Dillian Whyte recalls his debut in a leisure centre, life as a doorman, an early dogfight and becoming a role model on his path to the Joseph Parker fight.
The ‘Body Snatcher’ will battle Parker at The O2 on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports Box Office, with the winner staking their claim for a world heavyweight title fight.
For Whyte, a main event fight against the former world champion is hard-earned reward after years of punishing work inside and outside the ring.
What are your memories of the first professional fight?
Tayar Mehmed. It was my first fight and I was like – okay this guy is tough, he’s durable. The fight, the ring walk, it felt like it was just a moment. It literally felt like it was 10 seconds, the whole thing.
Gillingham Leisure Centre, probably about 2,500 [people] maybe. Tom Dallas was the main event. It wasn’t hostile because I had been sparring with Tom, so all of his fans knew me, and they were all on side anyway.
I got injured a year before when I was meant to turn pro. I couldn’t fight for 16 months, so it felt good to finally get there.
What were your ambitions back then?
How would you describe those early years?
Lifestyle [was] pretty bad. I was taking a bus, I was working security, removals. Doorman for clubs, all the bad clubs around London, Brixton.
2:10 Whyte is enjoying home comforts in a pub ahead of fight with Parker
I used to go to the gym in the morning, gym in the evening, go home and chill for a couple of hours, go to work until 4am or 5am in the morning.
I was always tired but I just kept on pushing until things started to look-up and I realised, if I keep this up and keep going, I can become something, and I can become someone.
Then the drive and the ambition got higher and higher, and then I realised my potential and how good I was.
Can you remember the first knockout win over Toni Visic?
He came out swinging. I remember he tagged me once or twice and I thought, alright, I’m going to mess this guy up. That’s exactly what I was thinking.
Me and him went at it, and I knew all I had to do was land one, and that was the beginning of the end.
It wasn’t even about the knockout, it felt good because I felt like he was challenging my manhood. I was like, ‘I need to knock him out’. He stood in front of me and he was trading off, he didn’t care whether I was this big guy.
Were there nerves ahead of your first big bill in Belfast?
Some of my family are Irish and it was good for them to come and see me, because sometimes they can’t get over here. I had a very warm welcome there and I was on telly. It was my first mainstream TV.
You know what, he was undefeated, I was undefeated. Everyone was like, he’s an undefeated fighter, blah, blah, blah. People put pressure on you – they say you need to be careful, this, that and whatever.
I trained hard, sparred hard, I got there, hit him a couple of times and he fell over. I was quite annoyed.
How did you reward yourself?
I went and bought dog food. I brought my dog a bunch of chicken. I bought an X-Box as well.
When did you think you could really succeed?
When I was sparring with David Haye, [his then trainer] Adam Booth came to me and said: “Listen, you’ve got true potential. You’ve got all the ingredients, you’re sparring David, a world champion, you’re holding your own.
1:25 Whyte recalls how he was influenced by encouraging words from Adam Booth
“Forget the amateurs, focus on the pro ranks, and you can be someone if you mix all the ingredients properly and do the right things, and have the right people around you.”
I thought, this is a man who has trained a world champion. I’m doing alright against David, so he must have seen what I believe I was, and what I could be. Then I started thinking about it and taking it seriously.
Do you still have the same friends?
Can you be a role model?
Yes, to inspire people from an underprivileged background like I was. I want people to see that if I can do it, they can do it also.
How does it feel to top another huge night at The O2?
It feels great because we’ve taken so much chances and so much risk, and so many setbacks. A lot of people put faith in me when no-one had faith in me, and backed me, so it’s good to do these things and get there.
0:50 Whyte versus Parker is a true 50-50 heavyweight clash – and it's too close to call!
My team and I, we speak a lot, and strategise a lot. People think these fights come out of nowhere and happen. No, we plan and plant the seeds for months and years, so when it comes to fruition, it’s an amazing achievement for all of us.
What can your story tell others?
Never give up. Never listen to what people say, believe in yourself, and surround yourself with the right people and just have extreme desire and stubbornness – and that’s it.
Watch Dillian Whyte vs Joseph Parker with Katie Taylor, Dereck Chisora, Joshua Buatsi and Conor Benn all on the undercard, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from The O2, Saturday, July 28.
You can book via your Sky remote, via sky.com/boxofficeonline here and even if you aren’t a Sky subscriber you can book and watch it via skysports.com/boxofficelive.