervises events from his secret headquarters. Could he be here in disguise? Spotting him would be like a bird watcher seeing a blue-tailed Pterosaur, a flying dinosaur that hasn’t been around for the last 66 million years.
I’ve already seen Floyd Mayweather, Sr., outside the building. Once again chief trainer for his son, he was surrounded by about 30 determined operators of smart phones and other electronic devices, their users drinking in his every word as though he held the secret to world peace.
There’s already griping among the boxing media, even among us greenies, because we know that on fight night in Las Vegas the MGM Grand Arena holds only 16,000, and some of those seats are so bad you could call them joke seats. In terms of capacity, there will be a monstrous shortage for media and fans. Those in the joke seats will barely see the ring. Some won’t even be in sight of the big screens.
And with tickets selling for a minimum price of $1,500 before the scalpers bid them higher, that means if the promoters give someone in the media even a crummy seat, they’re giving up $1,500 from a paying customer.
Of those media people who do obtain decent seats, many won’t be boxing writers. They’ll represent big outlets that rarely cover prizefighting, if ever. Most boxing writers on fight night will get screwed, relegated to hotel ballrooms to watch on closed circuit in Siberia.
The catch is, they don’t inform you of your seat location until you get there. By holding out the promise of seating in the arena, the promoters obtain more coverage from more outlets.
Many of the excluded ones watching off-site will write their stories as though they were on the scene, without informing readers of their shamed circumstances. And today, many of the 600 excluded ones to be allowed inside later won’t inform their readers that they weren’t present for the good parts. They’ll write around it somehow.
Our color-coded credentials and the system of insiders and outsiders today and on fight night reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a novel that describes a nightmare future in which everyone’s station in life is designated at birth, ranging from alpha to epsilon. But they get plenty of drugs to ease the pain.
Why will a fight that could easily sell 50,000 tickets be held in a venue that holds less than a fourth of that? For the answer you’d have to understand the rock-solid business relationships the MGM Grand has formed with the principals.
Mayweather Promotions won its place as lead promoter during pre-fight negotiations. Many fighters are superstitious. Floyd’s never lost at the MGM Grand, so why take a chance? Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, wanted the bout in the much bigger Dallas Cowboys stadium, but he’s not complaining, at least publicly.
Golden Boy Promotions, which normally handles the details of Floyd’s fights, was shut out. Former CEO Richard Schaefer is gone, and Floyd and Oscar, the Golden Boy president, dislike each other.
Many of us wonder whether Floyd’s company, which isn’t used to handling all these details, has enough experience to present FloydPac to the world. But it turns out this event is well organized. We’re fed breakfasts with hot, scrambled eggs and buffet lines are short. There are plenty of people to direct us. Nothing is exactly on time, but these things are never punctual.
I’m prepared with laptop, water bottle, and Dodgers baseball cap to shield my eyes from the glare of TV lighting.
Ah, what’s that? Why it’s the champ, Floyd Mayweather, who entered rather quietly. He takes a seat up front, and the questions begin. You can find the interview elsewhere on this site.